Day 10- San Juan de la Laguna, Santiago de Atitlan, and Pana
Wednesday, June 17 - The adventure continues. We got up at 7:30 to be able to have breakfast and meet our new guide at 9. My back pain has gotten no better, and the rain has kept up everyday. We have decided the ask the guide to contact Via Ventures to make arrangements in lieu of the San Pedro volcano hike. Hikes in Guatemala, we have decided, are not the best idea in the rainy season.
At breakfast, it was busier today than it was yesterday. A youngish gringo couple sat next to us, and they asked the waiter how to say "knife," holding it up, and were told "cuchillo." They said they needed a cuchillo "muy grande" for a piece of fruit they had. I overhead and corrected them to "mas fuerte," as a butter knife is already quite large, and what they really needed was something strong or sharper. They told us what they had was a dragon fruit, and that the dragon fruit grows in the nearby area. The Spanish name is "pitaya." They offered us half of their dragon fruit. We explained that our only knowledge of the fruit was via a drink sold at Costco. The fruit has a thick rind, that when cut reveals a beautiful purple or fuchsia colored pulp which is edible. It tasted wonderful.
We made our way to the front desk to meet our new guide. As had been the case with the first two Via Ventures guides, he was early. His name is Hugo. He is a bit older than the other guides we have had, appearing to be at least our age (50s) or a bit older.
We explained that the volcano hike scheduled for Friday was going to be a no go due to my lingering back problems. I asked if he could suggest something else. He asked that I first call the Via Ventures office to see what they might suggest.
Via Ventures offered us kayaking on the lake, which I did not think would work out much better with the back. I asked if something less active might be available. Hugo indicated he had an idea, and I let him talk to the office.
Hugo told us that we could go to a Friday market where animals are sold, and we could see the part of the country around Quetzaltenango. This sounded great to us, and Hugo set it up. It will cost us only an additional $40, but that beats just canceling the activity for a day and just kicking around Pana. It is also much less likely to kill me.
Hugo indicated he had an umbrella, and that he was prepared for and expecting rain. He asked if we had brought rain gear. We had not, so Sheree headed back to the room for her raincoat and my jacket.
We walked to a private dock, west of the public dock in Pana. There, waiting for us, was a covered launch, with 3 rows of seats. It was fiberglass, 18 or 20 feet long, with an outboard motor, operated at the stern.
We headed across the lake to San Juan de la Laguna. San Juan is a beautiful, very clean city. The main industry is coffee, followed by other agriculture. But the third largest industry is artisans. The influence of the arts is clear. There are many murals, and the city is home to many craft cooperatives.
We were met by a local guide, Raul, who showed us around town. We were taken to a couple weaving co-ops, that used both the pedal and the hand, or back-strap looms. We went to a school for the arts, where children learn painting, weaving, jewelry making, and English. We visited a holistic natural medicine and midwife co-op, which grows herbal remedies. We headed toward a coffee farm, and I explained that we had already visited a coffee co-op a few days ago, so we skipped the one in San Juan. At each co-op, the local presenters seemed sincerely appreciative of our visit.
One co-op was a painters' group, and we loved the pieces. We could not decide how we would be able to get something home. The co-op offered to deframe a painting and roll it into a tube, if we found something we wanted. One artist had several pieces with a musical theme. We liked one, and we were told the price was 400Q. Hugo asked about a discount, and was told the best price we could get was 350Q. I really felt that with the risk of deframing and the added costs of mounting in the US, I did not want to pay more than 300Q. The co-op continued to insist that the best price was 350Q, but when we said we would just then pass on the piece and thanked them for their time, they met our 300Q bottom line.
The last co-op we visited in San Juan made clothes and recycled old clothes. Their method of recycling was fascinating. Rather than just cutting clothing into pieces of cloth to make quilt-like new pieces, they actual unravel knits and reuse the thread. It is a really cool process, but we did not find any pieces that we wanted to buy.
We left San Juan after receiving another warm thank you from Raul. We headed toward Santiago de Atitlan just as the rain started to hit. Hugo asked if we were ready for lunch, and we were. We ate lunch at the Posado de Santiago, at the west end of town. Hugo ordered guacamole and chips for the table. The chips were freshly made blue corn tortilla chips, thick and still hot from the oil. Sheree and I both had a three Taquito Combo, a mixture of filling on three more blue corn tortillas. The meal was served with a selection of hot chile sauces to try. One seemed very much like a honey based chili that we get at a favorite restaurant at home in San Antonio, Habaneros. Another was a mild tomato salsa. The third was a smoked version of the Coban chilies, like chipotle. The fourth choice was pickled serranos.
It was raining fairly heavily as our lunch progressed, and Hugo asked our desires for the rest of the day. We could tour Santiago, as it has a beautiful church. We explained that we had visited the church last year, and though it is beautiful, we did not need to see it again. Another choice was to go visit Maximon.
