All Mixed-up and Someplace To Go – Guatelmala, Central America

Where do Maya Indians, fugitives, assortment of
addicts, evangelists and world-roaming backpackers call home? San Pedro de la Laguna in Guatemala. This oddball lakeside town of Lago de Atitlan is
clandestinely nestled in the foothills of the once active San Pedro
Volcano. The only rememnants of volcanic
activity is the charred brain cells of the weirdo-gringo class that rapidly
multiplies, but luckily, stays contained within the enclosed dirt hills of this
tiny hamlet.

There are two ways to get
here. One method is the chicken buses,
jostling their broken-down frames along unpaved, crater filled roads. The second method is the most popular, requiring the least
amount of effort, a boat from Panajachel – the one time popular gringo hangout, now the gateway to more obscure hide-outs.

Since I arrived in Guatemala
four months ago, I’ve constantly heard enticing rumors about San Pedro.

“It’s so beautiful – you
can swim in the lake, climb the volcano, chill out on the rocks.

San Pedro
is the cheapest place in all of Guatemala.
Everything is two bucks: hotels, food, beer. The cheapest Spanish lessons.

You haven’t been to San Pedro? What are
you waiting for? Once you get there,
you’ll never leave."

How can anyone resist
such tantalizing recommendations!
Twenty-twenty hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the
travelers giving the advice than the advice itself.

I stepped off the boat with my backpack and was
instantly attacked by a throng of little boys eager to take me to the accommodation of
their choice – for a small fee. The
average age of these little workers started at four, still adorable,
but once they reached the ripe-old age of six, they bordered on nuisance. Kindly, I thanked them for their attention
and set off on my own.

I felt betrayed. At first glance San Pedro didn’t strike me as
the gem of Guatemala. As a matter of fact, it looked like a dump:
plastic wrappers along with other odds and ends littered the sidewalks filled
with a fresh aroma of rotting fruit that penetrated the air. I crinkled my nose confused about the
destination and set off on my hotel mission.
The entire village, with the exception of the steep road leading to the
center plaza, was a labyrinth of criss-crossed dirt paths. I made my way past vacant lots covered with
trash, through clusters of dirt floor shacks, and finally came upon the highly
raved hotels. I had a variety to choose
from, all within my price range: two bucks.

All villages, towns, suburbs and cities have one thing in common: they are always under
construction. Such was the case in this
village. My choices were:
semi-constructed cement hotels on the right or their unfinished counterparts on
the left. I played eenie-meenie-minee-moe and landed upon The Santa
Elena. This small, oddly shaped orange
structure would be my home for the next week.
It fit perfectly into the overall disorganization of the town. I was given a room on the bathroom-less side
(all the others were taken), which was quite an inconvenience. To cross over to
the other side required acrobatic skills, which could somehow be achieved
during the day, but at night, good luck!

A cement courtyard split
the hotel into two disheveled structures. Construction materials bought years
ago to complete the building were strewn about in the middle with cinder
blocks, rods and sharp nails protruding outward. If this wasn’t enough of a challenge, a
brilliant engineer hired ages ago, decided it was a good idea to put the water
run-off directly in the middle of the yard, unevening the concrete slabs and
then he tried to bridge them together with a three inch, unsteady wooden
plank. This was the path to the baño
side.

I pushed my bladder concerns to the back of my mind and headed back out to the
dirt paths. It was mid-day Saturday, the
sun was in full glory and the trails were deserted. Besides exploring "the prize possession of Guatemala", as
my compadres called it, I wanted to take Spanish classes. On my way, I couldn’t break free from the one
element that followed me everywhere – dirt.
It was in the air, on the ground, in my room, on my hands, on my face,
in my hair – impossible to escape!
I swam through the grayish fog of dust and found one of the Spanish
schools. Since Sunday is rest day and
classes began Monday, I had two full days to acquaint myself with the locale.

I ended up at the popular hang out – Nick’s Place 3. I sat
down next to a group of travelers: two guys and a girl. We engaged in
conversation. After the standard
pleasantries, I asked, “How long have you been in San Pedro?”

“We’ve been here for about two months,” one guy answered with
a dazed look.

