Ellen: What a weekend! First, though: we are getting our camera cord UPS´d by mom and dad (thank you!) so we will add pictures to this entry soon. If interested, please check back - there will be a camera icon next to the date when they´re there.
Second - and this is going to sound worse than it was - we woke up Saturday morning to every street corner of Antigua complete with its own machine-gun armed soldier. I said Honduras must be invading, but it turns out that it was just for a visit from the President of China (or so we were told).
Ok, so we left Saturday morning for Lake Atítlan. Aldous Huxley called it the most beautiful lake in the world. It was awfully pretty, but I think I´ll reserve my judgment until the end of the year! It´s got a few volcanoes surrounding it, and several little pueblos around the shores. (Kevin: the lake itself is a caldera, meaning it was formed in the crater of an even more gigantic volcano than the 4 or 5 volcanoes surrounding it).
But first the drive there. The road (sometimes it can´t even be called that) winds up through the mountains. All along the side of the road are people walking. To where, I hadn´t a clue, ´cause there wasn´t much around. To farms, probably, or to the closest little ¨main street¨ area, I guess. There are always little kids running around too, but the very smallest are carried around on their mother´s backs in large cloth ¨slings¨. They are all dressed in indigenous-made fabrics. Very colorful, and each pattern is significant to a specific village. (Interesting note: Kevin told me that this was forced upon them by the Spanish rulers so that the people could be easily identified by village and also to make tax-paying time easier.)
The homes along the road range from being in clusters of several to lonely ones further up the hills. They are basically white-washed (a long time ago) concrete boxes with rusted tin roofs. Incredibly poor. It was so hard to have specific emotions seeing this. You don´t want to pity, and you know that this is how some people live, but I couldn´t help feeling like I was watching a movie out of the window. I mean, these are people in our world living their lives so differently from any of us - it´s really hard for it to sink in, and ultimately I´m thinking that that might be a subconcious self-defence mechanism of mine.
So we (we´re with two other people, from Houston and Port Lavaca, ironically) arrive in Panajachel, the biggest city around the lake - it´s a couple main streets big. We got a room at Mario´s Rooms and had lunch overlooking the lake. Then we bargained with a kid and his brother (16 & 18 yrs old) for a private boat tour and guide in the towns. It ended up costing 500Q, or 125Q (15.63USD) per person, for the boat tour to three other towns plus a guide/private tour. The boat was a 25-footer, give or take. The 8 seats were reclining car seats nailed into boards along the floor. Very comfy, actually!
So we slammed across the lake to the first town, Santiago de Atítlan. The big attraction here is a cathedral and even more impressive, the shrine to the new saint(?) Maxímon that was created by a combination of indigenous belief and Catholicism in the last 50 years. You can smell the shrine before you see it, and you have to see it to believe it. The saint is a statue with no arms or legs, with a cigarette always burning in his mouth. The appropriate offering we were told is cigarettes or alcohol. This is serious, I swear. We just missed a healing ceremony being performed on a little boy, but saw the crap all over him when it was through. (Kevin: I think this is the same drinking/smoking god guy that Zaffirini and the Gimp told me about.) I just know there is a big room behind this one overflowing with all the offerings - distributed among those running the place, for sure. Maxímon moves every year to another families´place - I wonder what you have to do to get him at yours?
Walking to and from the shrine, deep into the town itself, away from the tourist market, I felt on display. I mean, here we are with our local guide, and the four of us with our backpacks and sunglasses parading after him, with these short little dark headed people walking around us. I swear it was like Gulliver visiting Lilliputia. The kids liked us, most adults ignored us. Except one woman. While Kevin was gettig ready to take my picture she was walking up the hill I was standing on carrying some huge bag on her head. She stared at me and sorta whispered domonically, ¨pagará, pagará...¨(pay for it, pay for it), meaning pay her for being in the picture. Yikes.
The next couple of towns were much less ¨significant¨ but were quite lovely little villages in the hills. One is famous for hand-weaving scarves (beautiful!) and the other not for much but was the home-town of our boat drivers. The drives around the lake, however, were spectacular! The water is so blue, and the volcanoes just loom around, with the tips just touching the clouds, just like in pictures! That´s where the title of this entry comes from: We´re recling in our car seats, taking in the scenery, a slight mist keeping us cool and Kevin turns to me and says, ¨or we could be at work!¨ We all had an enjoyable whoop at that!
Dinner that night was at a restaurant overlooking the lake, with a live band playing local favorites, I guess. I had the best enchiladas verdes ever. I mean EVER!!! (Kevin: but did they have cilantro?)
We drove to Chichicastenango this morning to go to the famous Sunday market. The drive was the usual exhaust-filled, bumpy trek. (¨The usual¨? Do I sound jaded after only one week? Uh-oh!) And I learned that the government doesn´t really feel like paying for billboards or anything. It would rather whitewash the mountainsides and paint their propaganda right there. They use symbols of the parties since so many people in the countryside don´t read.
The market was pretty much like any market here we´ve seen, though bigger, and at the center is a huge Mayan church. It´s just like a Catholic church, with Mayan bits added. There are their gods behind glass cases, and in addition to the normal church candles, for example, one guy had surrounded some vegetables with some candles and was lighting them. Prayers for good crops?
It just seems like these towns are filled with people trying to sell things and doing little else. I don´t mean I think they aren´t working, and there are a lot of others I don´t see, but so many of them just seem to be so dependent on the tourists. Which is sad, but then again, we´re here, aren´t we?
We´re back in Antigua now, looking forward to another week of Spanish classes. We´ll write again soon!