Donna would go down to the lakeside to do laundry with the local ladies. To get the water out, they would slap the clothes against the large boulders on the shore. large boulders that were around some parts of the lake’s shoreline. She was surprised one day when she noticed some of the small rocks floated. We had never seen this porous volcanic rock before. She kept one, and still have it, which she will pull from time to time out to show amazed children.
Mornings were so lovely and peaceful, except for a short period when the monkeys were screeching wildly but it was tolerable. One morning I had wakened early and was reading a book when the screeching began. I just had to see what these monkeys were doing that was so wild! I sprang out the door and the screeching immediately stopped. The monkeys were laying quietly in their room-sized cage. Puzzled, I returned to the room and my book. The screeching started up again and again I opened the door to find the screeching stop and the monkeys laying quietly. Then I thought about Oaxaca. Yes, it was the exotic bird that was imitating the monkeys! All the tourists had fussed at the monkeys for making such a ruckus and waking them up. The bird should have learned how to laugh as well!
2 December 1990
We decided to take a day trip to see the Santiago Atitlán Colonial Church. On 2 December 1990, The Army rang the bell of the church to gather the townspeople together. The commander of the Guatemalan Army ordered the soldiers to open fire with automatic weapons on an unarmed crowd of between 2,000 and 4,000 Tzutujil Mayas from the town of Santiago Atitlán in highland Guatemala, about 100 miles west of the capital. Fourteen people, ranging in age from 10 to 53, were killed; another 27 were wounded. Two weeks later, as a result of massive popular pressure and national and international outcry, the army was forced to vacate its garrison, and Atitlán became one of the few Guatemalan communities of more than 10,000 inhabitants not to have a military base.* The church was said to be interesting so, off we went. It had been a couple of years since the massacre and the village had rebuilt by the time we went there.
When we arrived, we were surprised to find that festivities were in progress. As the music blared and the people partied we made our way through the small crowd towards the church. There were a couple of men joyously playing the marimbas. Interestingly, the church also features corn and the sun mixing in the Mayan culture with Catholicism. The church was empty of people but a small crowd was around the back of the church, blocking the entrance to the church’s storage room. What was going on inside? As we craned and stretched to see inside one man shoved Donna from behind pushing her inside while motioning me to follow. There was only natural light from the dirty windows so it was dark, but we could see life-sized wooden statues of Jesus and several saints all tossed into the corners. There, right in front of us, was Maximón, a wooden man with his legs cut off at the knees, wearing lots of scarves and a large hat. He had a big cigar in his mouth. People were sitting with him, pouring beer and whiskey into a glass and offering cigarettes to the figure while asking him for various things. While drinking with Maximón, men would ask him to please help them with more vices, and the women ask him to keep their men and children safe from the temptations of vices. His duality is that Maximón is said to represent both light and dark. He is a trickster. He is both a womanizer and a protector of couples. The details of how he came to be are confusingly blended together. Some say he was a gringo that ‘had his way’ with too many of the village women and so his legs were cut off to slow him down. Others say he is an old Mayan diety. Wiki writes, “In Santiago Atitlán, an alternative tale says that Maximón was never a man, but a wooden figure created by shamans to defend the village from witches. However, Maximón used trickery to harm the people of the village, so the shamans twisted his head around and broke his legs to stop him. He then did his job properly and protected the people of the town from evil.” Anyway about it, he was quite the figure.
Guatemala was under perpetual coup d’etat the whole time we were there, changing regimes 4 times, but Panajachel didn’t seem to be affected in any way. This was because, after the massive amount of local bloodshed by the army in Santiago Atitlán and around the Lago Atitlan area, the army had since been warned to no longer send any troops or they would blow up the trucks as they came down the mountain pass. So, no army should be anywhere on the lake. One afternoon we heard a big, thunderous boom! We asked, “What was that?” Apparently, it was a truckload of soldiers on their way down the mountain, they never made it.
We heard that some of the ex-pats that lived there in Panajachel were going to have a meeting. It was announced right after we had heard that the coup had taken its 4th change of government and we thought this would be a good chance to learn more about the situation. As the small community of ex-pats gathered, the discussions covered several subjects but not once did they discuss the political climate or the coup. Finally, as people started to leave we asked, “What about the coup?” “Oh, they happen all the time! They change governments by coup like most people change their underwear! It’s just normal life here.” The main point of the meeting was to discuss which cable channel they wanted to drop so they could pick up HBO. Donna also asked one of the ladies if there was a pharmacy to get something for a UTI (urinary tract infection). They told her the best thing was to drink hibiscus tea, which should clear it up. Sure enough, it worked great and now we learned a bit more natural healing cures!
Life in San Pedro had been a good adventure. Once, we took a horse riding tour up the mountain rim of Lago Atitlan to another village to a market. We rode slowly along the lowland near the lake and our guide turned left towards a very steep incline that was a maze of huge rocks with crevices carved out by a millennium of water rushing down to the lake. We had to hold on around their necks as the horses climbed up this treacherously steep route to the top. Fortunately, they knew the way having done this many times. After reaching the top we rode through a thicket of the jungle. We had been warned of the possibility of rogue bandits that could steal everything you have, kidnap you, or even kill you, but our guide assured us that we were safe with him. The market was a typical open-air market with fruits and vegetables but while not having much in the way of the handicrafts we were looking for, they did have local clothing that we had not seen elsewhere. Donna found a workman’s ornate shirt that was perfect for a jacket. The return down the mountain was even more harrowing and when the horses reached the lowlands away from all the rocks they had been climbing, they broke into a gallop as they were ready to get back home! It was fun but we were very sore afterward.
Simon’s version of shopping was to go to a few of the sellers he knew from previous trips, and basically say, “same as last time”, pay the money, and go back to partying. It would all be bundled up for him, given to the shipping service, and sent to his home in Devon, UK. Easy! He did take us around to a few places but we didn’t learn much more about this whole import/export business. Fortunately, Donna is quite clever when it comes to money and cost analysis. She is also quite clever when it comes time to ‘find’ money. When She divorced her ex-husband she never stopped making payments on his life insurance policy, which she owned. This was an opportunity to take out a small loan against the principal and invest it in some product that could be parlayed into a traveling income. So then the hard work of buying began, and I had to learn ‘market Spanish’. Just as fortunate that Donna understands money, I can, fortunately, pick up languages fairly easily. I attribute that to my musical ear. Together we are a good team! Simon did give one important piece of advice, the price when trying to buy will always start high, but they will never sell for too little of a profit no matter how much they complain! They make good money off their sales.
Donna and I worked out that I would bargain down the price with the salespeople, and if it wasn’t moving lower, she would start to wander off disinterested. It was amazing how quickly the price would drop! Also, when negotiating a price, whoever breaks the silence waiting for a better price… loses. Sometimes I would just stand there without saying a word for several minutes when suddenly the price would drop. I would continue to stand in silence, and the price would drop again!
Next: (13) Money, Money, Money!!!