Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guatemala in a nutshell

We planned a challenging vacation. Challenging because I’m six months pregnant. Challenging because we were traveling with two small children. Challenging because we didn’t speak the language and were going to be obvious outsiders. And challenging because we really wanted to see a different world, different people, lives disparate from our own. And I thought that by the end of the week we’d be relieved to be home. But we weren’t. We were all very sad to leave Guatemala.

Our trip started out in the small lakeside village of Santiago Atitlan. A culture still dominated by Mayan Indian tradition and language. The people live far more modestly than we do in the United States. And though we stayed in a little cottage in a hotel owned by an American couple with an approachable international menu, we also went into town on tuk tuks for a few meals and market day. We had the wonderful experience of having Dermot, my childhood friend’s father, bring us across Lake Atitlan in his motor boat and show us the village he lived in – one even smaller and meager than Santiago. He lives in a beautiful two story, gated home with amazing gardens and breathtaking views but the 600 locals who reside in Jaibalito live in cement block homes with metal roofing. On another day we took a local boat to San Pedro to see another lakeside village, one that’s noted to have sprung up with a distinct new agey aspect and far more travelers and expat residents. After four days staying at Posada Santiago we moved on to Panjachel – the largest and most touristy of the lakeside village. The main streets are lined with restaurants and shops, with a far more international vibe and much less of the feel for Mayan tradition. We stayed in a Nature Reserve – hand fed monkeys, traversed trails and suspension bridges and spent the night in a very cool eco hut made of rock and bamboo. From there we moved on to the stunning colonial city of Antiqua. An UNESCO world heritage site whose array of cultures and businesses didn’t feel too dissimilar to Soho. The architecture and ruins, and the Spanish history put me in mind of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan, where I have long wanted to visit. Our hotel, Hotel Aurora, had a stunning central courtyard garden and fountain and our room was furnished beautifully – our first with a television.

And before we knew it we had to come home. It’s too early to say exactly what highlights of the trip will stick with the boys. Childish things of course – the monkeys, the pool, nature trails, the interest in Maximon – a cigarette smoking, liquor swilling saint the Guatemalans hold dear. I know Mark really loved taking boats across the lake, walking along the streets, the history. For me it’s always the glimpse into the other that I find most striking. Seeing sights you could not really imagine, the lives of people you never could have glimpsed had you not left home. A way to reexamine all that you know and hold dear.

I could go on about this trip at length. And part of me misses the journal writing me that would have kept detailed notes and had all the details for posterity. But I’ve got some tweets and some photos and hopefully glimmers of a trip that will last me a lifetime.

I’m posting 200 photos on Snapfish and linking to them on Facebook. I plan on captioning them so they make sense to someone other than us.

With the baby on the way it’s at least another 3 years until we can attempt another ambitious trip. But I look forward to our next adventure. Noah says he wants to go to Mexico. Hopefully by then he’ll know some Spanish and can help us out.

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