“How do you like it?”

“It’s cool. How about you?” he remarked.

“I don’t know anything about it. I just arrived two hours ago,”
I replied, “Are you studying here?”

“Nah, we haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he yawned.

“Oh have you been up to the volcano? I hear you can see the entire lagoon from the
peak.”

“Naw, it’s too far up, it’s like a five or six hour climb,”
the other guy answered.

The girl quickly interjected, “You don’t want to go up there
on your own because there are a lot of bandits with machetes, people are
always getting assaulted. It’s better to use a guide, but I think they’re super
expensive.”

I had absolutely no intention to head up some volcano on my own
or with a guide, I’ll leave the climbing to climbers!

“So what else is there to do?” I asked quizzically. I
couldn’t imagine what you can possibly do here for longer than one week, much less two months.

“We got some kind bud.
Once you smoke this, you’ll be flying to the peak of that volcano,” they
all broke out in laughter.

The gait and mannerisms of certain travelers seem to repeat
no matter the destination. In this
case, I knew exactly whom I was talking to.
My new-found friends had one thing on their agenda – smoke as much grass as possible and do as
little as possible. This was my cue to
say goodbye.

I
trekked my way around the lakeside, enjoying the fabulous view of the
aquamarine lagoon encircled by volcanoes and mountains and headed back to my
room. I am one of those people who can’t
find their way out of a paper bag. Needless to say, I got lost on my way
home. En route, I past more run-down accommodations with languid travelers sprawled out on hammocks, rocking and swaying to
inner musical rhythms. The pungently sweet aroma of marijuana floated through
the fruit trees towards the sky impersonating smoke signals to attract their
kindred spirits. As I worried about my
future week in San Pedro, I stumbled upon my hotel. Greeted by the waking
humans from one of the rooms, I was grateful for something to do. Slyly, I made my way into their
conversation.

Replay. I asked the couple how long they’ve been
here. Apparently, their "mad love affair" began two  months ago, although Stacy had
been here for three months and Ted for five months.

“Which school are you
studying Spanish” I asked.

“Ha ha, ha. I, we,
haven’t gotten around to it.” Ted answered for them and winked at his proud
girlfriend, at the same moment whipping out a joint and lighting it. “You want some?”

“No thanks, I’m going to
take a nap.”

What was I doing
here?

Saturday
came and went. Early Sunday morning I
was awakened by a cacophony of sounds.
It started at six in the morning with explosions of all sorts, followed by
agonizing "hallelujahs" and young indigenous girls banging on hotel doors
selling pan de banana. I rued this turn
of events. My plan was to sleep all of
Sunday to make the time fly before school.
Instead I had the whole day to wander around.

Choices
limited, I went to the market.

Independence Day parade in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

Independence Day parade in
San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

The indigenous made up
the majority of the population in San Pedro.
They were extremely poor, simple-minded, religious, uneducated and
traditional. With the
exception of merchants and vendors who use Spanish regularly, they still
communicated in their native tongue. The
women dressed in long colorful skirts covered in a thin layer of
dirt with a solid shirt tucked in and tightened by a hand-woven
belt. If not barefoot, the women wore
rubber shoes that cost one dollar, bought for them when they
turned six-years-old to be worn until they die.
The women never looked you in the eye and held their children close as
they passed by. The men, with their
muscular physiques from years of carrying heavy loads up and down steep hills,
had no problem looking straight at you, and often lewd remarks accompanied their
toothless smiles. I bought bean tamales
and sat in the plaza as the locals scurried around me busy with domestic
chores.

Bored I headed back to the docks and walked right
into the absurd reality of San Pedro. I
remembered a conversation I had months ago with an aging expatriate who’d been
living in Guatemala
for over twenty-five years, although some of the facts were blurry. I clearly
recalled him mentioning that Lago de Atitlan, predominantly, San Pedro had the
most fugitives per capita than any other Latin American country. The FBI and other officials from the U.S. and Canada came here two times per year
to bring home the newly investigated trophies of the exclusive sub-culture that
thrived deep within the curvy paths and covert dens of this chosen town. Meanwhile, the ex-pats lived off their
stolen riches and started new enterprises.
Not straying far from the familiar, they sold drugs. But these newly appointed drug lords weren’t
the only ones who found their way to this lawless village. Misfits of all walks of life decided to "drop
out of life", proudly voicing their reasons to anyone who was within
earshot.

