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Lovely Lake Living

November 12th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

How quickly one can get into a rhythm of things.

On the way back from our first visit to town, we met another couple who happened also to be staying at Pasajcap as the four of us sat under an awning, trying in vain to wait out the rain.  Andrew and Lanie, about our age, were at the tail end of a most enviable 2-month long honeymoon spent in these parts.  In the limited time we had together they graciously passed on knowledge and expertise of lake living to us over wine, most notably the what, when and where of the once-a-week barbeque in San Pedro.

“Yeah, we’re heading back to Ohio on Monday, but stop by around noon tomorrow and we’ll take you over for it.”  It’s a good thing we made friends with them during our limited window, for the Smokin’ Joe’s Sunday ritual is a rather magical thing.  The native cuisine here is good and all, but the occasional infusion of gringo culinary sensibilities and know-how is a great way to keep things fresh.

There, for example, 60Q (under $8 US) gets you a huge piece of bacon-wrapped fillet mignon, which (as all menu options do) comes as a plate with garlic or corn bread plus 3 top notch sides (show up early before they run out of the mac-n-cheese).  Chicken, pork ribs, to die for cuts of tuna, and more make up their fab menu, all grilled to smoky perfection.  It’s held in the yard of an outdoor bar with a rooftop terrace and full swimming pool; no waiters, just walk up and pay, they’ll call your name.  In total, barring those brief moments of handing over a few Quetzales while ordering or getting drinks, it feels just like being at the house of a friend who REALLY knows how to do a barbeque.  This for us has become a weekly tradition, and mindfully made a habit of paying the knowledge forward.

One afternoon, in order to keep up with my proper regiment of meat consumption1, I took a boat across the lake to a nearby town so that I could get a few tacos for lunch and pick up some bacon and chicken from the (comparatively) well appointed store there.  On the return as I hopped from the boat onto the private dock of the property I call home this month, I giggled, literally giggled to myself that, on a Thursday afternoon, THIS is what my life looks like.

You can see the whole of what our living environment looks like from Tracy’s pictures of the property.  The little thatch-roofed nooks equipped with benches, chaise lounges, and hammocks are ideal places to make friends.  On about day 4 of our residence I crossed paths with Garth of Robin & Garth, our downstairs neighbors.  In place like this, it’s just natural and fitting to say to a person you just met “Hey, whaddaya say we and our mutual lady friends2 hang out in one of these tonight over wine?” and have it be met with a yes.

Garth and Robin are from Canada, and are a fine example of life lived with joy and laughter.  Both divorced, both early into retirement, they found they made fantastic travel companions to one another during a few months last winter and so are at it again this winter.

Robin’s a world class fisher woman, the kind of gal who catches fish bigger than she is3 and has a smoker at home big enough to accommodate her serious catch.  I’m told we should come by in the summer to partake of her smoked salmon.  If we can tie in shooting a pilot for the fishing show that she should totally star in (with me providing zany ad libbing of at least some of her lines), I’ll count that as a more than worthy visit just waiting to happen.

Garth is the very vision of a jovial retiree that I hope to grow into: genuinely funny, amiable and hospitable, and regularly singing the praises of our shared surroundings (e.g. “How’s it going, Garth?”  “Oh, I’m somehow managing to get along okay here in this paradise, eh?4“.  Garth’s career was in large scale drilling & mining operations, and he tells intriguing tales of months-long assignments in harsh Canadian environments chasing ore.  His background suggests that the solution to the problem of rising Lake Atitlan could be to drill a hole in the bottom that routes out to lower land, offering added benefits of generating hydroelectric power and irrigation, which to me is a fine way of looking at things from a creative problem solving stance indeed5.

One late afternoon I took to the quest of putting up flyers for Tracy’s private yoga instruction.  In the space of 20 minutes as I walked about the village I ran into (and was greeted by) about 9 familiar faces, which was not bad since we’d only been there a week and rather exemplary of why I love small town living.  There’s a feeling of connection and belonging you get that’s unlike anything you can experience while roaming a city as a largely anonymous figure among thousands of others.

Making acquaintances in this sort of environment seems proportionately easier as well, as evidenced by my meeting Pablo.  While winding my way through the pedestrian streets of town as my posting task drew to a close, a voice called to me from within the small, shack-like travel agency.  “Como se llama?”  I popped my head in to introduce myself, and got to chatting with the proprietor.  Before long I was told about a Mayan sun ceremony that was happening the next morning, and was invited to come.  I got the feeling I was being sold on something, so instinctively I asked what it cost.  “Solo donacion, amigo.”  Right on then, I’m here to have experiences, so let me throw caution into the wind and go for it.

The plan was to assemble at 5am the next morning at that very location in town, and then we would all walk halfway to San Pablo, the neighboring village to the west, and go to the ceremony site.  By the early rising of the sun here on the lake and the not-at-all bashful roosters on neighboring properties, waking up early enough for such an event would not be hard.  Rather instead, as I slipped through the big black gate of Pasajcap and onto the moonlit dirt road that leads into town, I found the early morning walk to be its own invigorating reward.

