Monday, February 14, 2011

I don't know where I'm gonna go when the volcano blows

Photos from top:

San Pedro the volcano

San Pedro La Laguna downtown

Bloggers view from room 7

There is a mystical magical place in the western highlands of Guatemala called Lake Atitlan.

After an idyllic six days exploring and enjoying all that is Guatemala's second city we booked a shuttle with a local tour operator (that I'd traveled with before) for a direct run from the fabulous Flora Inn in Quetzaltenango to a reserved hotel in San Pedro La Laguna. Using a shuttle is a fine option (they pick you up at your hotel and deliver you to your next destination for a very reasonable fee) especially if you're traveling with a lot of stuff and somehow the almost manageable pile of equipaje we brought with us had grown to slightly less than container size after the artisans market, La Democracia market, Minerva market, Las Flores market, etc. Desafortunadamente our shuttle operator (the now and forever despised monte verde tours) starts this leg of our adventure by shipping us to Panajachal not San Pedro which now lies 5 or 6 miles across choppy water to our southwest.

To compound our woes the perennially unsettled Santiaguito volcano chooses to blow its top the night before our departure and now, in the dry season, we're not only in the wrong town with a ton of crap its also raining cats and dogs (most of them strays but we'll get to them later). The bloody details are too depressing for further elucidation but after much drama we wind up with our own private launch hurtling across Atitlan to a very dark San Pedro La Laguna. Our captain and mate schlep our luggage and us (por una propina, senor) up the candle lit streets of San Pedro to our reserved room at Mansion del Lago. Desafortunademente we are a little late and our phoned in, unsecured (because they don't take cc's) reservation has been sold to another lucky traveler. Did I mention it was raining? The apologetic proprietor of La Mansion goes out of his way to find us another room and even carts our crap down the dark street and up three flights of winding steps, in the rain, to El Hotel Gran Sueno. Clean, decent, friendly, with good candles and pillows stuffed with coffee beans, its not my great dream but at this point its much better than any of our other options and the gracious Guatemalan hosts treat us better than grumpy gringos deserve. Finally, food, cervezas, and fitful sleep.

Saturday morning I awake to electricity, sunshine, wonderful coffee with warm cinnamon buns and just like that all is forgiven and the romance is on again. I leave El Gran Sueno to pursue another while Pam snuggles happily under the covers. Birds sing, flowers bloom, trees have oranges and bananas hanging within reach and El Hotel Amencer Sak'Kari has a double facing the lake for $32/ nite. It's a great spot, not far from the Santiago docks managed by Dan, a 2006 North Carolina transplant. With complimentary kayaks, cable tv, wi-fi, and picture windows lakefront, its within easy walking distance of everything. Dan gives me the key to room #7 at 8:00am and after delivering coffee and cinnamon buns to get her going Pam and I are piling our stuff into a tuk-tuk and three wheeling our way to our next home.

Over the next few days we do a lot of walking and gawking. While it isn't Alexandria Bay, San Pedro has its fair share of touristy shops, art galleries, a busy native community of 12,000 or so, lots of bars and restaurants, and quite a few gringo hipsters who arrived in the sixties and seventies and outlasted the civil war. The vibe is muy tranquilo and we revisit places I'd seen two years ago, happily eating and drinking our way from one end of town to the other. Saturday in preparation for a rockin evening Pam and I grab naps and join the scene about 9:30. We have a bite at a cute waterfront joint called, Ya Hummus, (we opt for a tasty vegetarian pizza), and listen to the sounds of a Brazilian trio who finish their last set about the time our pizza disappears. We hit the main drag to follow the music elsewhere and promptly at 11:00 the sidewalks roll up and we are high and dry. Dan fills me in the next morning, seems like along with such fine cultural exports as McDonalds and Burger King, the good old USA has sent an army of evangelicals to save the mayan population from the catholicism the Spaniards foisted upon them 500 years ago. The new mayor has seen the light and in agreement with your mother, who knows nothing good happens after 11:00pm, he has enacted a curfew. The judiciary are in agreement with the bar and restaurant owners, that the mayor's actions are illegal but hey, we're in Guatemala and sometimes you have to follow a higher law. While Dan feels that they will eventually get things back to normal the PNC (national police) are parked at party central at 11:00pm making sure we all get home safely.

Fool me once. Sunday night, well, really, sunday afternoon, Pam and I have a few beers while walking the hot dusty streets, then a little wine with dinner, (at the very cute and very french El Jardin )then we adjourn to The Barrio, a bar directly across the street from our hotel (some of our best planning to date) for the 8:00 Pub Quiz. Being the trivial folks we are we raise the hackles of the locals by coming in third with only two on our team. Was I a little drunk or did I really think Mark David Chapman tried to kill Ronnie Reagan. If we'd had some sober voices on our team we might have gotten first. Our prize is more beer, just what the doctor ordered. The locals were truly very friendly and were happy to share their answers about life in San Pedro as fast as I could slur them. You can have Coral Gables and West Palm Beach the citrus looks pretty good here. We find a poster advertising a house for rent for $150/ month and next winter starts to look more interesting.

San Pedro's most annoying residents (well, it's actually a toss-up with the 4'6" high pressure sales ladies, "Quieres pan?" "algo para tu esposa?") are the four legged mutts who have, perhaps under the tutelage of Bob Dylan, been allowed to run free and breed like rabbits.  While some are kept as pets (you can see the result of that on the rooftop next to Pam in the Gran Sueno pic) most are unneutered and struggling for survival on the streets.  It's not unusual to have two or three erupt into a territorial pissing contest with bared teeth, snarls, and an explosion of 40 pound projectiles hurtling past ankles and knees as the vanquished mongrel is driven away from the delicious garbage at the root of the trouble.  Maybe the evangelicals can turn their attention to this next.

No comments:

Post a Comment