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Lake Atitlan - Solola Market, Panajachel, Horseback Riding

We got up a little later this morning and met the group for breakfast at 7:45. I got panqueques (pancakes) with bacon, watermelon, and banana. Craig got scrambled eggs and bacon. The service was very slow but we had a nice conversation with the other members of our group. Andre had been able to arrange horseback riding for this afternoon, so we would need to be back at the hotel for pickup at around 3:30. At 9 we took a boat to Panajachel. Andre had some business to attend to so we stopped in at Andre's office and then hopped into a van.

Andre drove us to Solola for market day. The market was so crowded that we couldn't even stop long enough to look at anything. We were the only gringos around, and felt very conspicuous. People were pushing and shoving. Ann had a small amount of quetzales pickpocketed from her. Andre took us into the municipal building, which was built when they were tryng to unify South America. The architecture of the clock tower was gorgeous. It was painted yellow and pink with white trim. He got someone to unlock the clock tower for us and we climbed up three sets of stairs. We had a great view of the market from above; everything was a sea of tarps. The very intricate German clock began to move and suddenly chimed while we were up there. Then we went back down to the market and slowly made our way out. A man who couldn't walk was propelling himself with his hands on a skateboard. If we thought we were having a hard time maneuvering through the throngs of people, we can only imagine how he must have felt! He was whistling to get people's attention to try to get them to make way. We then went indoors to a permanent market where folks were selling meat, intestines, pigs' feet, vegetables, fruits, and chickens.

After the market we walked down a big hill to the Cementario General Solola. It was a very festive looking cemetery, with brightly colored crypts decorated with flowers. It was like a small town in and of itself. We wandered around, admiring the care which people had put into these memorials.

Afterwards Andre drove us back to Pana. We ate lunch at a restaurant called Orale next to Andre's office. Craig got a beef burrito and a Moza beer. I had a margarita and tacos carnitas (soft shelled tacos with onions). A little boy tried to sell us some of his wares, and we gave him a pen and he came over to the table so that we could take a picture. I showed him the picture of himself on the digital camera and he was very excited. After that we changed some money at the bank and I downloaded my first batch of pictures for Q35 at an internet place. I bought a purse, and we bought some gifts for our nephews. I also bought a head kerchief. We bought a really nice 100% wool bedspread which had a representation of the lake, the sun, and two volcanoes. After some hard-core bargaining we got what we thought was a very good price. At 3:10 we met the group and headed back to the boat.

When we arrived back at the hotel, Jim (the horseback guide) was waiting for us. Craig, Margaret, Ann, Tracy, Marcia, and I piled into his SUV and he drove us to his place on the outskirts of Santiago. He promised us a memorable time. As we were driving through Santiago Atitlan two dogs were fighting with each other in the street. Jim stopped his truck, hung his body out the door and yelled very loudly "knock it off" to the dogs. The dogs immediately did as Jim instructed. We were already having a memorable time. We met Jim's wife Nancy. Jim insisted that we leave all of our valuables in his house; he says that he is the only guide in the area who has never been robbed, and he doesn't intend to start now. Jim and Nancy had been living very well in the States, but Jim had lost a large real estate lawsuit. At age 50 they moved to Guatemala. Their land was worth $500,000, but someone had just been killed there in the Guatemalan civil war. Jim made a not-so-serious offer to pay them $5000 for the land and they agreed. They built their house themselves, and it is gorgeous. It looks like it belongs on "Extreme Homes" on HGTV. They have a baby ocelot named Bacchus as a pet (its mother was killed and rather than let it die, the locals brought it to the capable hands of Jim and Nancy). It behaves like a rambunctious kitten and is currently about the size of a normal house cat, though it could grow up to be anywhere from 18-45 pounds depending on what species it turns out to be. Jim had never ridden a horse before coming to Guatemala. Now he has 20 horses, 30 dogs (pit bull rottweiler mixes) and some cats. In addition to the ocelot, he has a coati mundi (which must be kept separate from the ocelot lest the ocelot try to eat it).

Jim got us saddled up. Craig's horse was a male named Pancho, and mine was a female named Kahlua. Jim had been riding Kahlua 7 years ago when he was hit by a truck. He broke his leg in 7 places. He didn't have $100,000 for immediate medical treatment, so he ended up being treated in an Indian hospital without antibiotics, etc. He nearly died of infection, and ended up laid up for almost a year. Because Guatemala does not have the insurance issues that the U.S. has, we are allowed much more freedom on the horses than we ever would be in the States. We were able to run on the horses. We rode through fields of coffee plants and cornfields (where it was imperative not to let the horses graze). Kahlua was trying to show me who was boss, and she kept going to the right and smashing my knee into plants, rocks, etc. Several dogs accompanied us for protection. They would sit by the side of the trail until everyone had safely passed, and then they would run ahead to meet up with Jim. We rode past some locals, and Jim scooped up a young boy and let him ride with him for a short time. We rode until it started to get dark, and then we went back to the house.

We got a tour of the house. It is gorgeous. Very Frank Lloyd Wright-esque. It was decorated with all sorts of Native American artwork and baskets (Nancy is 100% Native American). There is a guest suite which they use for b&b guests, complete with its own bathroom, waterfall, furniture built into the rock walls, etc. They are gourmet cooks and they grow their own produce. Nancy made daiquiris and absolutely delicious empanadas. We sat around chatting. Bacchus (the baby ocelot) seemed attracted to the cocktail glasses, and he jumped at mine, causing me to spill my drink on the couch. Soon afterwards he almost knocked over another glass. He was clearly a little too worked up and they put him in their room for a while. We were supposed to meet the group at the Posada for dinner at 7:30 (Andre had made the reservation earlier without thinking that we would be getting food and drinks at Jim's after the horse ride). We called the restaurant to let them know we wouldn't be there in time for food. Jim kept us until around 8:30, and then took us to the Posada. We didn't end up eating anything, but got a ride back to the Hotel Bambu in the back of a pickup with Gerry, Judy, Bev, and David. (The girls were staying at the Posada tonight). On the way, the men almost got decapitated as we drove under a really low wire. Fortunately David had a few less drinks and was paying attention and warned us in the nick of time.

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