Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 March 2-April 10 Lago de Atitlan

2012 March 8

I've been horrible about writing in my journal for the past week or so.  To catch up...

I spent three nights in the Jungle Party Hostel back in Antigua after leaving Earth Lodge.  I kept tossing around the idea of going to Monte Rico for a day or two but just couldn't justify the expense, plus I found out that it's not turtle season down there so I decided not to go.  For some reason I just didn't feel like moving on to the lake, though I couldn't figure out why and I will likely never know!

Anyway, I finally got my ass in gear on Thursday morning.  I took a chicken bus to Chimaltenango (5Q), where I had to transfer to a different bus for the next leg of my journey.  I came very close to leaving my large bag on top of the bus and I totally would have if the attendant on the bus hadn't yelled at me!  That would have sucked!  I was so preoccupied with figuring out where I needed to be that I just didn't remember it!  It was pretty funny though- I told the attendant "no lo quiero" (I don't want it!) and we had a good laugh together.  :D

I passed up the first bus that was going to Los Encuentros, where I was going to transfer again to Panajachel and then take a lancha to San Pedro.  There was a hostel there that was potentially looking for a person to help out and, though I hadn't heard anything from the owner in a couple weeks I still wanted to check it out.  Skipping the first bus turned out to be a good plan- a few minutes later there was a direct bus to San Pedro (20 Q)!  I didn't even know they existed.

I found the hostel (Yo Mama's Casa) easily and checked in.  It turned out that they weren't looking for help at the time but I had been thinking about taking another week of Castellano because I really felt like that would help my fluency to practice speaking for solid amounts of time, so the next day I located a school I had found online (Casa Rosario) and arranged to take a week of lessons, starting on Monday.

Friday I was planning to go to San Marcos for the day with some of my new friends from the hostel but I ended up spending a good chunk of the morning looking for my camera, which I never found.  I have a pretty clear memory of putting it into one of the pockets in my small bag when I left Antigua but I left my bags unattended for a few minutes when I used the bathroom before I left so I suppose someone may have stolen it.  I sent a message to the people at Jungle Party Hostel asking if they could check the security footage (for some reason the hostel rejects my phone calls...) but I haven't heard back from them.  So, that sucks.

San Pedro is a pretty cool little place.  There are basically about three or four main streets and then a bunch of little walkways that connect the streets.  It's impossible to tell if most of these walkways are public paths until you walk down them for a block or so- if you haven't dead-ended into someone's home by then, chances are that it's a public walkway!  There are tons of “non-local” people here who came here years ago and loved it here enough to buy some property and start a business.  It is a nice town and I feel safe walking around at night.  There are only about 12 K people who live here so it has a pretty “small town” feel to it.  You buy things from the same people day after day, and see the same people at the same places day after day.  There are two women who sell sweet breads for 7 Q  – little loafs made from bananas, chocolate, coconut (my favorite) or carrots.  There are two boys that I end up seeing at least once every day, who sell bags of popcorn for 2Q.  And so many more.  The other day I saw a little boy selling bags of peanuts, which were stapled to some paper straps that looked like suspenders!  He couldn't have been older than 5.  It's amazing to me how young kids start working here.

Looking toward the mercado in San Pedro la Laguna

The lake and surrounding area is beautiful, but that kind-of goes without saying here in Guatemala.  It's been more windy than usual here so I haven't gotten into the lake yet.  I haven't been great about practicing my Castellano most days since I arrived here.  I've made a lot of friends that I probably won't keep in touch with or see again after I leave here, but I'll talk about a few of them briefly...

Brena is the girl I met on the bus.  She's very mellow and not into partying her ass off like most of the other people here.  She's from Canada and is here in Guatemala for another month or so.  Her Castellano is a little better than mine.  After here she is going to a yoga retreat on the other side of the lake for 10 days.  It sounds nice but it's $20/day- WAY too much for me to justify.

Slava is really a character.  She's like 40 or 45 and is a Russian Canadian who got married and had a child right out of highschool but is now living her own life and is quite crazy.  She's very blunt and sexual.  I imagine she has more sex in one month than I have had in my whole life.

Dona is one of my favorite people here.  She's Asian but I think she's from Canada as well.  Lots of Canadians here!  She works here at the hostel and is trying to start doing yoga lessons and massages to make some extra money.  I haven't actually talked to her a ton but she has a really great energy to her- very funny personality.  She has a major sweet tooth -actually, she just loves food in general!  Anytime someone has food around her she's like "hey, what's that?" or "is that cake?"  :D Hilarous!