I sat
on the pier where the boats dropped off misinformed tourists, and tried to
ignore the assembly line of Indian girls selling pan de banana, pan de coco or
other treats. Inadvertently, I eavesdropped on my neighbors’ conversation.

“America was too difficult to cope
with; I couldn’t handle the stress and the cut-throat lifestyle,” a man in his
50’s with stringy, unkempt hair exalted as he lounged in the sun with a
beer.

“Yeah, I hear ya man, I
worked as a cashier for Wal-Mart, it was too much,” his buddy
sympathized smoking feverishly on a filter-less cigarette.

“Hey man what happened to
you last night?”

“Whadda ya mean, man?”

“I was stumbling home and
nearly cracked my noggin as I tripped over you.
You were passed out, dude.”

“Ooooohhhhh, I remember man, what a night, I got soo plastered.
And then a buddy of mine gave me some grass and that was it, man,” he
spittled a laugh, “I was so toasted I couldn’t even make it home.”

“I hear ya. That’s
happened to me aplenty. “

“I know, hey that’s life,
no worries.” He patted his pal on the back and continued, “Hey have you seen my
new abode. It’s great man. I have no electricity, no running water. Outside’s an outhouse which was there when I
found the place. It’s great. I totally lucked out, no worries.”

He shifted his body to
the right leaning on an elbow and let his legs fall apart exposing blackened
underwear through shorts on the brink of evaporation from over-use and
under-wash. There were no laundry mats
in this part of the world and God forbid you put hand to cloth, which could
represent conformity to the rest of the world.
This little display gave me too many worries, and I scuttled on home
immediately.

Not
all the travelers who happened upon this mixed up little town were eager to
fully saturate their bodies with elements of all kind and spend endless amounts
of days in complete oblivion. I managed to find people with similar interests.
No, we were not teetotalers, but coherency was important. I introduced myself to some of the other
occupants. There were six: three guys from Switzerland,
taking Spanish courses for the past two weeks; an American couple who arrived
today and signed up for the same school as I did; and my next door neighbor, an
Australian girl, who’d been here for the past two days.

We had dinner at Pinocchio’s Restaurant owned by John Wayne’s personal
chef. How did he end up here? It didn’t matter, the food was fantastic and
it was two bucks. To fill our thirst, a
cold beer won unanimously and we trotted in step to the bar strip. Actually there were three little bars alongside the dock, all owned by foreigners. We chose the
Italian-Israeli bar/restaurant/disco.

San Pedro was made out of
dirt and rock. Strict restrictions have been placed on construction of certain
buildings that cater to a lot of foot traffic and musical vibrations,
forcing most entertainment establishments to move to the waterfront. The use of stilts burrowed deep into the
cliffs and the water were used to balance and support these particular
foundations. With great views and open
verandas, the bar cleared out half of its space after sunset and a makeshift
nightclub was arranged. We sat in the
space with tables and ordered a round of beer.
Eighties music filled the open-aired room; the patrons began moving.

On
this side of the docks, it was rare to spot anyone from the indigenous race. They kept themselves as far away from the
sinners of the new world as possible.
While they fed their large families with beans and prepared their
hammocks or haystack beds, we indulged in Satan’s temptations. Ironically, a stray sat at the next
table. She had long lost her typical
dress and manners, judging by her washed-up sad appearance, she had lost more
than just her traditions. She
excommunicated herself from the tribe to search for the pot-of-gold at the end
of a rainbow, instead she found pyrite and a fool.

Somewhere between us
ordering drinks and thanking the waitress, the fool accompanying the local
girl, decided we were conspiring against him. He catapulted upward knocking over his wooden
chair and jumped on top of our table. He
missed, thanks to alcohol, and landed on his butt next to the foot of the
Australian girl, Wendy. But his point
was made. A maniac was on the loose.

One of the owners, either the Italian or the
Israeli, came to our rescue, “Ok, Jimmmm, relax, you’ve had too much to drink.
Why don’t you go home?”

