Rosario knew my shuttle would be arriving before the breakfast. She made me a sandwich to take on the journey and served me a cup of coffee while I waited. Rosario also had a burrito made for my roommate, Cynthia who had her daily spanish class at 8AM. Jimbo was upset us chicas got special treatment and complained in his non-sensical Spanish. Rosario, Cynthia and I relished in teasing him in Spanish he could not understand.
On the shuttle, I opened my sandwich containing ham, fluorescent orange cheese-food, lettuce & mayonnaise. There was no way I was going to eat this sandwich because I don’t eat meat and deplored mayonnaise. Perhaps, I could have chucked the ham and eaten the cheese if it was not tainted by the mayonnaise and did not have a radioactive color. Still, I was thankful for the thoughtfulness & kindness of Rosario’s gesture.
Suddenly the shuttle came to a screeching halt. The driver turned around, called my name and held up his mobile phone. For some reason I thought he had mistaken the phone for mine. “No es mio”, holding up mine. The driver looked at me like I was a complete idiot, got out of the car, came to my window and handed me the phone. “Hola??” I was not expecting any calls. Rosario was on the other end, very concerned. She told me I forgot 2 camisetas. “No necessitas.” “Pero una es muy linda con joyas!!” “No problema, no las necessitas.” She was concerned and confused but wished me a good journey. I intentionally left them because I had to make room in my pack.
Several magazines I did not finish on the plane provided ample reading and also easy to discard. While reading my Runner’s magazine, I was getting a workout of my own. The shuttle was rounding the winding mountainous roads at high velocity. In order to keep my balance, I engaged my core, planted my feet, activated other relevant muscles while squeezing the big water bottle between my legs in order to not fall into the Dutch couple seated next to me in the back of the shuttle. My companions were making out almost the entire trip. They may have been disappointed not to have access to the entire bench. It also made me wonder: Did they just meet? Are they on their honeymoon? Did they get too drunk last night to have sex? Did they wake up too late for AM sex?
Not until we stopped for a pee break did I see there was an attractive man on the same shuttle. How did I not notice earlier? We briefly spoke before piling back into shuttle. Maybe I should have invited him to the back and given the Dutch couple some competition. Instead, I pulled out my iPod to study my Spanish lessons.
The descent to Lake Atilan was beautiful! The lake was a bright turquoise blue surrounded by a luscious green hillside & volcanoes. Paradise! Paradise interrupted once stopped in Panajachal. Once again, the shuttle was swarmed by shouting touts who named places to go by boat. Cute guy was gone by the time I got out of the shuttle. A tout tried to grab my bag but I “accidentally” elbowed him in order to retrieve my pack. A local leaning on a nearby pole smoking a cigarette watched the chaos. Looking harmless enough, I asked him where I was on the map. He showed me, gave me directions & didn’t try to offer any services.
Brief peace, while walking down the quiet street with dogs napping along stone the wall in the shade. Rounding the corner, I ran into the cute guy, Nick who was hunting for a wi-fi cafe in order to find out where his friends were staying. I told him to stick with me as I knew the way into town and my hotel had wi-fi. Selfless act, I know! Making the usual introductions, I found out he is from Vancouver and the friends he was meeting were from San Francisco. As always, when travelers get together where you are going, where you have been and how long are the standard conversation topics. Tonight was his last night before going home. His route had been the opposite of mine, Costra Rica then Northbound. Rounding the corner, we found the main road Calle Santander which looked like the Guatemalan version of Khao San Road in Bangkok. Nick & I joked the vendors may have consulted with their peers in Thailand & Vietnam to learn the flawed ways of marketing to foreigners.
Finding my chosen hotel, Mario’s Rooms, I rang the bell. A short smiling Guatemalan lady named Maria opened the gate. “Si.” Rooms were available. I felt like I was stepping into the garden of Eden, a quiet lovely green courtyard. “NICK!!” One of his friends was above on the balcony. “See, I told you I would take you to the right place” I said with a wink. Nick went to greet his friends, I followed Maria to view the rooms. She showed me a large room with 2 beds with private bath for 90Q. In cheap backpacker- mode, I was hoping to get a room for less than 75Q (~$9) but it was only the difference of about $2. The room was large enough to practice yoga in private. Deal! The room still needed cleaning, “una hora”. I dropped my bags and headed back out to the chaotic street while waving bye to Nick and friends.
Almost noon, I wanted food, coffee and WiFi. After checking several cafes, I finally found one meeting all criteria. Carelessly, I choose the 1st table in the cafe to watch passersby. However, any passing vendor saw me and came inside the restaurant to suggest their goods. After further thought, my table did not matter. If I was in the back, they still would have spotted the bright white lady. While I ate and typed, I had to say “No”; “No quiero”; “No, gracias”; “No deseo” at even intervals. Eventually, I really wanted to say “No! Chinga tu Madre!” but that would have been a bit too extreme. Serenity now!
Once my room was ready, I changed clothes and left to walk the streets. Every few feet I was approached or called to by the numerous vendors. Ahead, I spotted a white guy with red hair & beard sporting all his Guatemalan gear: straw hat, woven poncho and pants accessorized with a woven shoulder bag & to REALLY top it off…vibrams! He was not the only tourist dressed as such and they attracted large entourage of eager vendors. Dressing in traditional clothes does not make a person blend in, all just says, “Hey, I like to buy stuff. I am an easy target.” Did he buy everything at the same stall? I could not keep myself from staring and did my best to keep a straight face. As he passed me, he looked me up & down disapprovingly. Shame on me, I was dressed like an American in a strapless linen top, denim skirt, rainbows with my Rayban sunglasses and beat up red travel purse.