There's a guy here named Shawn who I can't make my mind up about... He is pretty abrasive and judgmental about people around him but for some reason I still usually enjoy talking to him. He lives and works in Santa Cruz but is going home to Canada (!) again very soon.

Molly is gone now but she was actually really cool- one of those people who hadn't really registered on my radar until I started talking to her one day and felt instantly comfortable with her- a bit like Chimene but less of a connection.  Still, I think I could travel with her and I was a little sad when it turned out that she was moving on so quickly.  She is on her way to Flores now.

Max is also gone but he was pretty interesting- reminded me of an elf... who smoked a lot of pot.  A very young, very high elf.  :D  He is German but he learned Spanish while traveling in Mexico for a few months.  He seems pretty fluent.  Wish my brain was still 20 years old!

Tom and Charlie are brother and sister- from England, think they've been here a few months or so...  Charlie spent hours and hours painting a scrabble board on the table in the common area.  It looks pretty fricking cool.  Tom is often drinking but it a pretty funny guy to talk to.  He seems like quite the party animal.

Charlie's scrabble board
Maddy is another girl who works here. I haven't spoken with her much because she's really quiet- more the type to hang out on the edge of the conversation but not feel the need to talk all the time.  She seems slightly less wild than many of the other people here and seems to be a pretty genuine person.  She's from Australia.

Chiquita is the dog, who is pretty funny looking.  She kind-of looks like an Australian Shepherd but she's smaller.  She could be a pretty good dog if someone would work with her a bit.  As it is she steals anything edible that is left unattended for more than a few minutes.  She especially loves bread.

A bunch of the Yo Mama's crew
My life lately has been very uneventful and I haven't done much worth talking about since I got here... I have lessons in the morning from 8-12.  I'm glad I only scheduled 4 hours a day because it's all I can handle!  My teacher, Faustina, is very nice but Leivi was better.  Faustina lets me get away with too many mistakes and then when she does correct me she often does it in a way that makes me feel like she's irritated or like I'm stupid- which I am, a bit!  There are definitely some things it's taking me way too many times being corrected to remember.

There are a handful of other students in the school now but I really only see a few of them on a regular basis.  The actual school is by the water and is very cool- there are about 8 or 10 little cabanas, each of which have a table and two chairs.  There's a “tree-house” with two hammocks in it that overlooks the water.  And, there are kayaks we can use if we want, but it's been too windy lately- in the afternoons there are large waves on the lake and it's too cold to seem like a good idea, but I have high hopes for Saturday.

Usually my afternoons are occupied with doing a bit of homework/playing in the internet at one of the cafés that have wifi, buying things at the mercado and hanging at Yo Mama's with the crew there.  We made an amazing dinner the other night- green curry.  I only chopped some veg and helped a bit with the rice- it was nice for a change to do very little.  A couple of times we have made fires in the fire pit here and one night I roasted marshmallows that already have chocolate on the inside!  They were delicious.

The craziest thing happened though- and I'm thinking that this might possibly be the reason I just couldn't get myself to leave Antigua "on time".  Hannah and Michelle, who were my neighbors when I lived in SE Portland, are going to school at the same place as me!  AND, we're neighbors again!  Talk about a crazy world.  The last I knew they were moving to Korea to teach English- three years ago.  They have done that and are on their way back to the US but decided to take some time and explore a little of Central America.  I'm hoping to hook up with them again in Honduras after we all leave here.

Last night I went to a talk given by a guy who was a prisoner in the war, that was put on by one of the other schools here.  He spoke all in Castellano and I understood most of what he said, so that was pretty awesome.  It was both fascinating and sickening to hear his story.  I knew that the US had contributed millions of dollars to Guatemala's civil war but I was unaware of the full scope of their involvement, which included training in torture and interrogation methods.  The number (and manner) of deaths at the hands of CIA-trained members of the Guatemalan Army is staggering.

Here's the wikipedia page:

He said that when he was 15 years old he and his classmates saw dead people in the football field in between the dorms and the school.  They were left there by the army and they were found naked and gagged with their hands and feet bound, throats slit.  There were two women among the dead one of the days, and on top of all the other terrible things done to them the army had cut their breasts off.  Then he told us that the army busted into his house one night, kidnapped him and held him for like 8 days.  During that time the army was also holding 7 or 8 other people and they killed two of them in front of the rest of them, one by drowning him and the other by telling him he was free to leave and then shooting him in the back.  He said they also stripped a man and mutilated his genitalia but that the guy was still alive and has a wife and children now.  Pretty sobering experience.

