September 04, 2006
I met Kathryn at San Marcos’ holistic center in Guatemala, where she moved to five years ago and works as a reike and massage therapist. She teams up with British pal Hazel (married to a Guatemalan) to offer EFT, Indian head massage and mind-healing classes to guests.
She was a wealth of information and of amusement, so much so I kept going back for more. I learned more about the area and people in a two hour massage than I ever could by reading several books or even chatting with some of the locals for the same period of time. And as we repeated this (the massage and the local news) a few times during my stay, I longed for more and more gossip.
It was here where I learned that a local makes $6 and change a day for labor, such as construction. Not surprising, the locals are not always happy with gringo behavior and if you live on-site, you may find your water supply shut off for short periods of time, when those in the hills above you may have access. This could explain the consistent trickling shower at Aaculaax.
Dealing with such inconsistencies makes it hard to do the most basic things, such as install a washer and dryer. It is possible to get water pumped in from the lake, but its apparently quite expensive and most people don’t bother.
This results in a growing market for what Kathryn refers to as the ‘laundry mafia,’ or something to that effect and its so much hassle to deal with on a regular basis that you find a woman to do your laundry and stick with her, even if she returns your clothing with colored stains from other clothes or more common, odors of cooked tortillas.
Every Tuesday morning, a Care-like shipment of second-hand clothing hits the village and locals and Gringos alike show up to plough through the selection, leaving with such finds as evening dresses and jeans for a few dollars, none of which are really convenient attire for San Marco’s muddy jungle paths and day-time heat. More western women show up than villagers, mainly because its an area that has retained so much of its tradition that most of the locals still wear Mayan hand-embroidered clothing.
No one really has landlines and there are only two Internet cafes, which crawl even when the weather is fabulous; the keyboards often covered with remnants of coffee and curry stains.
Nightlife is limited, but one pizza joint offers movies on some nights (electricity permitting) and Las Piramides also offers them in their library for 3 quetzal a pop (less than 50 cents).
Apparently the owner of Las Piramides is a well known doctor in the area, but does not live on-site. Except for the very basic pharmacy/clinic he opened, there is no access to medical help, except for one known midwife. Kathryn informs me that she just witnessed a friend’s home childbirth, where the baby was born in a pool, supervised by the midwife.
The closest hospital is in Solola, some 15 kilometers away and requires a 35-40 minute boat ride. The closest doctor is a Spanish gyn in San Pedro, who runs the practice with his wife and here, you can get a check-up for roughly $10 or less. As for blood work or anything more serious, who knows – likely the hospital.
I learn about Beatrice from France, who also does massage and may have something to do with the French café on the water….her British boyfriend can be seen wandering around the town and I bumped into him a few times at the local shop, sometimes run by a young American who is married to a Guatemalan woman and is known to be evangelical at one of the nearby churches.
We had a spat with the French owner of Tule y Sol, who I was thankful to learn from Kathryn that he has this reaction on everyone. I’ve very rarely seen anyone eat at his café, despite the fact that it has one of the best views of the lake.
Kathryn tells me about Hazel’s pregnancy and how she ‘sensed it’ the night before she learned the news over the phone during one of Hazel’s return trips to England, where she ended up staying until the baby arrived. This led to a conversation about intuitives in general, which took us back to the spiritual Las Pirmades, where we stayed a night in a very basic ground floor treehouse like dwelling with no electricity or bathroom.
The door closed using a wooden slat, which surprisingly locked, and the two single mattresses sat on the floor in the loft, which you entered by carefully climbing the ladder with a headlamp. The place was full of intuitives, yoga instructors and enthusiasts, and those interested in a journey of meditation and silence – they even offered a six week program, forty days of which were spent in complete silence.
A woman with a white robe, cross and long black stringy hair (looked a little like an exotic and thinner version of Cher in new-age attire), was often seen walking around the grounds of Las Pirimades. After talking to her on more than one occasion, I still couldn’t decide where she was from and for some odd reason, I never asked her……rare that I never do.
She led a few of the classes, including one which took me by surprise, since I had no idea, that although 30% of our time was spent meditating, the rest of it would comprise of discussions and exploration of Astral Travel and dream control. Kathryn tells me that she has been with the center for many years and it is said, that she was ‘called’ to do this from a higher source.
Guatemala City Airport customs at six in the morning consisted of a small woman in the middle of baggage claim covering an exit path fifty yards side, darting from one bewildered luggaged zombie to the next, snatching pieces of paper from their conscious hands in a foreign version of wack-a-mole.
I wasn’t expecting magic upon landing; like any third world major city, you land and plan to escape to a smaller town as quickly as you can, a place where you can ground yourself and prepare for your ‘chosen journey.’
Antigua was an odd first stop, mainly because of the fact that it did not match any pre-conceived idea of how I visualized Guatemala……..nor was it reflective of anything else I’d see in the coming days.
While many European and American travelers love its western trimmings, it was as if Antigua had been drained of its natural culture and replaced with a fabricated and fastidious layer of tacky dress poorly sewn together. Misplaced, the delis, cafes and global cuisine were incongruent somehow, that left untouched might resemble an old east European town, one which thrived on housing the largest and most fruitful market.
Antigua’s heritage dates back to a 1524 Spanish settlement and its architecture and ruins are evidence of its antiquity. The sweet memory I walked away with was its beautiful ancient buildings, and charming central town square, where local men gathered in the morning to share a smoke and young children played – there was something incredibly intoxicating about the giggling sounds of children as they ran past……..language-less and a blessing in any part of the world.
The highly active Pacaya volcano is but a short ride or hike from Antigua, and at 2,250 meters, you can climb to the cone with a view of the sulphurous fumes in the near distance. Not unlike most active volcanoes, the best time to watch the eruptions were at night, when you can often see spouts of brilliant orange lava oozing out.
September 02, 2006
Buenas Dias Natural Wonder
Of all the global wonders and regions of pleasure, central and southern America is a recent discovery – the last of the continents I’ve had the fortune to explore. Asia and the Middle East were accidents, Africa and Europe were musts, and Australasia was a by-product of central Asia, as was India.
Costa Rica, which I wrote about at great length here, was so intoxicating – largely due to the wildlife, rainforests and kindness of its people, that I quickly developed a hunger for more. Africa was a bit that way too.
Have you ever felt a need to go somewhere for no particular reason, or at least not one you can readily identify? In recent years, Guatemala, Peru and Belize have been vivid daytime images and brightly illuminated movie scenes in my not quite dawn dreams.
When I would imagine a future memory, it went something like this…..
-----the early morning dew was moist, but slowly on its way out as I made my way through the rainforest, taking in every sound of early morning wildlife, particularly the birds, which were a reminder I was about to experience a natural presence like no other.
The mist remained dense, its texture heavy, so much so that you wonder if you will find your way back to camp – or even a village nearby. Then, suddenly, although the sun was not quite ready to break, the mist begins to slowly but steadily rise.
Like a soldier demanding attention, its silence, yet deliberate movement to a new-found beauty mysteriously commands your presence. I sit down at once on a nearby ridge. The magic is immediate as the entire morning jungle wakes before my eyes, the mist opening up to a lush green tropical forest on every side of me. Embraced by this natural wonder, I feel like there is nowhere to go…………nowhere I want to--------