Patty – Jan 4, 2000 – Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

As I have written, landing in Guatemala almost brought me to tears because I love seeing indigenous people in traditional lifestyles. We land in Guat City and see women in those beautiful woven fabrics with babies strapped to their backs and carrying ON THEIR HEADS with no hands big jugs of water or baskets of market goods. WOW!!! The kids loved it. OR, the brightly painted “old” yellow school buses that are used for local transport filled to the brim and piled on top with everything imaginable. (We saw a few over the mountain roads being pulled up with a crane. The roads are steep and as you can well imagine, the brakes are old!!!

Went to Antigua… beautiful and reminds me of Santa Fe or Cortona, Italy… very sophisticated and totally restored in the Spanish tradition. Women were bathing topless in the plaza fountains and washing on stone slabs their clothes. Immediately bought a folk art clay nativity crèche complete with Adam and Eve and local figurines selling veggies, etc. Went on to Chichicastenango for Christmas… fantastic… arrived with a million fireworks going off and major festivals but the kids were so scared of the firecrackers that we did not get to the plaza. Highlights… meeting The Pencil Man (short story to come on website), on Christmas Eve following down the streets a Posada (family with candles carrying a shrine of Mary and Joseph all decorated) and we were invited into their house for homemade tamales and hot fruit wassail. The mass would have been fascinating (a mix of Quiche Mayan and Catholic tradition) but it started at 9 pm (after long days!) and lasted 3 hours standing up as they do the high mass in Quiche and Spanish!!! This is the kind of decision that I think keeps us on a steady course (meaning by not going and “missing” it, we had a nice day the next day!) Santa did find Alex, Katie and Ben and we stayed at a beautiful “Mayan Inn” oldest hotel in Chichi with courtyard full of scarlet macaws and green parrots, beautiful grounds, an attendant that is assigned to you and does anything… fireplaces in both rooms of our suite… old antique Spanish furniture… we got a plastic tree (we could not find a real one and I believe it is because of the deforestation that you see all around you and the fact that people are still going into the forests to cut firewood for heat and cooking) and decorated it all up with lights, We set up the nativity set all around it on top of a piece of beautiful woven fabric I bought in the market.  We even had turkey and dressing and a big dinner with the Pencil Man, a couple from the Lake District in England which we hung with for days, a local guy Juan, who had an amazing story of being sent to Miami by his very poor young mother from Chichi and the family in Florida kept him as a foster child for 17 years… now he is in San Francisco, highly educated and very dedicated to his sweet mom. Another hotel we ate Char. Eve dinner in had gorgeous big fresh fruit wreaths and garlands that just wouldn’t quit. I kept staring at them all night.

The market in Chichi was really amazing and you would have died laughing at Dick who does not want to spend any money on anything. Get him in his old exporting days… a market and 100 of each item later with a great deal made. We have bought lots of old masks… fabrics and embroidered guipilies (blouses), hammock chairs, etc. We are going to have to add a wing to our house to display this or have a great sale!!!

Now, for the New Years story…

I have found that it always takes a little adjustment time to get in the groove of a place and we seem to arrive in places at night when I cannot see anything. It is very disorienting for me. Well. We had lunch with a YPO family in Antigua (more on this later… WOW!) and drove on windy tm. roads for 3 hrs and Katie pumped up on Dramamine and arrived in Santiago Atitlan on a lake surrounded by several volcanoes, which are steep. It is spectacularly beautiful… all the women washing on stones in the lake (reminded me of Varanasi, the Ganges River in India), the men in embroidered calf length woven cowboy pants, an unusual type of one person fishing boat and everyone carrying big water jugs on their heads because the city pump stopped working. The Posada Inn told us that they were full but they would give us a house (casa) next door. Sounded good to us… even when we arrived on New Years Eve… the house looked like a mansion (the kids exclaimed) but and this is a big but… the house was barely livable, not maintained, no hot water… some of the toilets don’t work… the lighting switches hiss when you turn them on so you turn them off before it explodes. There is broken glass, threadbare furniture, filthy kitchen … need I say more and it was the millennium so we were thinking of everyone and what everybody else was doing. I try to buck up. The beds were clean and the baths were clean… the inn was having a 15 course Chinese Meal cooked by a chef from Antigua and it was really delicious. There was also a live band, which was festive, and fun and I met a Japanese anthropologist who is studying this culture. There was a padlock on the back door and major theft so we kept everything locked up. We had a great meal… turned in and I played cards with the kids and we woke up at Midnight to the sound of yet another million firecracker exploding and off our little balcony the kids oohed and ahhed. We had gotten through to my parents and they were telling us they had been watching Peter Jennings and all around the world all the celebrations. We wanted to call everyone but no telephones were accessible. I have to say it was bittersweet. The house was very depressing and this place is very remote feeling… a million miles from home. But, I realized that here we all were together, having such an intimate family time, the kids were very flexible about it all and since that night we have moved to a beautiful suite in the inn and had a fabulous time. It is funny how things happen. I wanted us to have this amazing New Years and that particular day some things did not gel. But I realize there is always a silver lining and for me it was that we were on this amazing adventure and we are enjoying it so much… the culture, the food, the interaction with all sorts of people but mostly the time we have spent together.

So I am writing this in the year 2000 (I keep telling the kids that when I was little I thought the year 2000 was like Star Trek, so far away!!! and here we are!), very content and happy to be meeting all the great people on this earth and seeing some amazing sights and being with my family in a way we will never have again. I really cannot even believe we are fortunate enough to do this. I keep stopping exclaiming to Dick, Can you believe this? I need to pinch myself all the time. And, the kids seem to be really enjoying all this.

Other sights worth mentioning is a side trip to the great Mayan City of Tikal set in the jungle and really amazing to climb 150 steps up to temples that many others went to their death as human sacrifice. I am reading a great historical fiction called “Aztec” all about the Mexican ancient culture and I had the kids spellbound in the middle of the plaza telling great tales from the book. They especially loved the blood and gore.

We were invited by 2 couples that collect Latin American art to their private Casa in Antigua with inner courtyards and fountains and antiques and ate a delicious lunch. We found out that they were spending New Years Eve with our Newton neighbors, Bill and Barb Fash who run the Mayan sight, Copan in Honduras. We are meeting Bill and Barb in two days and can’t wait to learn all about the ancient Mayans.

I could go on and on but will stop as I am getting tired. Happy New Year!