Tomorrow I don't have lessons because I am going to go volunteer for Rising Minds, a group that has a bunch of little projects going on in the little villages near here.  I am going to go help build a school out of garbage!

March 14th

More time has passed and I've been bad about keeping my journal up-to-date.  So much has happened.

To start with, there have been four deaths here or in the surrounding areas over the past 5-6 days, three of which have been murders.  Even more disturbing is the level of cruelty involved.  I'm a little fuzzy on the details but here's what I (think I) have learned:

A 15 year-old boy was drinking and dove off of the cliffs at San Marcos and drown.

A 17 year-old boy was found (in the water?) by the dock to Panajachel.  He had a backpack on and his hands were tied behind his back.  He had a stone embedded in his forehead and his face had been cut (three times?) with a machete.  His throat may have been slit (a little unclear here...).  Apparently he was a good kid but had been hanging out with “the wrong kind of people”.

A (21 year-old ?) boy was found down the street from the place where I am staying.  His face was beaten to the point where it was hard to recognize him.  He may have been stabbed in the side by a pipe or some other metal pipe-like object.

One more guy was found in the same location as the 21 year-old.  I don't know much about this death, though I did hear that one of the people who were killed had their tongue cut out.  Trying to find out more details...

All in all it's pretty crazy.  People are pretty freaked out.  I think it's likely all the murders are connected, and if it's true that one persons tongue was cut out that's clearly a message.  This girl Cali, who I met a week or so ago, lives down the street past where they found the two bodies (on different days) so she's afraid to walk home at night now, and she's been living in this town without feeling at all scared for 7 months now.

On a less morbid front, I've met more cool people!  Lots of really fun individuals here... it's too bad that I will probably never talk to any of them again once I leave here.

Kate also works at the Yo Mama's, and she volunteers four days a week with Rising Minds, an organization run by this girl Courtney and her boyfriend Owen, which does all sorts of different non-profit work with the communities around the lake.  Kate has really awesome red hair that I just love.  She's also really funny.  The way she tells stories just makes me laugh and laugh.

Ruby is from California and is planning to go to Burning Man for her second year (last year was her first also!) this summer.  She already has her ticket!  I'm a little jealous, but at the same time I'm too practical to seriously consider returning to the US in such a short time!

Becky is from England and she's 33 or 34 (and very excited to not be the oldest traveler!). She and I spent a little time in the kitchen at Yo Mama's yesterday- she made flapjacks and I made (slightly burned) banana bread.  I always thought flapjacks were vaguely similar to pancakes but they are nothing like that.  You mix syrup, oats and raisins with melted butter and then smash it into a pan and stick it in the fridge for a bit until you can cut pieces out.  I think you usually use corn syrup but we could only find regular syrup.  They were pretty good but I don't think you can go wrong with anything that involves the amount of butter that she put in them!

I'm finished with my lessons now- my last lesson was on Monday because I volunteered with Rising Minds on Friday.   They are building a school in a community called Chacap which is in the city of Santa Clara.  The school is constructed from glass bottles using a mixture of sand, soil and cement to hold it all together.  On Friday I basically just worked on smoothing the walls using the mixture but today Dona and I worked together on a “window” that we hope will look like a rising sun when it's finished.  We leave San Pedro around 8:30 (even though we are supposed to leave at 8!) and work until about 2 each day.  I pack a lunch but the mothers often bring snacks or at least drinks so that's pretty awesome.

At Chacap... big crew this day...
side shot of "my" window... doesn't look much like a rising sun...  more like half of a squished flower... oh well.
Today Dona and Kate left early but Owen, me and Imry stayed until 2.  When Owen and I returned to Rising Minds Kate was there and she told us that they got robbed on the way home while they were walking on the road between San Pedro and San Juan!  Pretty fucking crazy.  I guess that two guys with machetes and pistols jumped out of the bushes and held the guns to their heads.  Dona gave them her bag and then Kate grabbed her and yelled at her to run.  The guys must have either not had any bullets in their guns or they decided that one bag was enough so they didn't pursue them but it's still pretty messed up.  I had read that walking between the lakeside towns wasn't a good idea but this hits pretty close to home.  These girls volunteer so much of their time to help people in these communities so it't pretty crappy, karmic-ly.

