Monday, May 31, 2010

After the Rain

Lodo = mud.
Lodo (mud) + three days of down pouring rain + mountain = landslide.
Landslide in San Pedro de Atitlan = ~150 homes lost, a 10 year old girl still missing after two days.
10 year old girl missing = day in and day out of digging, searching for a body. Searching for a closure. Searching for peace.
People that didn't lose their homes in the path of the landslide have houses filled with mud up to their wastes. No place to cook. No food to eat.
Everyone has stopped attempting to find things and are now solely looking for a child's body. A group began digging where a river of mud remains...hardening by the minute at least a meter thick.
Where their were once houses, gardens, trees and families, only a wasteland of mud, mud and more mud hardens with people's hearts as they rebuild homes, look for food, and hope for a body.
People's belongings float peacefully in the 1200 feet deep Lago Atitlan.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tropical Storm Agatha in San Pedro de Atitlan

Here are a couple of shots from the last couple of days in San Pedro de Atitlan, Guatemala during the roar of Tropical Storm Agatha.
Things didn't start getting bad until yesterday when the pouring rain didn't slow down for about 36 hours. Things began to flood. The earth couldn't hold the heaviness and mud and rocks gave way to huge landslides.

Boats didn't run. Roads began to close and by 8pm a huge landslide left two children missing and 40 homes washed into the lake.
From morning to noon, the water double, then tripled in volume. It had nowhere to go...
The above photo was taken at 9am. The water was only about an inch or so. Running quickly. My room dripped from the roof and after asking to borrow a mop to dry up the puddle, the folks at hostel Jarachik decided to move me into a room with a smaller leak from the window. I just kept my handy-dandy travel towel by my bed and wiped my feet when I crawled into bed.
By noon, the water was running fast in the streets and had gained another couple of inches. San Pedro is cleaning and regrouping this morning, but compared to Xela, I think things were pretty calm by the lake. Check out photos of the city to see for yourself:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

San Pedro Spanish School

I had my first day of classes in the San Pedro Spanish School here on Lago Atitlan yesterday. The school is located on gardens and huts for teaching that stretch and stretch until you reach the lake. It's paradise.
You can find the school from two different paths. One that runs between the Pana docks and the Santiago docks. This is the main entrance. It is right past the Buddha Bar, which is a big gringo hot spot for chillin' and smoking a hookah or playing pool. It's not my scene, but a good reference point, nonetheless!
The second entrance is along a slender trail along the lake. This one is harder to find, but certain signs bring you this way and it's easy to get "lost" and discover new places by following paths. There's also a delightful lakeside/garden restaurant next to the school only accessible by this path.
Entering from the main path, a bright outdoor cafe/workspace welcomes you. During the day, free coffee is available for the school. A little cafe offering inexpensive snacks and yummy breakfast and lunches serves hungry students and staff. It also has wi-fi, so a lot of students hang out here before and after classes to connect with their worlds.
From the cafe/terrace area a long path surrounded by gardens and lushness begins. Little palapa classrooms dot the paths.
The path meanders and splits and has offshoots, until eventually...
You reach Lago Atitlan. I love this grassy, marshy part of the lake. Just to the right of where the path spits you onto grass, a little primary school exists where San Pedro students can volunteer helping to run activities or teach math and English. The local elementary school students wouldn't otherwise have the chance to go to school because of the lack of money.
The right side of the lake opens up quickly and felt a little like the ocean yesterday-wild and full of life!

As for the actual teaching of the school....I'm going to wait to form an opinion. I can certainly tell you it is way less rigorous than ICA in Xela. Spanish teachers speak English with students here and I had to ask for homework. My teacher was surprised, as she said most students just want to hang out after school. I wouldn't come here for an immersion experience, but if you're looking to learn a little Spanish for a couple of weeks to help with your travels, this might just be the right place for you. Laid back and beautiful.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tranquility at a Glance

