We had a destination, Lago Atitlan and the town of Panajachel. The busses in Guatemala are a step down from the busses in Mexico which were already a large step down from “the Dog”, also known as Greyhound busses in the US. If you ever wondered where all the old busses go to die, it’s south of the border and beyond that, it’s Guatemala. The busses in Guatemala were the old “Blue Bird” school busses that had been repaired with spit, bubblegum, and baling wire. Then they were decorated with colorful religious shrines on the dash nearly completely obstructing the view out the front window as it careened wildly around the mountainous curves. If you looked far, far down the ravine you could often see the remains of busses that didn’t make it. Where the “Blue Bird” school busses were originally designed for two children per seat, or four across, it now supported three per seat and seven to nine people across depending on how wedged in they were creating a bridge where at least one person was resting on top of someone else’s legs. Backpacks, shopping, chickens, goats, pigs, and anything else that needed to get from one place to another were strapped or tied to the roof rack of the bus. More than a few times as we careened around a tight corner on what seemed to be two wheels, a pig, bound by its front and back legs, flew off the top of the bus slamming into the side of the bus squealing wildly. As the squealing pig thumped continually against the side of the rocking bus, the ticket taker would climb out a window, over the top of the bus, pull the pig back up and tie up the poor creature more securely. He would then climb back in another window stepping across the backs of the seats to return to wherever he needed to be. All this time the driver is praying to Madre Gaudelupe and crossing himself as the garlands of flowers swing back and forth across the dashboard shrine. This “circus act” was repeated many times during our stay in Guatemala as we traveled.
We finally started a descent down a mountain road and could see the large body of water below. It was Lago Atitlan! We were almost to our destination! Having read about the lake I’ll tell you a few of the interesting things we learned. Claims are that the volcanoes that ring the edge of the lake are remnants of the original volcano that spewed forth the Earth from the central belly which is now a lake bed, giving birth to the planet. How will we know for sure? Nobody takes a boat directly across the lake but only travels around the coastline because it has whirlpools that will suck a boat down! The whirlpools aren’t constant and have no schedule. You never know when it will happen so, why take chances! Jacques Cousteau decided he wanted to explore Lago Atitlan. As the story goes, Jacques attempted to dive to the innermost depths of the lake and encountered an invisible yet impenetrable force field that prevented him from entering its underbelly. Any way about it, this was a magical place! We found a place to stay and began to settle in. But, where was Simon?
Move to San Pedro
After a day or so we decided that Panajachel was a bit much for us as it was stall after stall for bulk sales of handicrafts. We weren’t ready to dive in without guidance. We decided to go around the lake to a quieter village called San Pedro de Atitlan. And there, as we walked into the local bar, we found Simon!
Simon says, “We could have a gig here if you like!” Simon plays flute, and very well. We had several nice jams around the campfires on Zipolite beach. “Sure! Why not!” So, it was arranged! We walked back to our room through the “plastic jungle”, so named because it was shin-deep in plastic bags and bottles in between the trees and on the path.
Our room was a little concrete room in a compound surrounding a large cage with two monkeys. In a nearby cage was an exotic bird. Early every morning, the monkeys would screech loudly and raise a ruckus. We just ignored them and tried to go back to sleep. One nice feature of living there was every morning “the Avocado Kid” would come around selling the biggest, most delicious, fresh off the tree avocados we have ever eaten before, or since! We would buy three for a dollar and breakfast was served!
We made little flyers and passed them around and put up a poster or two for the upcoming gig. The evening of the gig arrived and we were ready to jam and have some fun. To say it was a packed house would be an overstatement as there weren’t very many tourists around but at the same time, those that were in town were in attendance! I don’t remember what our playlist was, I just remember we played “Brown Eyed Girl” several times and a few spontaneous jams. A fun time was had by all!
It is said that when God made the rainbow, he got the colors from Guatemala. There is no example more evident than in the huipiles. Huipiles are the traditional hand-embroidered blouses of Guatemalan ladies. Each village had its special motif that they all followed. After a while, one could recognize which village a group of women were from. We collected quite an assortment of huipils that we kept for many years. When boarding a local bus to go to market the seating was full of women all dressed alike. It was like a village uniform of brightly colored art. The men’s work shirts were equally colorful with an interesting weave similar to the women’s skirts which features ‘ghost images’. From the net, “Mayan men and women are known throughout Latin America for their ‘traje’ or traditional dress, consisting of intricately woven pieces abundant with meaningful symbology. Not only does the huipil form part of a woman’s Mayan identity, but it expresses her individual identity through a number of symbols that can represent a municipality, urbanism, economic status, family tradition, age, and the weaver’s prestige. Women also gain inspiration from dreams or from their ‘nahual’ (each Mayan’s spirit or totem) and incorporate them into the huipil as artistic details. Because of the spiritual significance embedded in the cloth through this weaving process, many Mayan women believe that huipiles enclose them in a sacred space from which they emerge at the center when wearing them.”
A Teather From The Thtates
There was one village on the lake that even with your eyes closed you could tell they were from. Back in the 70s, some teachers came to the area to help teach the villagers how to monetize their handicrafts to bring some income to them. They also taught them English to help with the marketing. But, this one village’s teacher had a terrible lisp so, all of the villagers there “thpoke with a therible lithp!” Even after a decade or more, the lisp remained. But they were cute.