Several nights ago the Yo Mama's gang cooked an amazing meal, which I didn't get in on because I wasn't super hungry but it sure looked delicious.  They were making these potatoes where you boil them for a few minutes and then put them directly into really hot oil and then bake them for another 20 minutes or so.  When they put the potatoes in apparently a little water transferred and the oil/water mixture being close to open flame suddenly and explosively caught on fire.  There was a GIANT fireball!

Later a crew of us ended up going to La Piscina, a bar here that has a pool (hence the name!), where one of the girls from Yo Mama's got really drunk, swam around a bunch (she was the only one crazy enough to get in the pool!) and then passed out in the tree house.  I think she later fell out of the tree.   Or, partly out of the tree... I think I remember hearing that she was stuck in the tree.  : D  Tom made me a really delicious NEON BLUE beverage.  Neon blue is probably the absolute last color of beverage I would choose to drink so I was a little skeptical but it was quite delicious.  Tom has bartended a lot in his life and he can do flair (tossing bottles about- think Tom Cruise in Cocktail and you'll have a pretty good picture) so it was pretty cool to watch him do that a bit.  Smoked way too much that night, and didn't go to bed til like 3 am.  Didn't wake up until 11 the following day!  I had been planning to leave that day but somewhere between 3 and 11 am I decided to stay for a bit longer.  I figured, I am not in a huge hurry and it seems silly to miss out on spending a bunch of time with Hannah and Michelle, since the universe is clearly telling me that they are people I need to keep in my life!  Not to mention that the last thing I wanted to do in the morning was pack my bag.  I hate packing my bag.

Last night was Tom's last night.  This is really random but there is a “game” at Yo Mama's which basically consists of an O ring tied to a piece of fishing line and suspended from the roof.  You try to swing it in such a way that it catches on a hook in one of the posts.  Tom plays it all the time (though Maddy is the real champ!) and he got the ring on the peg WHILE HOOLA HOOPING.  He was very excited about that!  A bunch of us went out to see belly dancing and fire poi at a bar called One that is near the dock to Panajachel.  We didn't see any belly dancing but one girl had a fire hula hoop and another had traditional fire poi and both were absolutely amazing in my book.  They both made it seem completely effortless.  I really wish I had brought my poi with me and am kicking myself for not having done so.  I think I will see about making some...

Tonight I decided to stay in and spent the evening talking with Hannah and Michelle.  It was great to spend a solid amount of time with them, though it probably wasn't the best for their Spanish, since they are supposed to be studying at night!  Though, Michelle is now taking 8 hours a day of lessons!  Not sure how she does it- I would go crazy.

Earlier today Hannah and I tried to go kayaking but they don't have any kayak paddles at the school so we had to use regular paddles (as in, paddles with only one paddle-ey thing on the end, not two like kayak paddles have) so it was pretty ridiculous.  Eventually we decided to tie the two paddles together but I was over it by that time so Hannah spent a little time paddling around by herself after I left.

March 17th

My birthday totally snuck up on me!  I was sitting with the Yo Mama's crew on the 15th and someone mentioned St Patty's day and I realized the next day was my birthday!

Earlier in the day (on my birthday) Becky and I worked on the window that Dona and I had begun at the school.  I wish we could work faster but the reality is that you can only put so much mud on in one day.  So the window still needs another solid two days at least, which sucks because I'm planning to be in San Marcos on Wednesday and Friday and it will cost me twice as much to get there as it does now- 20Q a day- that's like one meal!

That night the lights went out at Yo Mama's so I was glad I had decided not to cook a big meal for everyone, as I had considered!  It was a pretty chill night- Michelle gave me a birthday shoulder and head massage that was pretty fantastic.  It was hilarious because Courtney told Owen (Courtney and Owen run Rising Minds) to give her one too and he did but he wasn't doing as good a job so Courtney kept saying stuff like, “do you see how her face looks?  I want my face to look like that”.  I'm pretty sure Owen was basically just doing a crappy job on purpose!

All in all, a pretty mellow night.  We chatted for a long time around the hammocks and then eventually we hung around the fire for a bit.  Smoke and drank way too much and now I feel not great this morning.  And today there is a big festival in Santiago that I don't really have a huge interest in going to but all my friends will be there, except Hannah and Michelle, who are moving on to Santa Cruz today.  So, now I need to pack up my bags and get over to Yo Mama's so I can get my stuff all sorted.  Ugh.

March 19th

Still in San Pedro.  I've decided to stay here until the end of the week so I can get in a couple more days working at the school.  I was planning to commute from San Marcos but it's just not cost-effective...

