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ruthless compassion
17 November 2003 @ 08:52 am
Lago de Atitlan was amazingly beautiful. It's an enormous lake at around 6000 feet (roughly?), surrounded on all sides by steep sloping mountains, including 3 volcanoes. Yeah, very nice.

Saturday morning, we got up very early to catch a bus to the terminal, another bus partway there, another bus another partway there, and then a final bus to Panajachel, the touristy town (known as Gringotenango to Guatemalans), where we stashed our bags at a restaurant and spent a couple of hours shopping. Pana is right on the lake, very lovely, quite a lot warmer than Xela, and humid. It's a major tourist destination (as are almost all the towns on the lake), so it's also a major place to shop -- the main road is lined with little shops, with people set up in booths and tables, and women, men, and children trolling along the street to get people to buy things. Right now is the low season, tourist-wise, here, so we were typically followed for several blocks by people wanting to sell things. One kid selling wood carvings followed us for more than an hour, until my friend Amy finally gave in and bought a pretty wood carving for Q20 (about $2.50), although his original price had been Q80 ($10). Kinda depressing, actually.

Lots of kids out and about on the street, most of whom would approach in a big crowd requesting "¡un quetzal! ¡un quetzal!" I wonder what it's like when there are more tourists, but with more vendors and beggars than tourists this weekend, it was pretty overwhelming.

After lunch, we caught the slow boat across the lake -- it's a big ferry, and took about an hour, and it was totally gorgeous. We went to Santiago Atitlan, a town nestled between two of the volcanoes, and set in a pretty cove. Despite the beautiful setting, the town was shabby and run-down, and, if it's possible, had more kids begging for quetzales than Pana.

We settled into our hotel, where the school has stayed before, Amy and I rooming with the coordinator's sister (who's visiting from Holland) in a room with a private bathroom (lucky us!). While hanging out relaxing before the first conference, I saw the biggest cockroach I've ever seen strolling across the floor. Completely disgusting. Another student and his 3 yo son saved us by coming in and (shudder) picking it up and taking it outside!!! I can't believe he picked it UP!! But, as Amy pointed out, even more, we can't believe he then ATE WITH HIS HANDS later that night. Ew. Then we saw an enormous spider (not gross, but a little too close to the beds for comfort), and Ryan and Herb came to our rescue again. When we saw the next monster cockroach, we had to ask the hotel to reclean the room and spray down some Raid. Ick.

So, after being thoroughly grossed out by our compañeros de cuarto, we took a couple of pickups to the local radio station, the Voz de Atitlan, which does some really cool educational work in the department, and suffered badly under the hands of the army when the town was occupied in the 80s and early 90s.

Then dinner, a game of 5000, and I was exhausted and had to go to bed. Of course, I was all grossed out about the critters, so I didn't sleep at all well, which is why I now have a killer cold, I suspect. Early morning on Sunday, a typical breakfast of eggs, beans, fruit, and another conference.

This conference was with a fellow who had been involved in the guerrillas during the civil conflict, and he talked about the experience of Santiago during this time. They suffered badly under the presence of the army, although no one is entirely sure why they were targeted. It's likely related to the strong indigenous population and community that they had, and still, to some degree, retain. This was one of the few places I've been where even the men where traditional traje. Also, the primary language was one of the Mayan dialects, not Spanish.

Of course, this meant that the army occupation here was brutal, as when people didn't understand the army officers who spoke spanish, they would be threatened or killed. People taking food and water with them to the fields to work would be accused of bringing food for the guerrillas and kidnapped or killed. Same story as in much of the country, but pretty intense to hear it from someone who lived there.

What makes Santiago special is that in 1990, the town, without any pre-planning or particular coordination, rose up against the army in a nonviolent and coordinated way, to ask the army to leave. What followed was, needless to say, a massacre, but the end result was that the army did have to leave, and the town got concessions from the government that included the army not being allowed in or near the town.

So, the time there was pretty intense, and I was fairly exhausted by the end (I helped with translating both conferences). The boat ride back to Pana was nice, but I kept almost falling asleep, and getting that annoying neck twitch, so that was unfortunate. After that, we ran the vendor gauntlet again to get to the bus stop, and caught the last direct bus to Xela -- much nicer than changing several times!

So, a nice weekend, but exhausting, and I discovered, upon arriving home, that my magic makes-colds-manageable medicine had all leaked out of the bottle, so that was a bummer. Despite that, I slept a good 10 hours, and I hope I'll be rid of this cold within a day or two. And today, back to school!
 
 
I'm feeling: stuffy