Just outside of town I saw two dudes walking along the same road in the same direction, wearing flowing clothes that looked super comfy.  It was one of those moments where at a glace we all knew “Yep, we’re all heading to the same place.”  With any lingering concerns that I’d been lured out for a pre-dawn mugging well put to rest, we continued on to the assembly point to meet about 7 others.  When Pablo arrived on the scene at about 5:05 our merry caravan of hippy-dippy types who go in for this sort of thing6 proceeded back up towards the main road and on out of town.

At a nondescript part of the lake-winding road Pablo stopped the group, and said in his very calm and easy-to-understand Spanish that here now we would begin to climb up the big bluff-like hill.  Now then, you know how sometimes we exaggerate to say things like “we thought they were joking when…”, like, say, when they announced Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate in ’08.  We know in these instances that they’re not really joking, it’s just a derisive way to editorialize the situation.  Well, in this instance I actually spent a good 5 seconds or so in earnest thinking Pablo was joking to say we would somehow climb up here.

Yet sure enough, Pablo and other members of the troupe began to ascend, making light and careful footfall on a trail barely visible and winding through cornstalks as they swiftly left the surety of the road below.  So climb I did, keeping up without too much difficulty on the crude path, and yet still impressed by the progress anytime I looked up or down.  The tops of the towering cliffs above looked insurmountable yet drew nearer and nearer with every minute as we made our way through brush, used the trunks of coffee plants for handles, and stepped up steps loosely etched in dirt.

Sun had broken above the tops of volcanoes across the lake, making every pause for breath a visually rewarding one.  Just the hike plus views of reflected orange in the lake so far below was already making this adventure worth the TBD donation price of admission.  About two thirds the way up we made a stop off into a shallow cave in the cliff which opens out to a view of the lake.  Pablo lit a candle and gave a blessing, and we continued on our way.

At the top I was surprised to see we had in fact scaled the cliffs that looked so imposing from below, putting us somewhere around 150 meters above the lake.  We’d climbed the equivalent of about 45 flights of stairs.  We circled a rock upon which Pablo made a fire from incense-like charcoals and an assortment of colored candles.  Pablo began the ceremony, in a mixture of Spanish and a dialect of the native Mayan tongue, with a note about the whole 2012/Mayan calendar/end of the world thing.  He explained that, no, the world is not ending, and rather instead Mayan tradition calls for a celebration for the completion of one era and the commencement of another.

I don’t know about you, but for me that settles it.  We’ll of course see next month, but hearing that all is well with the epoch-changing 12/21/12 from an actual Mayan dude at a sun ceremony upon high cliffs in this part of the world counts, for me, way more than any brand of sensationalist doomsday punditry arising from outside the Mayan culture.

The ceremony proceeded from there, largely comprised of blessings upon the earth, the sun and the moon, air, water, fire and light, and perhaps a few others.  I found it pleasing and calming to take time to appreciate these more simple things which comprise our elemental existence, it sort of puts the modern complexities of life into soothing perspective.

After the ceremony there was time to just relax and take in the scenery while sitting at the edge of the high cliffs.  Before long a kirtan broke out7: one fellow broke out a digery doo, another a flute.  Another girl had a small container filled with a little rice which subbed in for a proper maraca quite nicely.  There were a few other instruments floating about, and before long I was handed a kazoo.  For a half hour or more we were just playing.  The sounds built upon one another, interweaving complex melodies and rhythms.  For the record, I totally rocked the kazoo.  Seriously, I didn’t think there was much one could do with a kazoo, yet I found it easy dive in and add to the richness of the mix.

So I guess I loves me a good kirtan.

Life on the lake roles on in beautiful fashion, but tomorrow we’re in for a most welcome disruption: I pick up our friend Chaz, here to visit us for a week.


  1. San Marcos on the whole is much better suited to satisfy vegetarian tastes, and experience has shown I get a bit punchy if I go more than a few days without meat.  I love me some vegetarian food, but my body ultimately calls this shot.
  2. Or “special ladies”, as the case may be.
  3. Even if she’s rockin’ about 5’5″ and 110 pounds, that’s still mighty impressive.
  4. Yep, real-life Canadians totally say the “eh?” thing, just like my childhood watchings of the McKenzie brothers taught me.  They are also, incidentally, quite good natured and good humored about insinuations lobbed from the US that they be miserable socialists, probably because they know the joke is on us.
  5. It turns out such a proposal was put before the Guatemalan government in 2010.  It was debated for about 30 minutes on the floor before being summarily rejected.  Apparently there is little sympathy for gringo lakefront property.
  6. Guilty as charged, your honor.
  7. “Kirtan” is a term that means, to a crude approximation, a bunch of hippies playing varied musical instruments in a loose, improvisational and jam-session like style.  I’m pretty sure drum circles fall under the concept umbrella.
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