The festival in Santiago was pretty fun but a lot more money than I feel it was worth, including transportation costs.  About half our group ended up staying there, which I should have done because it would have saved me about 40 Q (10 Q more that I paid for transportation on the late boat, plus the 30 Q I paid to stay at Yo Mama's for one night).  Most of the music was pretty ho-hum but the last couple bands were really good and we spent the whole time they were playing dancing near the stage.  There was one guy who was super persistent and kept moving with me wherever I ran to while trying to escape him!  It was pretty ridiculous!

I decided to move hostels yesterday because Yo Mama's really is just too expensive for what you get.  30 Q for a dorm bed and free coffee.  In most other places in town you can get a private room and many places have kitchen access and even internet, for prices starting at 20-25 Q.  So, I checked out a bunch of places and finally settled on hotel San Francisco, where several of my new friends are staying.

I talked to one of the women, looked at a room, paid 100 Q for 5 nights and received a key.  But when I returned with my things my key didn't open my room!  I chilled on Casey and Becky's balcony for a bit and luckily Casey arrived somewhat quickly so I was able to toss my stuff in their room.  I spoke with some guy who was apparently the brother or brother in law of the owner and he told me that the ladies who ran the place would return around 9 pm.  But, when I went to talk to them at 9 pm there were people in “my” room!

It's all sorted out now but I had to crash Casey's bed last night!  It was actually a lot of fun- felt like a sleepover and we were just a bunch of teenagers again.  We talked for like an hour and a half or so and laughed a bunch, mostly at things Becky was saying as she was a little blitzed and pretty hilarious.

I got a cheaper price (after much arguing with the woman in charge, Cecilia, about how it wasn't right to charge me more than the price of the room I had originally been in, even if my new room WAS in a better location) for a room on the third floor for four nights (90 Q in total).  Now that I think about it, it's pretty ridiculous that I argued so long over a little more than one dollar but it was more the principal of the matter!

March 24th

Still in San Pedro!  I just can't manage to leave!  Worked at the school on Wednesday and Friday of this week and the window is basically done.  I would be happier if it were a little MORE done but... it's good enough.  I'm not staying until next Wednesday!

I need to get out of this town.  I'm smoking and drinking way more than I need to be and it's all because I basically go out every single night.  Can't do it anymore!  And still, I stay.

Part of the reason I've decided to stay is that there is a tattooist here and I've decided to get my tattoo touched up tomorrow (well, later today, actually- as I've just got home from the bar and it's way later than I should be going to bed).  I am choosing to recolor the red, since it's the only part that really needs it and I have never liked the red anyway.

March 26th

I've been in a bit of a weird head-space lately...  Been thinking a lot about the types of friendships I've been forming here and the fact that so few of them feel anything close to significant or permanent, despite the huge amount of time I've spent with these people...

I anticipate this will be a very difficult part of traveling for me.  Back home I have countless friends that know my worth- people who would fight to retain my friendship.  Now that I'm traveling I just have to count on people being very take-it-or-leave-it with my friendship, which makes me wonder what's the point in even trying to make connections with anyone!?

I've decided to recolor the orange in my tattoo as well, since it's a very small portion and it looks very faded next to the vibrant red.  The yellow is pretty faded too but there's just too much of it to justify recoloring it at this time.  The largest needle configuration Joss has is nearly half the size of the ones used by Jimmy (my original tattooist) so it takes a long time to do the work, which defeats the purpose of paying a low hourly rate since it takes more than twice as long.  But, I have hated how faded my tattoo is for a long time so it will be nice to get it recolored.
After.  MUCH better... some errors, actually... but, still pretty nice.
March 28th

I'm in San Marcos la Laguna now, though a little sad because I didn't get to say goodbye to Kate, Dona or any of the Yo Mama's crew because they were gone all day hiking Indian Nose and then volunteering at the after school program, and the last boat from San Pedro to San Marcos left before they got back.  :o(

San Marcos is ok, though I'm having a hard time finding much to do here.  The people are very friendly though, from the numerous people who were happy to give me directions to the two young boys who walked with me to my hostal after assuring me (when I said I didn't need help) that they weren't expecting a tip!  There is one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen in the center of town.

I tried to stay at Hostel del Lago but they were booked up in the dorms and private rooms were 90 Q so I ended up just up the road from there at Pacha Mama's, a little family-run hostel which is definitely "no frills" but at 30 Q a night the price is right.  The owner and his family are all very sweet and the only "downside" is that there aren't really many other travelers there at the moment so there aren't many people to hang out with.  And the kitchen is REALLY small and always seems really full of flies.

