Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 8

At breakfast my host mother said, eat well, this may be the last good meal you have for a few days. I ate pancakes, eggs, and plantains. While I waited for Daniel, I packed my bag for our weekend trip to Lago de Atitlan. Daniel picked me up, and we walked to school, picking Maggie up on the way. My class was good, we continued learning preterit, which is very exciting, reviewed some present tense, and played opposites go-fish, to learn and practice some vocab. I also spent a good seven minutes of the class teaching my teacher how to do bridge when shuffling cards.

After class, I went with Daniel to his house. After he packed up, we ate lunch, which was the most amazing lunch I’ve had. Daniel’s grandmother, who is my host mother’s mother, is an excellent cook, and made stuffed peppers dipped in egg and fried, tortillas, and hotdogs wrapped in bacon. What an amazing idea. After filling ourselves up, Maggie arrived, and we walked out to the street, where we were told we could catch the 20 bus to the terminal. Sure enough, after about two minutes a little van that said 20 on it drove by, and we hopped on. We then took an amazing ride through Xela, seeing more of the quite large city than we had ever seen. It has many markets and many different neighborhoods. It was a really exciting ride, with the American pop songs playing over and over the whole time. We didn’t really know where the bus was going, or where we were trying to go, but the driver kept yelling “Terminal,” so we were pretty sure we were on the right bus. At some point, the bus stopped, and the driver told us that this was the terminal. As soon as we got off the bus, a young guy asked us where we were going. We told him the name of the city, and he pointed us to the right. In that direction was a huge, bustling market, filled with fruits, vegetables, backpacks, and anything else one could want to buy. We walked about halfway through before deciding we had to be in the wrong place; there couldn’t be a terminal around here. Just before we turned around, I asked someone where the terminal to Panajachel is. He said go straight down a little path and you’ll get there. We walked down the path, past shoemakers, cell phone stores, and tons of other stalls. When we finally got out of the little path, we were confronted with an amazing sight. Sixty or so brightly painted, recycled American school buses all proclaiming a love for Jesus, called chicken buses, where all lined up, honking, pouring exhaust into the air, and loading inside and on top with people and sacks and luggage. Before we could fully comprehend the scene, a man approached us, asking where we were going. We told him, and he told us to follow us, and he led us through the jam of buses to one that was going directly to Panajachel. We got on, sat near the front, and watched as the bus filled up. After sitting for about seven or ten minutes, the bus took off. As it drove through Xela, quite aggressively for a vehicle of its size, it stopped every few minutes to let more people on. A man stood in the door the entire time yelling “Pana,” and the bus came to a rolling stop as families, business people, men, women and children, wearing native garb and western clothing hopped on the bus. For the next three hours, the trip went like this. At almost every stop, people of all shapes, sizes, and ages came on, selling everything from fruit in a bag, to Chiclets, to a solve everything hair and skin cream, to empanadas. As we rode, I considered writing a story in the same vein as The Things They Carried, called, The Things That Came On The Bus. At one point, a guy carrying a chandelier walked to the back of the bus. For most of the ride, a woman with some chicks in a box sat next to us. At some point, we paid for the ride, a whopping 30 Quetzales, the equivalent of about four dollars. The ride was beautiful, all through the Western Highlands of the country, through mountains and farms and towns and cities. The road is carved out of the mountains, and a rain storm this past rainy season brought down many of the walls, so the four lane road would sometimes become a two lane road, with only a few meters notice. Also due to the rainstorm, parts of the road fell into the mountain, leaving holes in the road. People got on and off at the tops of mountains, in the middle of farms, and everywhere in between. A few times during the ride we stopped at more popular stops, and stayed there for ten or fifteen minutes, as sodas and fries and chicken and nuts were offered to us constantly.

After three hours of twisting through the mountain roads, we went down a massive hill, and the lake spilled out in front of us. We finally arrived in Panajachel, and got off when the city center was announced. Having no idea where to go, we wandered around, heading in the general direction of the lake. The way from the bus to the water was suffocatingly touristy, with all kinds of kitchy crap for sale. We got down to the water, were harassed by some vendors, and then approached by a guy asking where we were going. He led us, somewhat forcefully, to his boat, and promised us the same price that we had been expecting, so we took it. We arrived at a sketchy dock by some houses, and were greeted by many guys trying to get us to come with them to this hostel or another. We plowed through them, got onto the main drag, and looked at our guide book for a place to stay. We found the names of three that looked good, and went to find them. A somewhat bedraggled guy told us he’d get us to a hostel, and though we told him no several times, continued to offer. We brushed by him and walked faster, but he followed us. We passed the hostel that we wanted to stay at, but didn’t stop because he was standing at the gate. We walked around the block with him in pursuit, and then down a dirt alley, until we realized how bad an idea that was. On our way out of the alley, he continued to offer, until I looked him in the eye, and shouted no, with gusto. No longer being followed, we got back to the hostel and checked in. We put down our stuff, paid about $3.50 each, and ventured out for dinner. It was not so easy to find a decent place to eat. San Pedro, the town we are in, is famous for being a hippie hotspot, and all of the restaurants are called things like *** and serve falafel and Indian food. We sat down at one place, and after being told they were out of just about everything on the menu, found a little taco place, and sat down for dinner. Though they didn’t get our orders exactly right, we ended up with plenty of tacos and much more beer than we ordered. We had a really nice dinner—the first nice experience we had at Lago Atitlan, and took the time to just sit and chat.

We knew that we wanted to hike the volcano, San Pedro, on Saturday, but we could not figure out how to do it. Our guide book suggested taking a tour with a guy named Matthew, and said that he could usually be found at a certain bar in town. At about 8:30 or 9:00, we went into the bar. We asked if Matthew was there, and were told that he moved to Australia seven months ago, so we left the bar. A few minutes later, I went back to the bar, ordered a coke, and asked the bar tender if he knew how to hike the volcano. He said that it was really best to do it with a guide, and that he’d call a guy he knew to see if he would be our guide. Almost before I had time to say thank you, Diego walked in the door. We sat outside the bar and discussed with Diego going up the volcano on Saturday. After talking for a few minutes, we left to go to sleep, with plans to meet Diego in our hostel at five minutes before five am tomorrow.

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