I didn't feel quite ready to move on with all my San Marcos memories and images, so here is a picture show of my time there at a glance:
Arriving at the docks is a small, quiet endeavor. There are no streets near the lake. You might get greeted by some jewelery makers with tables trying to sell their goods. Or just a few people ready to hop on your boat which is heading to San Pedro.
Follow signs. Ask. Check out places you come across. Eventually you'll come to the right place, wherever that is. The directions in the guide books just say "follow the sign past so and so." The trails are slender and through forest, banana trees and homes.
There are two main trails. One along the school, which was made with the help of a local NGO that puts on skits about social issues and helped construct the the buildings which have walls made of plastic soda bottles filled with sand and covered in concrete. The school is bilingual in Spanish and Kaqchikel.
The first night I stayed at La Paz, which has a gorgeous outdoor yoga studio. I give thanks to Amanda, the yoga instructor from New Hampshire who lead a group of us one morning. We shared our love of New England and how there were moments when you might think you were looking across Lake Champlain at the Adirondacks.
Constant reminders of the mystic, meditative themes of San Marcos. Namaste.
Time to smell the flowers. Time to slow down and notice the small wanders of the world. Love the exploratory gnat watching me as I watched it...
I also give thanks to Tanya, a lovely free spirit that sat and shared with me. She reminded me that life is all an exchange of love. Sounds a little hokey, AND it was just what I needed. She told me to walk to the rocks for a swim...which are just beyond Aaculaax through narrow paths.
The magic of the rocks. I went there every morning and evening.
On my way out of San Marcos, I stopped for breakfast and decided to check out a room at Posado Schuman. And, I stayed one more night.
With a little private deck, a dock over the water, a little sitting area by the lake and a $10 private room, I couldn't resist. The above is the lush view from my room...along with a Maya sauna bottom left.
As always, Miriam finds time for a hard workout. This is a tiny, CLEAN gym in San Marcos. I was the only person there. It was so unbelievably lovely! (Yes, that's me in the mirror on the bike.)
Back to the water I was drawn. Again and again. Multiple times a day. Just to sit. Just to watch. Just to be.
The private dock of Posado Schuman was my favorite place to sit. Morning, noon and night. Rain, candle light, mist.
Back to the water I went. Little San Marcos. Big San Marcos. Back to the water I went.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

La Nariz del Indio = The noze of the Indian (Maya)

Imagine if you will, a sleeping Maya man. See arrow if you need help. From left to right is his eye, then nose, then mouth. We were headed for the nose.
My journey started at 5:30 am, in which time I left my hostel (home for the moment). Luckily the outer gate was unlocked so I didn't have to either a. jump the fence, or b. wake up the lovely family to unlock the door. I met my guide outside of the BIG FOOT guiding company at 6am and we waited 15 minutes to see if anyone else showed up. No one did. It was just he and I.

We began our journey in the back streets of San Pedro. We made our way to one of the larger streets and headed to west through the smaller town of San Juan. (San Pedro is farther away, while San Juan is the the right of the photos.) The path up the mountain began just outside of San Juan.
San Pedro and San Juan are huge coffee growing communities. Most of the trails were surrounded by coffee plants...all organic. That's where the money is. And they know it's better for their communities.
This is the spot that is considered El Mirador...or the lookout. It's where he stops with most groups. We were walking fast. Usually groups arrive around 9am. We were there by 7am. The view was spectacular. The encroaching clouds were welcome. Now, the lake is kind of shaped like a bird with a tale. This is the tale portion. It's a big, beautiful body of water.  
It was my choice to continue on. Hey, why not. I was there for the hike. And the rain wasn't going to stop me.
The trail up didn't seem to daunting. Until we started going down, down, down. Which meant we would need to go up, up, up. It was all very intense. And only about 10 minutes from the top it started dumping rain. We hid under the trees and ate banana bread and talked about the importance of saving the Tzutuhil language and culture.
The above photo was taken after we began our return down. It was my call not to push it to the very top. It was so socked in and dumping rain. Even after eating the whole loaf of banana bread, it was time to head down. Neither of us had raincoats. I had no hat. That didn't bother me, it just didn't make any sense and the experience thus far was was worth it for the day...or more.

Happy, wet and sore. Nothing like putting a big smile on my face.

No, no, but really the lake it lovely. It makes my shoulders relax and puts a smile on my face:)

Breakfast on the lake - Atitlan

There are 13 villages or pueblos around Lago Atitlan. Perched on the hill of San Marcos outside the gringolandia and on the outskirts of town, I visited Hotel and Restaurant Jinava.
Let's face it, the lake is amazingly gorgeous, peaceful and the reason it draws tourists. That's why I live in Burlington...cause I love Lake Champlain!!! Water is cleansing, blessing, vitality, peace.
Coming by boat, you just ask the driver to drop you off at the Jinava dock. By foot, I almost missed the entrance, as it is clad in vines and flowers and off the main street of the locals town of San Marcos.

The restaurant is small and perfectly perched overlooking the water. The 180 degree view along with a cup of coffee and a simple breakfast was just about the best way to start the day (after the 15 minute walk uphill to get here...)
Is is slow season. Very slow season. When I asked if the coffee was instant, the guy looked at me and shook his head. "No, no, this is strong, good coffee. You need it strong this morning, I can tell." He smiled and brought me back the best cup of coffee I have had in Guatemala. Along with leftover sludge. Sweet! (No, I didn't drink that).
Flowers galore hung over the path and surrounded every vista.
After breakfast I made my way through the skinny stone trails down to the dock. If you stay at the hotel, you have access to their "kayak." I just sat and enjoyed the warm, peaceful morning. I was the only visitor in the entire hotel. I think they would've let me do just about anything.
I made my way back up, and up, and up to the street through the maze of bright green. Stopping often to photograph the flowers of all shape, color and size, I finally made my way back to the entrance, where still, the view was quite breathtaking.