Today I walked around town a bit to see what there was to see.  I plan to at least take a hike tomorrow and possibly go kayaking if I can find a place that's reasonably cheap to do so.  Then I'm off for Santa Cruz in the evening, though I AM considering returning to San Pedro and going to Chacap on Friday... decisions, decisions!

Speaking of decisions, today I received word from Lisa, my Peace Corps recruiter, that I have been nominated for assignment in Africa.  I'm very interested but I admit that having to do all the medical appointments from third world countries isn't exactly appealing, and neither is the prospect of cutting my trip short any amount, really.  I would ship out sometime in February or March of next year, but I am unsure how much medical stuff I have to get done before then...  Plus, now that I'm out living the life I've always wanted to I'm wondering if I really DO want to devote two years of my life to this... So, lots of thinking about what I want to do with that...

March 29th

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, I guess.  Earlier today, as I was returning from a hike up to a waterfall I had heard about from several people here in San Marcos, I passed two guys with machetes- a common enough site here in Guatemala, especially when one is hiking through woods where many of the indegena collect firewood, hauling huge bundles down the steep paths on their backs, supported by a sling around their foreheads.

We exchanged "hola"s as they were approaching and I stepped aside to let them pass.  As the first one came abreast of me, he stepped close, grabbed my left arm and had the machete at my neck before I could even realize what was happening.  He shushed me and told me to give him my backpack, and when I told him "tengo nada" (I have nothing), he twisted my arm behind me to turn me while his friend stripped my pack off, and then the guy who had grabbed me took my watch (asshole!).  I asked them to search my bag and that there was nothing in there but they ignored me and walked off.

Stunned, I began to walk back down the trail but after a minute or two I heard more people coming from behind.  It was a group of indegena carrying large bundles of palms.  I asked them if they had seen two men pass and they said they had, and I explained that I'd just been robbed.  They were immediately indignant and super helpful, reaffirming what the two guys had been wearing and asking for details.  They rushed me back down the mountain, stopping to tell other indegena we passed what had happened, and one of the ladies we passed said she knew them and told them the names of the theives.

When we arrived back in town they accompanied me to the office for the "park" (the place where I was hiking is mostly part of a protected area I think is something like a state park in the US) and then one guy came with me to the police station to help me fill out my report.  I didn't really understand all of what was being said so I enlisted some more help from this guy Andreas who was hanging at Hostel del Lago.

I have to go back at 8 am to talk to the judge, and most likely nothing will come of this- and I almost definitely will not recover my things.

What really surprised me was how not-really-afraid I was.  Sure, I had a little bit of of an adrenaline rush but my overwhelming emotional state while everything was happening was closer to pity.  Those of you who know me know I'm not an overly spiritual person but I couldn't help but feel sad that they were bringing such bad karma on themselves for the pathetic contents of my pack.  Literally, the pack was the only thing of any real value that they took- and I actually hated it a little bit because the zipper was jacked up so half the time I would have to zip it about 6 times before it actually worked properly.  Crappy DaKine packs- I will never buy another (I have another DaKine pack with a defunct zipper back home!).  As for the rest of my posessions- my nalgene bottle, a less than half-full pack of cigarettes, a green lighter, a tube of sunscreen, about 10 business cards, a ziplock bag containing enough TP to use the bathroom twice as well as 3 or 4 advil or naproxin, my white "soccer mom" cap that had a hole burned in it, some baby wipes, 5 american dollars, two cigarette butts and a small wedge of cheese left over from my lunch.

On the plus side for my day, I got a free hour + head and shoulder massage from two people I met at Hostel del Lago because they needed people to practice on!  :o)  And I randomly met a group of nice guys who were staying at a totally different hostel that I went to so I could buy a beer for Andreas to thank him for his help.  I ended up going to dinner with them at a restaurant called (I think?) La Fe, where I had really mediocre pizza, made even worse by the fact that I had more food than I knew what to do with waiting for me back at my hostel.

After dinner I went to Hostel del Lago and treated myself to a chai tea and a bit of chocolate that was kind-of like a cross between a ball of cookie dough and a truffle- quite tasty, with bits of coffee bean and coconut.  Later I started a fire with a guy named Jeff that I met there and treated myself to a beer.  :o)

As of right now I'm planning to leave tomorrow for Santa Cruz.

