Overland miles: 3909 Tacocount: 62 Days without Sodas: 10
Welcome readers, to part two of our exciting A-Z guide to San Pedro la Laguna. This week’s low-down covers letters I through R, including celebrating one of Guatemala’s biggest national fiestas, fascinating updates on the weather which we know our British readers will appreciate and a foray into the weird mix of religious groups that you find here.
September 15 is a big day in these parts as it marks the date that the Spanish finally relinquished control over Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas. This year, September 15 fell on a Sunday so the celebrations were stretched out over a long weekend, beginning on Thursday with school children of increasing ages parading through the streets. Saturday was marked with a nighttime parade of antorchas, flaming torches fashioned from old bean tins, lashed to wooden sticks, stuffed with fabric, doused with lighter fuel and set alight. These were carried by school groups from neighbouring towns to the town square. Once we’d got over our initial ‘oh my God, why are small children being allowed to run through crowded streets with fire’ reaction it was actually quite a spectacle. Students and teachers from a seemingly endless string of local schools gave emotional speeches about their hope for future of their country and we saw our first marimba performance.
An unexpected sight for us here has been groups of young Jewish men wearing kippahs and even a few Hasidic Jews walking along the road, bringing a touch of North London to the town’s streets. As well as being a hot spot for evangelical Christians (more on this later), we’ve discovered that San Pedro has developed a reputation as a holiday hotspot for Israelis on completion of their military service. As a result, there’s something of a thriving Jewish quarter based in the west-side of the town where we live, boasting a wide variety of kosher restaurants with menus written in Yiddish, Israeli-owned hostels and even a Jewish cultural centre.
Living on a lake means getting around by boat is often quicker and easier than catching a bus. Lanchas ferry people between the different towns and we’ve discovered kayaking is a pleasant way to explore the shoreline at more leisurely pace.
L: LOCAL LANGUAGE
There are an incredible 21 different Maya dialects spoken in Guatemala and around San Pedro you’ll more often than not hear the locals speaking in Tz’utujil. In fact, Spanish is the second language here for almost everyone (and used in schools, business transactions with foreigners and conversing with people from other towns). In fact, many families from the poorer parts of town will speak only Tz’utujil. This made for an interesting and lively three-way conversation between these families when our school arranged fortnightly home visits, with the elderly matriarch of one family speaking rapidly in her native dialect, us carrying on in our fractured Spanish, and our teachers doing their best to interpret the results.
M: MUCHA LLUVIA!
As we’ve already alluded to, we’re in the middle of the rainy season here in Guatemala so the phrase mucha lluvia (literally ‘lots of rain’) has become something of a constant refrain. For two months each year, in September and October, the country is battered by rainstorms. Some days this could be a light afternoon shower, but most days there’ll be a pretty constant downpour starting from late afternoon and continuing on and off into the night, sometimes accompanied by the odd clap of thunder or bolt of lightening. In fact, there’s been so much rain in recent years that the lake has engulfed homes and businesses, leaving just the odd roof top peaking out above its waters.
N: NAME, MIS-PRONUNCIATION OF JOVIAN’S
Considering that Jovian’s name is literally just one syllable of the Spanish word joven, meaning ‘young’, we weren’t expecting anyone to have any pronunciation problems with it. However, the complete inability of almost anyone to say or write his name correctly has reached almost comedic proportions in San Pedro. Some of our favourites to date include: Habe, Fabian, Bolbe and Josh. Jovian is currently considering changing his name to Juan Carlos.
O: OFF-KEY SINGING
Christianity is big business here in San Pedro. Catholics make up just over half of the population but in recent years they’ve seen their numbers dwindle thanks to the efforts of some very keen evangelicals. Most nights, the dulcet tones of various evangelical worshipers praising the lord can be heard around town, however, despite their love of microphones, singing in tune is definitely not their forte. In fact, it’s akin to being subjected to a religious version of the X Factor auditions with no auto-tune or remote control to turn the volume down. The Evangelicals are also so keen to spread their enthusiasm round the town that almost every spare patch of wall has been daubed with messages, urging passers by to search for the Lord, and seek salvation in the Good Shepherd of the Lake.
P: POWER CUTS
With thunderstorms in Guatemala come power cuts and we’ve experienced our fare share of these. A torch (which confusingly translates to linterna rather than antorcha, unless you have an old can of frijoles and some petrol lying around) is definitely a handy piece of kit in these parts.
Q: QUIZ NIGHTS
Quiz nights are all the rage here, presumably because of the numbers of foreign travellers passing through. We were introduced to the Sunday quiz at The Allegre pub on our first night here and managed to attain the lofty heights of second place for which we received the incredibly generous prize of a glass of the bar’s cheapest tequila each. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to repeat our success and have come to the conclusion that you have to be a) over 50 (as evidenced by one pub local who is repeatedly on the winning team, week in, week out), or b) American, as a healthy proportion of the questions will always revolve around NFL results or dead presidents.
R: RELAXING IN THE BATH
Well, not quite the kind of tubs from back home: these baths were the outdoor pools at Los Thermales, made of stone and filled with water heated from the volcanic rocks here. I guess you could call them the Guatemalan version of the thermal pools at Bath Spa, only instead of looking out over Georgian townhouses, guests here find themselves surrounded by jungle foliage and on our evening visit, our soak was accompanied by the sounds of frogs croaking and the kind of foreign animal noises that you only hear after dark.