San Pedro and San Pablo

Guatemala: Day Two

I noticed yesterday that I’ve begun to ‘forget’ my camera at Benjamin’s when I leave the house. I think this is simply a sign that I’ve become more comfortable here and think of it more like an actual home.

Shanti and Zues, Benjamin’s two dogs, have made all the difference. Each morning they greet me with wagging tails and smiles on their faces. They wait patiently while I prepare in the mornings, getting dressed, taking my vitamins and medicine and making my coffee. The door opens and they casually saunter out into the world. I pick up their food bowls and bring them inside to fill. They are clearly excited and their casual attitude turns to anxiousness. Even though I am really living in their home, it feels good to be able to provide for them in a sort. In return they are wonderful companions, providing love and protection.

Yesterday’s morning began with some writing. I’ve committed to spending some quality time each day working through my NA step-working guide. It’s a thorough process working through the 12 steps, guided by readings and questions that suggest written responses.

I then made my way down the path to La Paz for breakfast. They make their own granola and seed mix, served with yogurt, fruit and a side of honey. It was truly a golden treat to wake up to. I anticipate the same ritual will repeat itself several times during my stay.

Following breakfast I returned to the house and continued my reading of The Alchemist. I’m enjoying it a lot and for see finishing it soon.

A short siesta and I awoke to much activity around 10:00 AM. Three men, Sebastian, Benjamin’s property manager, and two laborers, have been cutting down a large tree in the front yard. Katerina was laundering sheets, and Josh and Maggie had just arrived.

The tree cutting process is taking several days and is done with only man-power, machetes and ropes. They remove the tree branch by branch, hacking at the base, where the branch connects to the trunk, until only a small portion is left. Mind you, some of these branches originate 30 feet in the air, so the men climb up to that point. When little is left, they tie ropes to the branch and rock it back and forth until it falls.

Maggie, Josh and myself made way a short distance down the path to the docks where we waited a short while for a ferry to arrive and take us to San Pedro, a pueblo across the lake. After one stop and about 10 minutes of riding in total, we arrived at San Pedro. It’s a larger pueblo than San Marcos, and is much more developed and commercialized with a larger market area, several hotels and restaurants and their dock area has many boats parked there permanently for tours and commercial shuttle use.

We ate at a small restaurant called Hummus-Ya, billed as serving a mix of Israeli and Yemeni dishes. We all ordered a pita bread sandwich called a Basich (Baseech), stuffed with cabbage, egg-plant, hard-boiled eggs and some sort of curry sause – it was quite tasty.

Josh next to a No Drugs sign at Hummus Ya
Josh next to a No Drugs sign at Hummus Ya

From there we went up the hill a short distance to what’s referred to locally as “The Vortex”, which was basically the intersection of two primary roads. Up the hill is the market, down the hill the docks, across in either direction were shops and restaurants, with TukTuks congregating in the center. You have to keep aware of your surroundings as vehicles would come down the road without warning at high speed through the narrow streets. It required everyone to part to the sides. Often the vehicles were small pick-up trucks caring people standing in the beds.

Josh stopped in at a grocery store and purchased some goods. We browsed in a couple of other shops, but didn’t purchase anything. I was looking for a hat, as I’ve developed a mild sunburn, but was unable to find one.

We approached the TukTuks, small red taxis that transport people within the pueblo and to neighboring pueblos. They seat the driver in front, and up to three people in the rear, though I’ve seen as many as five locals crammed into the rear. Josh negotiated a price of 10 Q each to take us to the next pueblo, San Pablo, where we were planning to visit their friend Pete.

On we went. The journey took approximately 15 – 20 minutes. The TukTuks don’t reach very high speeds, and the terrain is very hilly. Often times the TukTuks don’t get out of first gear going up the hills, especially with a full load. Going down hill is usually faster, but the roads are in such terrible conditions, that they often must slow down to avoid potholes and points there the road has been washed away.

Josh and Maggie in the back of the TukTuk with me
Josh and Maggie in the back of the TukTuk with me

During the ride, Josh informed me that the drivers much purchase their TukTuk. The cost is $5,000 Q, which works out to roughly $40,000 US dollars. Quite steep for something I would imagine would cost no more than $4,000 or $5,000 new in the US. There are groups of families who purchase them and the sons drive them to earn money towards the family business.

Maggie relayed a story that she had heard from a local regarding the name TukTuk – it was named that shortly after they first arrived because the sound they make. When taxed, the little engines create a ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ sound. We all got a kick out of that.

We arriveed in San Pablo and paid our fares. San Pedro is roughly half-way between San Pedro and San Marcos, and is a small pueblo, very poor and underdeveloped, though we did cross many schools. One was a parochial school of some sort, presumably run by the catholic church. Another was a Mayan school, where I’m guessing they may teach the native tongue and history of their ancestors.