March 30th

Spent a frustrating two hours in the police station today.  I didn't understand everything the judge told me but I think he said that they wish I would stick around for a week or 10 days to help with the process.  But, I have no incentive to stay.  These two guys are known thieves in the area, they have assulted multiple tourists and they are still roaming free.  Why should I care more about helping this community to be a safe place for tourists than the people who are living here?  Not to mention that I smile and exchange greetings with most of the people I pass in the street and have no desire to be friendly with my "attackers", since I'm doubtful that I would recognize them.

In the highlands above San Marcos, San Marcos (a different San Marcos here in Guatemala, the place where I went to spanish school and spent much of my first two and a half months in Guatemala), when there is a theif in the community the members of the town get together and hunt the criminal down and beat the person in public.  Everyone knows who the theif is and they are shamed out of their bad behavior.  Not that I'm necessarily saying this is a perfect solution but it clearly works up there and I guess I'm surprised there isn't a similar system in place here.

Anyway.  Moving on to Santa Cruz in an hour or two...

April 3rd

lol well, didn't end up moving on to Santa Cruz!  Literally minutes after I typed that I was leaving I met someone who restored my faith in humanity in a single act.  Ok, that sounds melodramatic but it IS somewhat true.

I was checking my internet in a restaurant that had wifi and this girl started talking to me.  After a few minutes we got onto walking and hiking in the area and how it wasn't safe and I told her about having been robbed at "machete-point" and how it was more annoying than anything because I'd only lost things that were important to me but had no value to other people, like my nalgene bottle.  We had literally only been talking for about 5 minutes by this time so it was pretty amazing to me when she asked me if I wanted one of hers!

My new friend's name is Sophia and she's a pretty amazing person, for being only 23 years old!  She's SO young!  But she's really mature and grounded so it's easy to forget how young she is.  She is traveling on a grant called the Watson, which is a 25 K award given to 40 graduates each year that has certain stipulations like that you can't return to the US, you can't really travel for an extended period of time with anyone, and you have to move on from a place once you start to get comfortable there.

Sophia is studying Social Circus- something I don't fully understand but I think it's basically the study of all types of circus arts and social interaction within that realm.  I told her about Nomads United, the horse thing that Tom told me about.  She can't do it now because it's a non-profit and she's not supposed to be really working with anyone under the terms of the Watson, but she was really excited about it and maybe she'll end up doing it some day.

Anyway, she is learning to do arial dance and yesterday there was a "tissue" class at Hostel del Lago (where I've moved to) for her and about 6 other people, led by some guy who seems really knowledgeable.  I had already figured out before Sophia confirmed it that he was probably really well renowned and famous within the community just by a few of the things he said.

There's another class today and I'm pretty excited about it.  I would really love to learn how to do it and am super excited that Sophia is going to teach me a little!  It would be a great gift for Burning Man, not to mention that it would be a great way to motivate me to be in shape.

If I'm making this look much more difficult than Sophia did, it's because it IS.  :D
In other news, Sophia and I are planning to travel together for a bit whenever we leave here.  It will be nice to actually form something of a lasting friendship with someone.

April 9th

Still in San Marcos!

My thoughts are a bit erratic right now, trying to figure out how to sum up everything that's happened in the past week.  Not that ALL that much has because the days are very much the same here- I moved to Hostel del Lago a week or so ago.  I couldn't ask for a more beautiful place.  It's right on the lake so I can go swimming whenever I want and there are tons of beautiful places to hang out.

Central hang out area of Hostel del Lago, looking out onto Lake Atitlan.
I usually get up around 7:30 because the dorm I'm in now shares a wall with the family that works here and the walls are very thin so it's a bit difficult to sleep too late.  I usually have a couple of hours "to myself" down at the central part of the hostel, which is right on the lake so sometimes I take my coffee down to the shore and stick my feet in, though much of the time I just lay in a hammock and read for a bit.  I've been spending a lot of time being crafty; I'm working on a bag to replace the one that was stolen.  I purchased a fake suede coat in a packa (where pickups have loads of used clothes for sale) in San Pedro for 20 Q ($2.50) and about 8 different colors of thread and I've been having a grand time being creative.  Wheee!

Sophia usually shows up after a bit and we often go swimming for an hour or so and most days we do at least one 30 minute-1 hour session on the silks.  Most nights someone starts a fire and the hostel has several communal instruments, including a guitar and at least one drum, so there is often music around the campfire.

