A Cursed Day at Lago Atitlan

Guatemala Day 12

My trip to Lago Atitlan has been wonderful all around, but if I’ve had a bad day, yesterday was it.

Everything started as usual. The dogs have been in their habit of letting me sleep in, of which I took full advantage of, finally rising around 8:00. Breakfast consisted of the usual Ensalada de Fruito at LaPaz with the dogs, followed by a trip to the Internet Cafe.

The cafe was very busy. There’s been an influx of visitors lately, as there are a couple of Spanish Schools in town, and they’ve just begun a new session. The Waldorf school has just begun a month-long break as well, so that leaves both students and faculty with spare time. All of this has the cafe over-filled and I was forced to wait 30 minutes for a spot.

During this time a local boy came and stood in front of me in line – the nerve! Half my size, I stood as close to him as possible, ready to pounce on him if a spot were to open up and he attempted to grab it. One didn’t, and he left after ten minutes, but this period of tension left me cranky.

Somebody left the cafe and I went to take their spot when a straggler within the cafe took it. She was with a group of French-speaking visitors. Obnoxious French-speaking visitors. Another spot soon opened up, and while the French continued their chat back and forth across the room, three local teen aged girls gathered around another computer emitting a constant low-level giggle with intermittent screeches of giddiness. I imagined Justin Bieber on their screen, or some such teen bopper.

Is this what you people were doing in here when I waited patiently outside for 30 minutes?! Don’t you know I have important work to do? The world is waiting for me to update my blog, and Facebook may crumble without my participation! Not to mention, I have some serious email to attend to!

Today was not my day. The spirits were against me, the Mayan calendar was aligned just right. Something was conspiring to defeat me.

Breathe in, 2 … 3 … 4 … and out … 2 … 3 … 4

Things I would normally let roll off me like water were soaking into my being, dampening my spirits.

“Warhead,” recounting my DBT session in treatment 6 years prior. Yes, I’ve gotten sober just to remain a bit crazy. The world, sadly, does not revolve around me.

Leaving in just a couple of days, today is the last day to drop off my laundry at the Arbol and still get it back in time for my departure. I dropped it off there and headed to the docks, determined to make it to Santiago before I leave.

Getting to Santiago requires you to travel first to San Pedro, walk 20 minutes to another dock, and board a boat to Santiago. I’ve never made the journey, but I’ve been told that the trip to Santiago uses a much larger boat than the usual ferries on the lake, and that leg of the trip takes roughly 45 minutes if the sailing is smooth.

There are two men selling jewelry, pipes and other wares on the dock. By the smell of them, neither has seen a shower in weeks, and looking at them tells me its been at least that long since they’ve seen a razor as well.

I sit and wait for a boat to arrive when the smell of marijuana hits me. I look over at the two men, the older inhaling off the remnants of a joint in a manner I’ve never seen done without a roach clip. This guy’s got talent. The man notices my gaze, postures himself so as not to exhale and says, “You want to buy some-teen?”

“No gracias.”

Satisfied, the man puts down the joint and picks up a wooden instrument resembling a recorder that I was taught to play in 3rd grade music class. The melody is nice and his method practiced … I’m guessing he’s had the time to develop his skills.

A boat arrives to San Pedro, but sadly, the driver is only servicing a private party. I continue to wait. Five minutes later a boat docks for San Pedro. A few passengers depart as I wait to board, when another local man comes up and tries to board ahead of me. Hello, lines, people – first come, first serve, but then I remember that I’m a visitor here and the boat operators always favor the locals. Gringos are charged twice as much fare and are forced to wait to pay until all the locals have unloaded their cargo and paid themselves.

We depart San Marcos and make a stop in San Juan. Nobody boards and we continue to San Pedro. With the rising water levels in the lake, many of the docks are underwater and San Pedro’s is no exception. They have a temporary dock built while a more permanent structure is under construction. I de-board and find that the temporary dock leads to a pile of mud instead of a solid platform of some sort.

I see a large church-lick structure at the top of the hill in San Pedro and decide to make the trek up and get a photo of it. Plus, I think, from there I may be able to see the other dock I need to find for the boat to Santiago. Breathing heavy by the time I reach the top, turning away numerous TukTuk drivers along the route, I finally reach the building. It’s reached by a small road and surrounded by neighboring buildings, making it impossible to get a good complete shot of the entire building, as you’re forced to stand too near it. I take a few shots and hope they turn out alright.

It’s beginning to sprinkle a bit, but not enough to warrant me pulling out my raincoat. I decide to continue along the road to see where it takes me. Soon enough I am heading down another side of the hill. There are many little shops and restaurants here, so I am hopeful I’ll find the dock at the bottom.

I pass a police truck with one officer inside and the other outside having a cigarette and reluctantly listening to the ramblings of a drunk man sitting on the side of the road. The officer smiles at me and I continue down the mountain. As I reach the bottom of the hill, I see the dock, and with it, a large boat headed for Santiago has just departed, probably only 20 feet from the shore. Arriving at the dock, a man tells me that it’ll be another hour and a half before the next boat leaves.

Damn, I guess Santiago isn’t in the cards for this trip.

I reverse course and head back up the hill on a mission to find something to eat, and hopefully find a barber shop to get a haircut. It’s raining a bit heavier now and I don my red raincoat. None of the restaurants look particularly appealing, but I continue my hike upwards. Eventually I find myself in the street market I’ve heard of. They hold it twice a week and close off the street to vehicles, though there is a rundown Toyota pickup in the center of the market blaring music from its speakers and children hanging off the racks in the bed of the truck.