The Mayan culture is still very much alive around the lake. The people are referred to as the “indigenous” people. They speak their own language and wear the traditional garb. The Mayan’s have a long history of weaving beautiful fabrics. When the Spanish invaded long ago, they required that each pueblo be assigned its own color. Those colors are still in use today. A woman’s skirt, or a man’s pants are usually black, with a stripe of their pueblo color, and their tops are often completely made of their pueblo color.

Interestingly, the Spanish also required that the indigenous folk not practice their old Mayan ways. They could not talk about it, teach it in schools, nothing. To help carry on their history, the women who weave the fabric would code their stories into the stripes found in their pueblo colors in their garments. The code would appear to an unknowing Spaniard as simply a pattern in the fabric, but the indigenous people were using the morse-code like pattern of lines and dots as a way to record their history and keep their culture alive. Very fascinating and still done to this day.

Returning to the day’s journey, we made our way towards the lake. Josh did not know where Pete lived, just a bit about his residence. Pete was acting as a temporary guardian at Casa de Elizabeth while her husband was away. He knew that the was on the shore and that it was circular in structure. That’s all he knew! He seemed determined, as Josh does, that it would all work out and we would find Pete.

We found a trail leading to the shore, through coffee trees, corn fields and other planted crops. The walking paths are quite treacherous and one wrong slip and you could fall down the steep hillside quite a ways! We snaked our way through and came across a few farmers, asking if they knew of the casa. They pointed us in the right direction and soon enough, we found a circular-shaped house on the hillside. Josh used what I like to call his “Guatemalan cell phone” and called out from the shore, “Pedro!” (Pete’s Spanish name). Elizabeth, the home’s proprietor returned his call and invited us up to the house.

Two locals were tending to the fields between the house and the shore and we made our way up the hill to the house. Elizabeth was preparing a meal for her two young children with the help of a housekeeper. She told us that Christina had stopped by to visit Pete and the two of them walked down the shore to sit on the dock. We made our way in that diretion and soon found them.

Pete invited us back to his Guardian’s residence on the property at Casa de Elizabeth. It was a beautiful cottage constructed of cinderblock and large windows very near the shore. He made us tea and offered us cookies as we all chatted a bit.

Both Christina and Pete appear to be in their young twenties. Christina came to the lake a few months prior from Northern California, where she had worked as a farmer. Pete, with dreadlocks and a permanent smile on this face, had been traveling through Central America for many months, having come from a small island between England and France. He worked for a couple of years in construction prior to departing overseas for his adventure, having saved enough to support himself for a while.

All of the local young people here seem to move quite frequently. They house-sit for people who live here part-time, or rent rooms or cottages from a landowner with a larger property. It strikes me as very nomad-like, but it seems to suit them and the communities just fine. In the end, as Josh says, it all works out.

Before leaving we spoke with Elizabeth a bit about her practice as a cranial therapist. There is some more formal name for the bodywork she provides, but I cannot recall it at this time. She explained it as manipulating the spinal fluid and working with the brain to release blockages – some physical, some mental – that provide healing. There are many such therapies offered in the area and though I don’t know how much faith I put in them, I do plan on meeting with Elizabeth later in my visit to give it a shot.

We hiked back up the mountain into San Pablo and took a TukTuk back to San Marcos. The three of us separated at that point, as it began to rain and Josh had to return home to make a cake for a two year old son of a family he stayed with for a month.

I found an internet cafe up the path and signed up for a 12 hour account with them. I then went down to the shore and found a small cafe that Josh had told me about – Moonfish. I enjoyed a cookie and a coffee and returned back to Benjamin’s to continue reading The Alchemist and take a shower.

Boy cutting the grass at Moonfish with scissors!
Boy cutting the grass at Moonfish with scissors!

I met up with Josh, Maggie and Nadja at a restaurant near Benjamin’s for dinner. The restaurant we went to had planned a Salsa Dancing night. It turns out that Nadja is also a trained dancer (and a sword fighter, and a cello player, and speaks umpteen languages … the woman never ceases).

We enjoyed a tapas-style dinner with several small dishes, my favorite of which was a vegetable lasagna – to die for. Dessert was a chocolate fondue sause covering fruit and crepes.

Conversation for the evening centered around relationships with our families and how we fit in or didn’t fit in with them. The people I’ve met here are so very real and wear no masks. It’s been quite refreshing.

It is now Sunday morning at the Public Announcement speaker in the town centre is broadcasting a man speaking to the entire town. The town centre is located at (you guessed it), the middle of town, and consists of a large covered gymnasium-like structure, a stage, the church and many small shops.

I am heading to La Paz to enjoy another dish of the golden delight and looking forward to the day.