Time Travel 1977 Panajachel, Guatemala: Life Sweet, Whiskey Sour…

Continued from previous…

If the drive from Guat City into the highlands is exhilarating, then the drive down to Lake Atitlan is nothing but spectacular.  Imagine a mile-high lake ringed by three volcanoes and a dozen Indian villages with some of the most colorfully dressed people you could ever imagine.  It’s easy to fall in love with beauty like that, and many people have already.  Hippiedom is alive and well here in 1977, so that’s why they made me cut my hair.

These are some hard-core hippies, sleeping on the beach and playing songs for tips in restaurants.  The restaurants are good, too, with real live vegetables on offer, which is something almost unheard of in Mexico, where food is meat and beans and corn and rice, and vitamins are something to be extracted from fruit, especially jugos y licuados, aka ‘vitaminicos’ and zumos in other versions of the vernacular.  It’s cheap, too, dollar a meal, much less than pre-devaluation Mexico a hundred miles away, a devaluation still weeks away. 

002 (2)But the big deal is pies, as if this town existed to serve foreign Westerners and western foreigners, and that culture were defined by pies.  Hamburguesas I can understand, hamburguesa this and hamburguesa that, as that does indeed seem to symbolize the American culture, but the pie thing must be a leftover from another era.  The locals’ diet is basic, though—eggs, beans, and tortillas.  At least the beans are black and the tortillas are handmade, not the fluffy fartful pintos and factory-made tortillas up north.

So Jim and I hook up with two English girls—Sue and Betty, just friends–and rent a house up the side of a hill.  It’s basic but nice, and conveniently located.  If it hadn’t been, then I’m not sure how I would ever found Abby when she and her friend arrive, but somehow I do, just run into them walking down the street.  Naturally she’s surprised to see my haircut, so that makes for a nice story.  So I invite them up to our house for a few days, and we set up housekeeping, just like ringing a bell.

001 (2)We spend a few days touring the environs, town and lake, villages and markets, and nights grooving on burgers and brews, Gallo beer and aguardiente on the rocks, Roger’s pub and beaches du jour.  Too much paradise can get boring, though, so Abby and her friend have to move on soon, and I have to be understanding.  That’s the responsibility of a modern adult male.  We do dishes AND windows.

Eventually I, too, will get bored, since there’s a big country out there, especially if you include Mexico, which has now devalued its currency.  That means there are likely some deals to be had… if you hurry.  Jim and I look into renting a mansion on the lake with some other people, all for less than $300, but the room I would have is no better than what I have already, so I fume and fuss and shoot the deal down.

Jim later says he was surprised at me, but frankly the whole thing is just too pretentious, and preposterous, and… I want to see something besides la dolce vita at Lago Atitlan.  I want to travel.  I want to see native towns and the Guatemalan jungle, the ruins at Tikal and the cayes of Belize, surf the waves at Tulum and tour Palenque on ‘shrooms, test the waterfalls at Aqua Azul, ending up in the Chiapas highlands before returning to Oaxaca, to start my bizniz and new life, on the installment plan.  I want to see it all.

IMG_0474Mostly, though, I want to learn Spanish. I felt thoroughly humiliated when a local asked me in Roger’s Pub if I spoke Spanish, and I dutifully answered: Yo no hablo’ mucho (I don’t speak much).  So then he asked me if I wanted to learn, which I didn’t understand, so once again I sheepishly answered: Yo no hablo’ mucho.  He smiled.  Ouch.

I DID win the Millsaps Spanish award, after all, much to the chagrin of the goody-two-shoes girls up front of the class while I sat in the back mostly cutting up with Lisa S.  But we used textbooks, not conversation, like so many colleges and universities.  So I have the background in grammar, just not the practice in conversation.  Suddenly this whiskey doesn’t taste so good.  Party’s over, for now at least.  I’m looking for something else.

So our little group in the house on the hill all go our separate ways, Jim the emerging writer feeling the call of the wife equal to my call of the wild, while Sue and Betty will stay on in Pana for as long as they can.  That’s the hippie backpacker way, to each his own, and see you down the trail, la ruta Maya, for lack of a better name.  It’s all illusion, but a pleasant one.  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, joints not cigs…

To be continued…