He turned to us and whispered, “This happens all the time,
especially when he drinks whiskey. Post-traumatic-stress
syndrome or something like that,” he winked at us as if this was the most
natural thing in the world.

I was too terrified to run to the loo to vomit my guts out,
so I sat paralyzed, stopping all blood flow to my hands as I gripped my chair
for dear life.

He was falling all over himself, tripping over chairs,
bouncing off the beams that held the restaurant in place. It wasn’t a pretty spectacle and an
experience I would have loved to miss.
Finally his frumpish girlfriend stood up and cajoled him in the
direction of the exit with a touch of Latin sweetness.
With the help of the owner, they managed to shove his heavy frame out
the exit door. The goofballs at my table provoked him by screaming a string of obscenities on his way
out. I sent telepathic
farewells to the world I knew and the family I loved. The last thing I heard as the door to the
restaurant shut was the owner saying, “See you tomorrow Jim. Take care.”

Police of Guatemala
are infamous for corruption and were feared more than the thieves and crooks of
this country. Bribery and law
enforcement went hand in hand. So to
operate an establishment such as the one I was patronaging required business
sense and a few bucks.
Our ingenious restaraunteurs were fully aware of the infinite rewards
money could buy.
They were home and I missed home.

You’re asking: Why was I
still here? Well, hastily I paid in advance for my classes without the
knowledge that refund policies have yet to enter the commerce sector of Latin America.
Either I would throw my money out due to childish fear, or I’d stick it out
and accept my reality.

Grammar is essential to
learning a new language, but I wasn’t planning to write a book. My goal was to converse freely with locals, and
avoid being swindled by them.
Admiringly, I sat at one end of the small wooden table under a thatched
roof and faced my new Spanish tutor. She
was my first Mayan encounter and gladly obliged when I insisted our lessons
consisted of talk, talk and more talk.

Her oval, brown face
opened up with a huge smile revealing five front teeth outlined in gold. The Mayan forefathers had immense wealth,
which eventually led to their destruction and take-over by the greedy
conquistadors. No wealth remains but
genetics is hard to change. A traditional Indian proudly displayed his
affluence with the amount of teeth outlined in gold, even if he only had a
few teeth. They prefer spending
their money on ornamentation rather than salvaging rotting teeth. I assumed she was in the wealthier class, not
judging from the gold, but the number of teeth remaining.

It was impossible to
ignore the unique lifestyles, stories, or rumors centered on Guatemala’s indigenous
population. I marveled at our grand
differences. I was curious as to what really happened inside their secluded
communities. On average their realm of
reality extends 100-kilometers in circumference, so it was understandable when a
blonde-haired, five-foot-six-inch woman entered, I became a source of curiosity. I’ve had a multitude of kids
tug at my hair, touch me or stare unrelentingly at my alien appearance. They
wanted to know if I was real, the same way I wanted to know if they were
real. Never finding the right moment to
talk to one of them, I was thrilled when my teacher slowly began telling me her
life story. What else could we talk
about?

Born to a family of thirteen, which was the
average family size, she didn’t see her first shoe until she
was twelve years old, a rubber hand-me-down from her older sister. The transition from childhood to womanhood
occurred around the age of six, when the load of chores substituted playtime.
There were no government regulations or truancy laws pertaining to school attendance;
parents decided if their children went to school or not. I wasn’t clear as to why, but her parents
allowed her to finish school, unlike her siblings, who were taken out after
four years to go work. Taking advantage
of her privilege, she understood the benefits of education and applied for
university.

There’s one public
university located in the capital, three hours from Panajachel. It was fully funded by the government. However, she came from pure poverty, not
knowing where the next meal would come from was a constant concern in the
house. Rent in the city was out of the
question. Her only option was synonymous
to slavery. Rich families took-on
destitute girls to clean, cook and care for their children. Monday through Friday she studied from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m at the university, arrived at the house
by two, where she cared for the three children, cleaned and worked until 10:00 p.m. She retired to her little space, shared with
the large sink where laundry was done and until 3:00 a.m., she prepared her schoolwork.
She didn’t get paid but she had a place to sleep and some food. Transportation to the
university and school supplies cost money; in turn she worked fifteen hours on
Saturdays at a button factory.