I am the only gringo walking down the street, and I am wearing a bright red jacket to boot. All other people in the market are manning booths, with a couple of locals shopping for necessities. I think I might find something in the market – to eat, or a keepsake of the trip, but all of the booths have their wares covered with black plastic due to the rain. Many people are looking at me walk down the street, and I don’t get the usual calls to buy something – just an entire market of people with covered merchandise, staring at me, including the children in the bed of the music-blaring truck.

I wonder what Hollywood film director would reproduce a scene like the one I’m in, as it’s certainly worthy of a script. I feel like a feared gun-slinger walking through a small Western town, except I don’t have a gun and I’m completely surrounded and out-numbered.

I gradually make my way through the market at an average pace. There is a policeman blocking traffic at the end of the block and I fear that he’ll arrest me for trespassing or shoo me away from the market. He does neither and I pass him without incident.

I head back down the hill towards the main docks, figuring that I’ll eat at one of the touristy places on the lake. I find a table at a multi-story joint – again, another bar that features a health food store in the basement. So strange. I’m happy they have wi-fi, but the service is lacking a bit – requiring me to go to the bar for my order, even though there are several staff there just milling about. They are out of the spring rolls I’d like, so I order a salad and enjoy the w-ifi to catch up on the latest news back home.

On my way out, I pay my bill and ask if there is a place nearby to get my haircut. They point me in the direction I just came from – back up that miserable hill. I decide one more time the hill won’t kill me and begin the jaunt upwards. The rain is starting to come down a bit harder at this point and I’m happy I brought my raincoat.

I reach the top of the hill and the rain has reached El-Nino status and I jump into a bodega. I ask the clerk there where the salon is and she points across the street to a closed shop. She says it’s closed, but opens in an hour.

Seriously? I missed the boat to Santiago and now a haircut, and I’m stuck in a bodega at the top of the hill in San Pedro with a tropical rain storm between me and the boat that’ll take me home? I’ll bet the Mayans predicted this thousands of years ago. I should have consulted Chuice before getting out of bed this morning.

The clerk just stares at me, as if to say, “Buy something or get out,” so I depart down the mountain through flooded streets and a seemingly 45 degree grade. Praying I don’t fall, it’s really of no use anyhow, as my shoes are now soaked and my shorts wet through to my underwear. Good thing I brought this raincoat, I think.

I stop briefly at an overhang next to a lady selling banana bread. “Banana bread?” she inquires.

“No gracias.”

I stay there for a few minutes, wondering if I should try to wait out the storm, or if its of no use. The banana bread lady tells me to go now, as if the storm is letting up somewhat, but I think she just wanted me to go because I didn’t buy anything. I decide to chance it and continue down to the docks. The rain had not let up.

I get to the docks and the tour group that had reserved the first boat to San Pedro is hogging all of the space beneath the overhang. Bitter, I walk around them, through the mud, to a boat on a far dock that’s departing for San Marcos.

Confirming my destination with the driver, I hop in the empty boat and wait at least 20 minutes before he departs. As I sit there, I take stock of my situation, removing my raincoat under the shelter of the boat’s roof. There’s not a lot to take stock of, as I am thoroughly soaked to the core, I didn’t make it to Santiago, and my hair still needs a trim.

The driver finally sets us off from the dock toward San Marcos. I’m sitting in the rear of the boat near him, and he asks about my red coat. First he wants to know how much it costs me in the US. I answered roughly $20. He asks to examine it and I hand it to him leeringly. “How much for me?” he asks.

“No gracias. Not for sale.”

Later in our journey across the lake, the driver receives a telephone call and turns off the boat engine so he can better hear the phone, leaving the ten or so passengers just floating in the lake. This continues for five minutes or so. He ends his call and puts his head down on the steering wheel, still no power to the engine.

“Hooollaaa?” I ask, everyone craning their necks rearward, as I’ve just interrupted the only person with the power to get us back to shore. The gods were now acting in my favor, as he erected himself, started the engine, and resumed course to San Marcos.

Upon returning to Casa Benjamin I removed my clothes, hung them on the line, and retired to the bedroom for a siesta.

Upon waking I headed to LaPaz for dinner. Comila joined me and we chatted about her Spanish lessons. They’re 4 hour one-on-one sessions and really intense. At the 3 hour point, she was getting antsy and the instructor chastised her. She’s also a bit frustrated at all the gringos in the village, because after she leaves her class time, she reverts to speaking English with the gringos in town.

I stop in at Il Gardino to see what they have for dessert and to visit with Theresa and BerTwan. They prepare me some fruit with fondue chocolate. The chocolate dish isn’t nearly large enough, but I don’t complain.

Later Theresa and I are alone and I ask her about her pregnancy, noting her pronounced belly and maternity-style dress.

She swung her head back and laughed, “You are the 3rd person to ask me, and I am not pregnant – I’m fat!”

I try to backtrack to no avail. She claims to think it’s funny, and as she writes up my bill I can hear her laughing with BerTwan about it. I feel utterly terrible! I pay and tell her I think she’s beautiful, which isn’t a lie – she is, but I don’t think she believed me.

I returned home and went to sleep with the dogs, same as always, and putting an end to a cursed day.

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