Maximon is a statue, said to be of Saint Simon, but also representing Maam, a Mayan god of the underworld. He is the saint of gamblers and drunkards, so I thought we ought to get along fine.
A cofradia, or brotherhood group looks after Maximon. In Santiago, it is a great honor to look after Maximon, which requires keeping him at the host's home. Maximon is moved from the church to homes at various times throughout the year.
I told Hugo that it would not be right to visit Lake Atitlan without stopping in to see Maximon, and he understood. We finished our lunch and hailed a tuk-tuk to take us further west out of Santiago proper, where Maximon was now being housed.
The rain was falling in sheets. Sections of the road were washed out and looked barely passable in a 4x4, let alone a tuk-tuk. Our driver, who looked to be all of 13, did not know exactly where Maximon was. We traveled about one kilometer too far west, and the driver stopped to ask for directions.
The tuk-tuk was not large enough to let Sheree, Hugo and I all sit in the back seat, and the local police were enforcing a prohibition on passengers riding with the driver in the front seat. Hugo chose to stand, hunched over the back seat to the front seat during our entire ride.
After turning and asking one more tuk-tuk driver for directions, the driver drove back across the washout and arrived at a dirt path leading to house where Maximon was being kept. Maximon was dressed in many layers of shiny acrylic garb. He had several ties on, and under one, several denominations of Quetzal bills were showing. I got the hint, and took a 10Q note from my wallet for Maximon, and offered it to one of the caretakers. We were allowed to take pictures, which we did, and Hugo asked if we wanted anything else.
Maximon was in the house with a shaman and his two assistants. The owner of the house was also present. I asked Hugo if he could ask the shaman to make my back feel better.
I expected a few words, a prayer, or the such, but instead a conference ensued between the shaman and his assistants. I was told they would need to buy cigarettes, alcohol and candles. It would cost 30Q. As my back really hurt, I felt I had nothing to lose and it seemed like it would be a really wild experience.
We paid the 30Q and the ceremony commenced. The shaman asked my name, and spoke a number of rhyming lines in Tzutuhil, with Felipe showing up here and there. Seated directly in front of Maximon. A hat with a blue veil or shroud was removed from Maximon's head and placed on mine. One of the assistants had left the room with the 30Q and returned with candles, cigarettes and a bottle of something that seemed to be Everclear or aguardiente. The ceremony proceeded and I was asked my age, after which I heard more rhyming Tzutuhil lines and "cinquenta y dos." The shaman asked where I was from and there was more Tzutuhil with Estados Unidos mixed in. A wonderful smelling bucket of incense was passed around and under me. I was asked my wife's name, and we heard more Tzutuhil with Sheree thrown in. Finally, a bottle of alcohol was opened and was poured into the mouth hole in Maximon. A couple ounces were poured into a glass, which the shaman mixed with some of the ashes from the cigarettes. The shaman lifted my shirt to expose the part of my back that was sore. He rubbed the alcohol and ash mixture into my back and onto my arm that had the scratches from the barded wire. After applying the alcohol, we were done. I thanked the shaman and shook his had and we were on our way.
Hugo clearly believes in the power of Maximon and believed I would be cured. I actually did feel better, but rubbing alcohol usually does some good on pain.
The rain did not let up. Our tuk-tuk driver had waited for us during the healing ceremony. He took us to Santiago, and I got drenched on the way. We went to the Hotel Pescador to look for the jewelry operation. No one was making jewelry, probably due to the rain. We looked at some finished pieces and we noticed that the items appeared to be of a higher class than the things we had been finding on the streets. It turned out that the jewelry gets sold at a shop in Pana. The gentleman who showed us around the Santiago operation will be in Pana on Saturday, and we agreed to meet then.
We headed toward our boat in Santiago. It was downhill and very slippery. I slid once, but caught my balance, and felt only a slight twinge of pain in my back - good juju.
We reached the boat and headed through the rain to Pana. Upon arriving in Pana, Hugo suggested we take a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, but the caretaker at the private dock said not to use the tuk-tuk driver who was nearby, as he was drunk. Hugo said he van was very nearby and that he would take us to Dos Mundos.
As we walked up the street to the van, the tuk-tuk stopped and one of its two occupants jumped out to urinate. We were right not to take it - more good juju.
Upon arriving at Dos Mundos, Sheree and I both took nice warm showers and then headed out to the ATM. We loaded up on Qs and headed back to Dos Mundos to wait for dinner time. We had talked about Pizza. At 6, we went out to a pizza place. It was not raining when we left Dos Mundos, but as we ate, the rain picked up. We saw the Cazadores' Toyota motorhome drive down the street, and we wondered where they might be headed, as parking is at a premium in Pana.
We finished our sauce-less Hawaiian Pizza, which was very good. We had each had 2 beers and our tab was only about $20. As we headed down Santander to our hotel, about 100 yards north of the hotel we saw the Cazadores parked on the street. I doubted that they would be able to stay there for the night, but they are leaving early for Chichi so they might be OK.