During these four years, she met her husband-to-be. “He was the only light in
my ominous existence.” They were
classmates. At first she was hesitant to
his advances because he was the "Don Juan" of her class. Curiosity piqued, I
asked, “Didn’t you have other boyfriends before him?”

Shyly she looked away
pushing back her waist-long, dark-brown braids intertwined with bright red and
blue material to match her traditional outfit and answered, “No. The only other boys I’ve talked to were my
brothers and some of their friends.” Her unbridled innocence was
a true contradiction to the surroundings.

During the week, I
altered my route invariably. I took new
paths to school, to my hotel, to the restaurants, to town. I have a habit of being completely
oblivious to my surroundings. After my eyes adjusted to the dirt-filled air, I
realized that at every turn in the road, on every corner, between houses and
restaurants stood a church of some denomination or other. The most dominate one, the Evangelistic sect,
controlled more than half of all of San Pedro’s real estate. I had yet to see a medical clinic.

San Pedro
has one "real" road and at times even that is questionable. The only cars I saw were broken down pick-ups loaded with fruits and vegetables sputtering
towards the market. Surreally, out
drove a brand new Toyota Rav4 edition.
In the States this is considered a luxury car, with a price tag of a
minimum of $30,000. Imported to Guatemala
with tax, it costs at least $40,000.
Who in San Pedro could afford it?
Why were they here? How did they
get the money?

I never made it to the
market, instead returned to the hotel and found some of the gang hanging out on
the bano side. I hopped, skipped and
jumped over the drain and joined them.
Perplexed by my new discovery, I asked, “Have you seen the brand
new SUV around here?"

Brian, the American, who
seemed to have all the answers, replied, “Yeah, I’ve seen it. It belongs to the advocate and head honcho
for the Evangelistic denomination of San Pedro.
He owns almost all of the churches, schools and stores.”

“But how does he have so
much money? These people can’t afford
shoes?” I questioned.

“You haven’t heard the
story about this guy. I forget his name, but it’s a well known story.”

“NOOO!” We all perked
up.

He began, “Do you
remember Pinocchio’s restaurant? Right in
front of it is a huge cement wall with barbed wire?” I nodded. “If you peak
into the gate you can catch a glimpse of a mansion?”

“That’s what that is?
Every time I pass by some beastly dog barks through the impenetrable wall,” I
exclaimed.

He laughed, “That’s his
watch dog. I saw a maid walking him one day. It’s a rotweiler. Anyhow, that’s the guy’s house.”

I thought it was a
military training facility; there was no reason why anyone should take such
extreme measures of security unless they really had something to
hide.

“But how can he afford
it?”

“Well that’s the twisted
part. Seven months ago, an American who
actually had some sense, which is rare in this neck of the woods,” we
snickered, “became suspicious. He
couldn’t understand how the pastor of the most popular church could live in
opulence while his attendees were in squalor and suffered from
malnutrition. He started to ask around,
even went as far as to attend the man’s sermons. He was fluent in Spanish, but also spoke
Tzutujil.”

“That’s the Maya dialect
used here, right?” someone interrupted.

“Yeap, and it certainly
helped him. Because he found out that
the church is funded by a missionary group from the States. They hired this
crook to disperse the donations within his village. They have no idea how badly he is robbing
them. He’s a great politician. The Mayans spoke reverently about their savoir,
telling the American how the guy gives them a pound of sugar, beans, rice,
one-hundred tortillas and two-dozen eggs weekly.”

“That’s supposed to feed
a family of twenty!”

“That’s the point. It can barely feed a family of four. So he dug deeper. He got the name of the
group in the States, called them and pretended to be a donor. The average donation was twenty dollars per
person, per month. There are about five
thousand participants. Do the math; it’s
close to $100,000.”

We sprang up in unison,
“Wow! I should get into this line of business.”

