Lake Atitlan
chicken bus

Santiago Atitlan
Independence Day
language school

a new year
Semana Santa
las Americas
Machu Picchu
year 2
Santiago Sacatepequez
lake weekend
UK in winter
Caye Caulker
El Salvador
year 3
Carnival Trinidad
Rio Dulce
Semuc Champey
journey's end

Lake Atitlan

Guatemala Journal


 santiago atitlan

12 septiembre
I returned to Panajachel to meet a friend of a Colorado friend, Elyce. We first got in touch by email and she followed up with a phone call, inviting me to visit for a weekend a few weeks ago. Elyce does not have a phone, cell or otherwise, so I can't get in touch with her again easily. She suggested I bring a towel - she only has one. Jennifer at the school helped me make arrangements for the shuttle bus. The shuttle company wouldn't take my credit card number over the phone. They asked that I come to their office with my card, which was not at all practical. I stayed late at school so they could fax something for me to sign. After a series of phone calls, the shuttle company (or was it the travel agent?) called and said the electricity was out and they couldn't fax, but I could just pay the driver when I got on, which was what I wanted to do after all. This first attempt at getting to Panajachel didn't work, the shuttle never showed.

When I didn't arrive, Elyce called again, about arrangements for the next weekend. She added that if the door blows shut, there is no bell and proceeded to explain how to squeeze your hand through a tiny green door with bars, and pull on a nylon fishing line to open the door. If I can't get that to work, ask in the hotel next door for Antonio and he will come get her. And yes, still bring a towel, she actually did have other towels, but she doesn't know when she will ever see the guy who took her laundry again.

A different shuttle company picked me up at my door at 6am this time. I was the only passenger to Antigua. I paid close attention to the route, I want to be able to drive it by myself someday. Arriving in Antigua at 7:15, the young man in the oficina explained that the van didn't leave for Pana until 8, so there was time for coffee and a walk around. Too early for the shops to be open, I had coffee in a café on the plaza, then wandered around taking photos of the early morning light falling on the shops with the cloud draped volcano as a backdrop. A boy was washing the van in front of the shuttle office when I returned, slopping a wet rag up as high as he could reach.

Elyce's gate was open. I entered to find three 50-60ish women conversing in very American English - Elyce and her neighbors. A wild shock of permed blond hair haloing her animated expressive face, Elyce talked nonstop all weekend. Her sparse little rented bungalow was her home for 3 months this year, in October she would return to Colorado to sell Guatemalan crafts and arts from other areas of the world she had stored in her daughter's garage. Elyce has worked with missionaries on projects to help poor indigenous groups, has fearlessly visited Guatemalan villages and driven through Mexico back to the US with passengers for hire, and travels to less traveled places around the world each spring with a travel agent friend. She's been a potter, sculptor, archeology and art teacher. Looking at the textile and craft stalls with her is an educational experience - she can identify the village where different weavings are made, and has an interesting perspective on what will sell in the states.

We took the boat to Santiago Atitlan, a village across the lake. We were immediately assaulted by the local craft vendors who were insistent and relentless. Of all the villages, this group is among the most aggressive. Santiago Atitlan was one of the villages most decimated by the civil war, probably due to their insistent nature they had resisted the government oppression more than most. We walked around looking at the local crafts and found a place for lunch outside. Elyce tried to order something simple - chicken and bread, not on the menu, and ended up with a second order of my fish lunch with a chicken sandwich on the side. A little barefoot woman selling necklaces tried to interest us from the sidewalk. My friend asked for a to go box and packed up most of her excessive lunch for the woman. After she delivered the food, I asked the woman if I could take a photo of her. She stood seriously for her portrait, then asked for 5 quetzales. Although we'd just given her food, I dug around in my purse for a 5, then she said 10 quetzales. We decided it was time to go. She and a boy followed us back to the boat and continued to harass us to buy something even while we sat on the boat until it was ready to go, although we ignored them. They had obviously pegged us as suckers.

In light of our visit to Santiago Atitlan, we talked a lot about the politics and history of Guatemala. There was a white activist priest here who was dismembered on his own alter, one of the sadder stories of the war, but there are so many. Elyce described arriving at a Guatemalan village in the early1990's, finding the locals on long lines. Making her way to the front with her travel agent friend, they discovered that a national election was in progress. The military guards took each voter, inked a finger and, guiding the voter, made a fingerprint mark on the ballot. Elyce described one excited voter holding up his hand proudly showing all five fingers with ink - look how many times he had voted!

Much discussion about what to expect from the presidential elections this November. Why should we expect the government's voting overseers would approach this one differently? Now that Rios Montt was on the ballot with his party in power, widespread election fraud is feared. And if, as the polls indicate, he does not win, what action will he take after he loses? These speculations abound in the city as well. We'll have to see what November will bring.


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