I have had travelers like the ginger speak condescendingly to me, telling me I should “blend in” and dress like the locals or ask me if I am fresh off the boat (FOB). Generally, these people think it is cool to not shower and let your appearance go to shit in order to give the sign that they have been on the road longer. Rather than trying in impress locals, they are really they are trying to impress other travelers. Call me a rebel if you will, I shower, shave, use deodorant, wash my hair, trim my fingernails & toenails and wear clean clothes. Funny thing. A few minutes later, I passed a Guatemalan female dressed similarly to me. However, I didn’t become disillusioned into thinking this made me blend in. At least, I was in fact dressed like a few natives.
I needed to get off the beaten path in order to breathe. Going down a few random alleyways, I soon had an entourage: a bunch of kids. These are my favorite type of entourage because of their curiosity and willingness to talk with me. Also, it makes me happy my cave-woman Spanish is almost at par with their vocabulary. Or at least when I don’t make sense, they laugh gleefully.
Apparently there are good trails in the area for running. The Guatemalan locals when I inquired about good trails, they told me no good. A white man painting a building was built like a runner and looked like a good person to ask. He was a retiree from Alaska who was getting ready to open a new club: Jaguar Cafe. The man suggested a few routes that would take me through adjacent towns via pavement. Next, I encountered an expat couple, Les & Tracy who met & married in Half Moon Bay, CA. As commercial landscapers, they worked along the Peninsula south of San Francisco before moving to North Carolina. Tracy is opening a gallery in Panajachel while Les travels between here and North Carolina. When here, he just hangs around and was the perfect person to ask about trails since he is an avid birder. Every AM, he gets up early to bird watch and was a wealth of knowledge giving me 2 good options.
For my sunset drink, I went to aptly named Sunset Cafe and ordered a michelata. My waiter was hesitant to fulfill my request until I convinced him I have tried 1 before & liked it. The waiter then told me where he would be drinking later that night, La Terreza, a salsa club. Other people filled the terrace to watch the day end, including a Scottish professor from Knoxville, Tennessee who sat at the table beside me. He lives here and works with local growers to help them optimize their land and harvest seeds from non-native plants. The waiter dropped off the drink for him and made a 2nd attempt for a date “You know salsa?” “Come dance salsa tonight.” Once the sun set, I asked for la cuenta. Third attempt, “I will be there at 10. Come meet me.” Honestly, I wanted to go dancing but I did not have my SF salsa posse with me to provide a buffer. At Cafe Cocomo in San Francisco, I get short sceezy characters with a mouth full of gold approach me. While some are really good leaders, most just want to rub their not so impressive boner on me. Here, I suspected it would be worse being La Americana Rubia.
My hotel offered free dinner which helps to lower the day’s cost since travel days throw the daily budget over the norm. Taking advantage of the large room, I practiced yoga before dinner. As I sat down in the restaurant, Nick entered and asked me to join him and his friends for dinner and drinking games. I was introduced to Harry & Roy, from San francisco and Roy’s girlfriend who lives in DC.
Nick explained how “3 man” was played. There are many rules basically, people take turns rolling dice. Based on what is rolled someone has to drink. Whomever is the “3 (wo)man” every time a 3 is rolled, that person has to drink. It always amuses me how drinking games are so complicated but make more sense as you drink. Into the game, I realized Roy’s girlfriend was not playing, making me the only female player until 2 Dutch girls joined us. Making quite the spectacle, I turned and noticed we had an audience. I spotted the Aussie couple from the Volcan Pacaya hike who both declined the invitation to join by joking, “Nah mate, we would smoke ya!” True.
At some point, someone said, “If we don’t stop the game & leave the hostel soon, we won’t make it out tonight.” Considering it was Nick’s last night, the guys thought it would be bad form. Me and the Dutch girls got ready quickly but actually had to wait on the boys. Nick was shaving & Harry primping. Roy & girlfriend were still in their hotel room. The guys said we wouldn’t be waiting for them. Oh, they are engaged in “couple activities”. They laughed sharing with me the couple had been fighting nonstop and sex was unlikely. Now, ready to leave, Harry asked Nick why he was not kicking the Bob Ross fro (the artist shown on PBS)? I egged him on too because I thought it would be kick ass fro and offered my hair pick to assist. The Dutch girls got impatient and told us to meet them out. Harry shared his Agua Caliente with me to drink out of a yellow dog shaped sippy cup and we watched the fro come to shape.
Everyone reunited at the The Pana Party Hostel including Roy and his girlfriend. The bar was pretty cool bar with live music. Harry was happily entertaining the Dutch girls. I avoided Roy & girlfriend since she seemed like a drama queen. Nick and I hung out. The temperature dropped, despite having SF blood, I needed a layer to throw on over my dress. Nick, being the gentleman accompanied me on the journey due to the “Bible” aka Lonely Planet stating women should not walk alone at night. On the way, we stopped at the burrito stand. Thinking I was brilliant, I shared my words of wisdom with the man making our burrito on how to better market the foreigners. Nick & I went back to the Hotel to eat our burritos in the courtyard and ..yadda..yadda..yadda..ended up retreating to my room