Saturday, May 03, 2008

En la feria de Atitlán
Yo compré un violin.
Lin, lin, violin,
Lon, lon, violon,
Nete-nete-nete, clarinete
Tara-tara-tara, la guitarra.

¡Vaya usted, vaya usted en la feria de Atitlán!
¡Vaya usted, vaya usted en la feria de Atitlán!
So sang Ian Everhart the second grader as he walked through Walnut Street in Shadyside on several afternoons after having sung that song in Spanish class at Liberty Elementary School in Pittsburgh earlier in the day. More recently, I was able to visit Lake Atitlán, if not the fair itself, which was our next destination (but not stop) after layovers in San Pedro Sula and Guatemala City. The road is long and winding from Guatemala City to Panajachel, the principal town on the lake's shores, especially the second half, which elicited advisories that they were feeling carsick from mom and dad and from me the mostly-successfully suppressed desire to say "Wait 'till you get to San Manuel!"

Our hotel there was the beautiful Hotel Atitlán, which sits on the edge of a natural preserve and counts a beautiful garden among its many refinements. On several occasions, mom pronounced it to be the equal of any of the many nice places we have stayed on our travels around the world.

Mom's initial judgement was confirmed by (presumably) that of Guatemala's wealthiest, who come to the lake by helicopter (to avoid the many hairpin turns on the road) with such frequency that the hotel has not one but two helipads (which made me think of my as-yet-unrealized plan to establish the Hanszen Helipad with a can of yellow paint on the patio behind the Upper Commons).


Upon arriving, we had lunch and proceeded to do nothing but chillax in the pool which overlooked the lake.

The next day we took a series of boats across the lake (going on a public water ferry as well as hiring our own private lancha, as they are called). We first stopped at Santiago Atitlán, which from our incomplete survey seemed to be almost exclusively comprised of stalls selling various textile souvenirs. Looking at a map later, it seems we didn't make it up to the main part of the town, but mom's bad knee probably wouldn't have made it both up and down the hill, and dad's "banana* bag" didn't have much more space after buying so much stuff.

We then "chartered" a ride over to San Marcos which has the reputation of being the most hippified of the villages on the lake since it has been adopted by the holistic and transcendentalist medicine crowd as their favorite location to offer massages and acupuncture as advertised, and, one imagines, also drink a lot of herbal tea. It seems that the owners of many of the restaurants in the "Gringo quarter" of San Marcos close their businesses (coffee shops, restaurants) on Tuesday and/or are just uncommonly lackadaisical about being helpful to potential customers, since we visited at least two establishments--both of them a fair trek off the main road--which were closed that day, without any such indication on the many signs pointing us to the hard-to-find-in-any-case entrance to the Japanese restaurant or the other restaurant that they would not be serving lunch. After a brief flirtation with a vegetarian restaurant featuring two shirtless guys talking over some organic beverage ("Well, I've been here eight weeks already and might move on if I hear back from the Co-op in Portland but I really like the vibe here so who knows, I might stick around another few months and take a leave of absence from college next semester," goes the conversation, one imagines.), we finally settled on an Italian-inspired restaurant where my micro-pizza took so long to come out, I can only assume they were airlifting the mozzarella in from Naples. We explored a little more and, partially to my surprise, once you stepped out of the Gringo quarter, it was a regular little Guatemalan town, and for all I could see, not that different from many Honduran villages, for that matter.

We rounded out our day with another boat ride to Panajachel and a drink at a lovely restaurant overlooking the lake, and then hired another craft for a quick jaunt back to our hotel, which next to the helipad had a dock for just such arrivals as ours.

* So called because on the Hedman Alas bus from San Pedro Sula to Guatemala City, we used it as our one allowed carry-on to bring my laptop along, and also tossed in water bottles, a sweatshirt, various maps, books and, you guessed it, a banana or two, which inevitably exploded somewhere en route to leave dad's reading material and the back end of my computer bananafied. We got most of it cleaned up but it was an exasperating mess to pick out banana from the port interfaces on the back of my computer, which, fortunately, did in any event not impede its function. Guess what object we won't be putting in the same piece of luggage as fruit of any stripe next time?

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Blogger Linda said...

Can't believe we didn't hear you sing the Atitlan song IN Atitlan. Must return to complete the experience.

9:24 AM  

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