“Twenty dollars per
family, per month is considered rich. This crook takes
seventeen dollars from each twenty dollars, pockets it and gives the other
three dollars in food and used clothing to his blind followers. He’s a millionaire. He’s also smart. He knows his village and his people very
well. They are broke, destitute and
uneducated. I think the latest statistic
was 70% of the indigenous males are illiterate, and 90% of their women. So he built evangelistic schools, and
brainwashes his future generations. He
also knows that there are no TV’s or newspapers. He takes advantage of the sheltered lives of
this meek race and exploits them for all they have.”

“Don’t tell me that they
also donate money to him?” his girlfriend asked, amazed.

“Absolutely, how can they
be saved if they don’t pay? So the
American decided to take action. He
plastered signs on every door, pole, restaurant and market exposing the
corruption. Instead of the revolt he was
hoping for, one evening the strongly influenced or well-bribed federales came
to his house, arrested him for harassing their man of the cloth and put him in
jail. Last I heard he was released after
two weeks and has never been seen in Guatemala again.” With this he clapped his hands as if he just
finished reading a book, leaving us to digest this sorry, unjust
reality of a helpless village.

The locals have few
work options. Their lack of education
reduces their prospects to physical labor, selling produce and other goods at
the market, cooking or walking around the village begging tourists for
money. One popular form is selling pan
de banana in the courtyards of hotels twenty-four hours a day. Their business tactics are annoying. 

I have visited many villages and towns
scattered throughout Latin America. Salsa, meringue, and other various musical
rhythms vibrated in the background along with laughter and cheer, no matter the
economic status or religious beliefs. As
you walked along the dusty paths in San Pedro, the only music heard was of the
recent settlers from the western world and the unholy gospels hypnotizing the
innocent. The homes were
always quiet, dim and devoid of true passionate life. What happened here? Wasn’t one takeover of these innocent, easily
led people enough? No. There was more blood
to suck dry.

At times I felt the week
would never end, but the buzz around the town was contagious. As Friday
neared, even I became excited. Once a year a festival is held in San Pedro, family
members from all over Guatemala
travel miles to join their extended kin. Announcement of their early
arrival had us all waiting in vain for the finale so we could go back to
sleep. For most travelers though, it was
a rare treat to partake in a traditional festival. In other words, deafening booms at all hours
of the morning were accepted as part of the observance. I, on the other hand, had stumbled upon this week because it coincided with my travel itinerary. I was not prepared
to take part in all of the activities.

It took over an hour for
us to congregate in the hotel courtyard, before heading towards the
gathering. Within seconds, mayhem commenced. We split up; Wendy and I were left to fend for ourselves. The noise was a full-on sensory
overload: screaming mothers, crying babies, motley crews of boys, drunken men,
carnival rides, live music, recorded music and other indefinable hums
trapped within a small space called San Pedro’s Center. We spun around, overwhelmed, not knowing
which way to go and decided on the free show.

To get to the stage we
needed to pass through the permanent market.
On a typical day it’s chaotic with vendors grabbing at you from all
sides and robotically screaming, “Verduras, frutas, bebidas, comidas. Que quieres?”
Over and over, simulating broken records. But tonight, it was an untamed zoo. Amidst the fifty regular booths, 200
additional ones were crammed into an already saturated space, overflowing
onto the narrow, winding, cobblestone street jammed with a million people. Since no plan was developed, booth keepers
disarrayed their shops wherever possible, creating too many unnecessary
dead-ends, adding to our frustration.

Music stands blasted
inaudible sounds out of speakers the size of small cars. Clothes vendors
dispersed on all sides of the streets and sold used jeans, long forgotten 80’s
bands silk-screened T-shirts, Jesus praising insignias or other fashion
rejects. Interspersed between household
goods, music, clothes and food stalls, stood a plethora of tiny booths selling
five-pound colorful, cubic blocks.

“What’s this?” I asked
Wendy.

“I haven’t the foggiest
…”

Sheer curiosity led us
to buy it. The vendor took out an ice
pick and chipped away. Small fragments
scattered around the pink block. With one swift motion he collected the
scraps and threw them into a small plastic bag, which cost fifty cents. It was candy.
I practically cracked a tooth as I bit into the hardest sweet created,
watching everyone at the festival as they sucked on this rock of sugar,
shedding new light on the toothless community.