One of my favorite people here was this girl named Iza who I met one of my first days here.  I don't know what it was about her that appealed to me so much but she was always just really happy and anytime there was music she was dancing.  She is also traveling south, and is on a similar timeline as me so I hope I will see her again.  I think I will.

There is a girl named Aimee here that I am really hoping to spend more time with.  She's around my age and I always find myself drawn to the other "older" travelers.  She's really fit and she does yoga basically every day.  I have done yoga a couple of times and once was with her- besides the fact that it was free because it was an informal class, it was a really nice way to start my day.

The other night Sophia invited me to a Seder- a Jewish traditional dinner where they tell the story of the exodus from Egypt, with different foods representing various things.  It was pretty cool because everyone there spoke Castellano so we spent a fair amount of time listening and conversing a bit, though there were like 25 people there so a lot of the time during the actual dinner (the first couple of hours were mostly drinking wine and listening to our hostess talk, and then we got to eat afterward) Sophia and I were just talking amongst ourselves.  The food was absolutely amazing.  I love babba ganouch!  SO DELICIOUS!

San Marcos itself really isn't that interesting of a place in all honesty.  There are tons of gringos here that think that San Marcos has some sacred energy or something like that.  Lots of people practicing yoga and doing meditation and all sorts of healing, charging 30 Q or more for hour-long classes... which, on the surface sounds pretty great compared to US prices but it's ridiculously unfair to the indegena.  I can't help but think that the tostada lady has to sell 60 tostadas simply to make what one yoga instructor makes in an hour-long class with 6 students...

Everyone here in San Marcos is super into "doing cacao" - which basically means eating or drinking unprocessed cacao.  It's supposed to put you into a state of euphoria, or something like that!  There is a "chocolate shaman" who holds ceremonies that you can go to where you pay 200 Q "donation" to go drink cacao, "set intentions" and listen to this guy talk.  Needless to say, I haven't gone!  But, there was one day where I ended up eating a bunch of cacao that these two people, Alex and Fallon, had made that was super delicious.  They roast their own beans and they are both really knowledgeable about all sorts of random weird foods that I've never heard about.  Then later that evening we (a big group of us here at the hostel) had our own cacao ceremony.  I didn't really get anything out of it, spiritually, but it sure was delicious! 

Today Aimee, Lily (an Australian girl that I haven't spent much time with but she's Aimee's best friend here- they met on the yoga farm that Brena went to), Sophia and I walked to San Pedro and managed to get mugged once again! Sophia and I didn't have anything so we didn't lose anything, but Aimee and Lily lost their backpacks, which were full of clothes they hoped to sell in San Pedro.

The funniest thing happened afterward though- we were walking along and I was talking about how your nalgene bottle is an excellent weapon and how you could hit someone in the face with it before they knew what was happening and when I demonstrated how I would do that that the plastic ring that holds the top on the nalgene came off and I ended up throwing my nalgene like 20 feet into a window (thankfully it had a grate on it so it didn't break the window!).  The four of us laughed our asses off at that, as did some local people who happened to see it- though they couldn't possibly have had the faintest idea what I had been talking about.  lol

April 10th

Ok, so I have a plan now.  I'm leaving tomorrow with Sophia and we're going to spend a few days in Xela and then go to San Marcos for a few days, I think... Then, Semuc Champey!

Tonight we had a great night at Heather's- it was Heather, Lily, Aimee, Emma (another girl here, who is on a vacation from Nomads United, the horse thing that Tom originally told me about), Sophia, me, Chris (a kid from the hostel, who made the cacao we drank the night we had the ceremony) and a guy named Richard who I've met before but not hung out with.  We all made different things and it was delicious.  Sophia and I made guacamole, sweet potatoes and beets, and a casserole that was a little like veggie lasagna without the noodles and with rice on the bottom and a ridiculous amount of mozzarella.  It was pretty good but would have been better with more tomato sauce and some italian seasoning.  Chris and Aimee made some delicious mango guacamole that was out of this world!  Heather made brownies that we ate while we sat around the fire, listening to Lily and Sophia play music.  Lily is really amazing- she's only been playing the guitar for a month or so but she's written a few songs and Sophia is really good at harmonizing so it's a real treat to listen to them play together.  We did a bunch of chanting and singing, which I wasn't that crazy about to begin with but it actually was really great.

I have had a great time here and met some amazing people but I have spent 95% of my time in the hostel being a typical traveler and I'm really looking forward to some time with real Guatemalans before I leave this beautiful country.