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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Lago Atitlan

Updated: Dec 7, 2020


The day dawned early to the noise of tuk-tuks zipping down the narrow street outside. The previous day's ride had drained me more than I realized, so it was a bit later when I ventured out of the room into a brief few moments of sunshine. The wet streets were active with vendors and traffic as I wandered towards the lake looking for coffee.

Five minutes of sunshine!

At the waterfront, the volcanoes were shrouded in white but the lake was beautiful, reminiscent of the scenes from Alaska from last year, dramatic and mysterious. Along the waterfront area were many restaurants, all empty and I ran a gauntlet of young men dressed nicely hawking the restaurants, as well as a few indigenous women selling wraps and blankets, mainly carried on their heads.

Panajachel is not brightly colored as with Mexico, but its people are very friendly. Instead of glares and heads quickly covered or turned at photos, generally people smiled and enjoyed the attention. As I walked people would make eye contact and smile warmly. It felt inviting.

Overhead appearing in and out of clouds I saw two parasails circling high above the city like the birds circling with them. They stayed afloat for long periods of time, often completely gone in the clouds. What a sensation they must have felt.

There are a few tourists but not obnoxiously so. There are a few funky cafes and such but it's not overwhelming and overdone.

Rain showers came frequently, causing me to duck and dodge into doorways or under overhangs, covering the camera from blowing mist as much as possible, then the slowly dissipating rain tugging me back into the street to dodge racing tuk-tuks and their passengers.

The tuks have been fun to watch, some festooned with lights and gizmos, some plain and some customized with racing style seats, custom wheels and aftermarket exhausts.

After dodging water for a while I ducked into a coffee shop patio where several older American men sat discussing politics and George Carlin. Ex-pats congregated together, sharing details of Social Security direct deposits and exchange rates. It wasn't too long before I was wishing I'd chosen a different spot, as I've found the lack of understanding language has created an ambient aural background that leaves me free of the details of politics and the yap of life.

I watched as a young girl came out of the rain and sat at the next table as my Café Americano arrived. A brief discussion proved her origin from Germany and she discussed her time as a volunteer for a month in a place outside nearby Solala.

I headed back into the sporadic rain to wander again and sneak a few photos, my cheap umbrella leaking drops of cold water down my neck, discovering a couple of Guatemala decals for the bike in a little shop unexpectedly. Travel decals are a bit harder to come by than expected so it was a nice perk. I'm finding the prices here higher than expected, and seem to be commensurate with the U.S. for things like food and such. Possibly it's due to being a tourist destination. Mexico was definitely cheaper for similar things, however the hotel is roughly the same. At the moment it's about 7.5 quetzals per USD.

In a particularly rainy blast I ducked under a vacant vendor shed and shortly afterwards were joined by another couple of street searchers. Guess what? Dos chicas de Israel. Yep, we laughed at the same random encounter as we'd had in San Cristobal de Las Casas. The two Israeli girls had ridden the bus in yesterday, in the same rains and fog. We laughed and parted ways, promising to bump into each other again in Antigua.

As the day waned, I wandered back to the lake where the vendors were slowly giving in and accepting the day's defeat from rain, women packing up entire stalls of goods, packing them into huge wrapped bundles and carrying them on their heads as they walked away.

Across the lake I could see nothing, as a white wall of rain came blowing for Panajachel. Boats pulled away from the docks and raced away, whether just from the day's ending or the approaching white wall, I don't know. I sought shelter under a vacant booth near the restaurants and others came and found spots nearby. The rains came hard and I spent much time watching water pour from plastic sheets overhead, feeling emotions long past from my childhood in southeast Texas, watching rains from a porch and the boredom I've not felt in such a long time.

Said boredom was broken quickly by two young boys suddenly bursting in from the rain with a lone beer and lime in the neck, as surprised to see me as I was them. In their white shirts and black pants it was obvious they were restaurant hawkers who'd snagged a beer from the place and hidden it for later. They quickly disappeared again, leaving the cold beer sitting and sweating in the humidity of the rain.

I watched the rain for a long time, silent others in different stalls watching the same. In the booth adjacent I turned and caught the stare of an indigenous woman whose eyes enlarged at being caught, trying as fast as possible to look away. Across the way, the two boys from the restaurant appeared, the youngest smelling of pot and stoned so heavily he had to hang on to his friend. He clumsily wandered over and found his beer for a swig, then walked back to his friend and laid his head in his lap, barely able to stay awake.

The rainy day was enjoyed very much, spending the remaining light walking through water puddles in my sandals and watching people racing home on scooters, the indigenous women always riding sidesaddle on the rear, holding bags and children as necessary, their esposos swerving through tuks, traffic and tourists to beat the rain.

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