A friend asked me if I would want to live here permanently.  I am glad I came here, and something amazing or at least interesting happens almost every day.  Living here is another question.  I miss my friends and my house and my bike, and the relative ease of doing things in Portland.  It’s nice to be able to drink water out of the tap, and to eat fruits and vegetables without immersing them in disinfectant.  It’s nice to be able to communicate in a language I’m fluent in. Life here seems like a hassle, and maybe that’s because I’m here with just a suitcase and an accordion, because for me, living here is easy. I can eat in a restaurant whenever I want to and take a taxi whenever I want to, and I have constant access to wireless internet and a hot shower and a kitchen.  For the locals, life is full of hassles.

I answered my friend that if I got involved in some kind of work here that was important and meaningful to me, I’d have no trouble staying for an extended time.  But being a retired guy living where it’s cheap, and where I’m rich among a lot of poor people, is not so comfortable for me.  I can’t sit in a restaurant without several people approaching my table to sell me something.  Actually I can, but not in the tourist district.  Mostly I just tell them no I don’t want to buy anything, but it kind of wears me down. One kid told me he was hungry, so I gave him 5 Q and told him I didn’t want to buy anything.  It’s not like that all over Guatemala, but this town is devoted to tourism and most of the people here live off the tourists.

So if you want to talk about life being hard, when I walk down by the river I see boys who should be in school, mining the river bed area for sand.  They shovel the sand and gravel and rocks by hand through screens to sift out the sand, and they make piles of sand and different sizes of gravel.  Eventually trucks come to haul the stuff away.

That was written a little while ago.  I’ve just returned from a trip to the mercado on Steve’s bike to do some shopping.  It was kind of exhilarating.  Sunday is a big market day, and the streets were jammed with motorcycles, tuk-tuks, buses, the occasional car, bicycles, and pedestrians. The going was slow.  The mercado was jammed with shoppers.  Most of the people are Mayan, and dressed accordingly.  It felt exciting.  It felt like the real third world, or like real life. I don’t know how else to describe it. In the states, we do whatever we can to insulate ourselves from real life, to sanitize everything, to avoid crowds of sweaty people and smells of garbage mixing with smells of produce and meat hanging from hooks.  I felt glad to be here (although I have never yet bought a hunk of meat off a hook).

Yesterday I went for a hike with a Gringo guy named Bear who lives in Pana. Lake Atitlan is located at the bottom of a huge caldera from a volcanic eruption 85,000 years ago (In geological terms, that’s yesterday).  Ash from that eruption has been identified from Florida to Ecuador.  Three younger volcanoes have grown up in the caldera, each standing about 4000 feet above the lake, but that’s not where we hiked.  The town of Panajachel is on an alluvial plain at the north edge of the lake and at the bottom of the caldera wall, so the town is hemmed in by water and the steep caldera wall.  As Bear said, you couldn’t fit 20,000 people into such a small area in the U. S., because they would not want to live five to a room, and they would want to drive cars.

We hiked up the caldera wall behind Panajachel, which is very steep and prone to landslides. In the rainy season, the landslides sometimes chip away at the town.  We went about 1000 feet up the hills, and instead of going up another 500 feet to where Bear knew there is another trail that would get us down, we decided to poke around and see if we could find another way down from where we were.  Although the terrain is generally very steep, there are some less steep spots where people have built terraces and they grow corn and onions, and there is a network of trails to access the crops and a network of pipes and ditches to irrigate them. We came down to some terraces of onions at the top of a high cliff, and determined that we were at a dead end.  Eventually we found a trail that the two of us agreed was too good a trail not to go somewhere, so we followed it and found our way back down to Panajachel.

On that last picture I posted, I don’t know if it displays blown up or not.  Wordpress seems to be unpredictable.  If you blow it up, you can see quite a bit of detail of the buildings in Pana.  My little 10 year old, 7 megapixel camera is amazing.

A random detail: There’s a street barbecue stand in Pana called Humo en Tus Ojos.  Smoke in your eyes.