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Guatemala Day Three

I didn’t have energy to write this until today, but this is about the events of yesterday.

Rachael and I awoke in Antigua to the warbles of a bird which had a very pretty song unlike any either of us had evere heard. As soon as I looked out the window i saw about 500 things i wanted to take pictures of. So I did.

We had a nice breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel before we headed out to explore the streets of Antigua. I had been here 20 years ago, and much of what I remembered was the same: the faces, the clothing, the street vendors, and the crumbling architecture. What had changed was the invasion of the “first” world. Apparently, 20 years is plenty of time for American corporations to invade and take up every square inch of advertising real estate. The same was even more true of Guatemala City – 20 years ago there were no Audi dealerships or Burger Kings as there are now.

Still, it was an amazing treat to enjoy the walk around Antigua, trying not to stick out too much like sore thumbs, though judging by the people following us around trying to sell us things, we weren’t very successful.

A shuttle came to pick us up at the hotel, and we departed for Panajachel about 1:00. The ride down the Pan-American highway revealed mile after mile of rundown buildings with the occasional tienda or church showing signs of activity. In between were rundown auto shops, ambiguous doorways, the occasional drunk passed out with his hands in his pants, and many stray dogs.

Rachael mentioned that everything here seemed like it was behind closed doors, and this seemed to be very true. We could peep inside a door as we drove by, and catch quick glimpses of things such as a soccer field, or a restaurant. It’s the inside where the secrets lay, and as we had discovered so far, it was where the activity and the beauty were found.

We met a couple from New York on the shuttle, Wendy and Tom, and they had been here for three months. They were both writers and had been coming to Antigua during the winter for three years. Tom had a lot of commentary along the way, mostly insightful, but they were nice people whom we chatted with the whole ride.

The shuttle took a turn off the main road, and Tom let us know that it was a shortcut the drivers liked to take. Unfortunately for us, it meant two hours on winding, pothole-ridden roads across mountains with sharp cliffs looming beneath. The driver liked to keep up the pace, so we found ourselves exerting a lot of strength just to hold on and stay upright along every hairpin curve, praying for no break failures or blown tires.

When we got to the bottom of a valley where a bridge across the river was supposed to be, I suddenly got a feeling of just how far from anything ‘normal’ we were — a feeling I hadn’t witnessed since my last trip to Central America in a similar situation.

Last year’s rain season was particularly harsh, and the bridge had been washed away. I hoped that the shuttle had enough clearance to make it across the river, and even more that the driver had done this before. We made it across just fine, thank goodness, and started a winding climb up another mountain.

By the end of the ride to Panajachel, we were worn out. Pana was an amazing little village with a bustling market and a handful of tourists wandering around. Our main task was to get to the dock to find a boat to take across Lake Atitlan to Villa Sumaya, where we knew a cozy room and a hot shower awaited us.

Tom and Wendy were nice enough to hook us up with a ride on the boat that had been sent for them so that we didn’t have to try and negotiate with our poor Spanish skills. A 20 minute ride across the choppy waters of the lake, and we pulled up at the dock of our final destination. We were woozy, weary, and worn, but we were happy to have made it.

Villa Sumaya is insanely beautiful. Perched on the side of a mountain, right next to Lake Atitlan, it climbs up into the jungle with little temples and guest houses along the steep pathways. We were given the bungalow at the very top, and at 5000+ feet in the air, you definitely feel the low levels of oxygen when you ascend the stairs up to it. But it is so worth it!

We look out onto the lake from our room for a perfect view of the two big volcanoes. Surrounded by hummingbirds, banana trees, and all sort of other tropical flora and fauna, it’s a completely serene, breathtaking view.

We saw Lizzy today and she hung out with us for a bit, which was nice. We will be going to check out her house after we have massages.

A moment of note was when we were going to sleep last night, realizing there were absolutely no sounds other than the nature around us. You can’t hear cars in the distance, people, or anything else to indicate that just two hours away, the raunchiness of northern corporatism looms.

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