We finally made it to the concert.
We stood at the far end of the plaza looking out over a sea of black
heads, scattered intermittently with blonde, redhead, and brunette beacons
bobbing to the beat of the music, occasionally nodding to a fellow traveler. The
local gringos didn’t bother to make an appearance. Either they’d seen it before, or were hiding
from bounty hunters. Whatever the reason, I gave them credit.

I surveyed my
surroundings and noticed that not all the Indians were catechized by
Evangelistic beliefs. Obviously, the
local community were divided by opposing pastures. The attendees’
preacher permitted some of them to let loose and enjoy a  bit of
freedom.

On stage, was the best
band I’d ever seen. "Wow! They are
incredible. Look at them move!” I
screamed and pointed at the singers doing splits, jumping over each other while
keeping in sync with the beat and singing perfectly. Their moves were flawless,
professional and creative.

With all of
the excitement on stage, we didn’t notice the crowd. It was a mortuary – bizzaro-land. Families, with lots of kids
hanging from every body part, huddled and scornfully watched us. They were motionless. It was like a still life, expressionless and
featureless.

The next song began. The energy on stage exploded, flew over our heads and dropped to the floor like a
care package falling from a plane into an evacuated village. Who were they performing
for? Who were they feeding off?

I have always admired true musicians. I’ve given credit where
it was due. For me to be part of this
ungrateful audience was shameful. We
wanted to run on stage and show our appreciation.

I grabbed Wendy by the arm and pushed our way through the
rigid, unbreakable figures blocking the passageways. We found the dance floor, although "dance" was a not exactly the word
I would choose to describe what we saw. Within the roped off, dirt space were
eight or ten males of various ages.
They were "out of it". It was as though
someone sprayed Raid and we arrived to catch the after effects. Some crawled on all fours to
nowhere; others were sprawled out obliterated and drooling; a few were still
holding on to beer bottles, slanted and walking in circles. Gathered around the rope were women with
their children silently observing their husbands make spectacles of
themselves. The little boys watched
timidly, for one day they would follow in their father’s footsteps. Little
girls eyed their future husbands with a concerned look, hoping their
men-to-be would behave better.

We exited the concert area and were swept
away by a stampede. At one point I was
lifted about half-a-foot off the ground and carried away by the masses. I closed my eyes and imagined myself on a
magic carpet flying as far away as possible. Instead, I drifted to a
side street and was impetuously dropped off in the middle of a queue. Wendy was released a few hundred feet in
front of me. Tracing the outline of the
never-ending line, filled with mothers and small children, I retrieved
her. Up ahead we saw a turnoff for the
road to take us back to Nick’s Place, but first, we had to find out what all
the waiting was about.

As we came
around the corner, we discovered the source. It was the very first ferris wheel
ever built! During its long life the
ancient attraction had seen more than one junkyard. The rusted machine was a death trap. Children jumped up and down as
their trusting parents clasped the useless safety buckle to hold them in
place. The wheel spun at the velocity of
light, fusing all the children into one.
The only reason none of them fell out was because the rapid speed kept
them plastered to the seats. We turned
right and went downhill to the bar.
With a cold brew in hand, surrounded by the other disappointed
backpackers, we toasted our last night.

Saturday morning arrived, I hopped on the first bus to take me far away from this tiny mixed up town,
where the convicts and freeloaders ruled the land, with confused souls
following blindly and completely unaffected by the traditional and severely
religious Indians that once lived here in an askew but peaceful existence. I was well aware that I did not fit into the
distinct categories of people foraging off this side of the world. I sat on the bus anticipating my next
destination and hoping for less contradiction and more acceptance.

Indie
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8

BUDGET $35 per day

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  • Patricia Grimes said at 2014-03-31T15:29:38+0000: This, by far, is the most honest account of San Pedro i have ever seen. Well said amiga, very well said.

Older comments on All Mixed-up and Someplace To Go – Guatelmala, Central America

zoomcharlieb
21 March 2009

This was a great article. I remember visiting san pedro for a day and getting somewhat the same impression. I was in Santiago de Atitlan for my short stay and thought it a much nicer setting.