Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Simple Pleasures

The Catholic Church above San Antonio Palopo
 Sometimes it’s the simple things that generate the greatest joys. Take, for instance, the trip I took to Sololá on Saturday with Francisco, the husband of our centre’s Director, Felipa. We were off to buy a whiteboard (pizarron blanco), which would be a teaching aid for programs in the Centre. Sololá (about 80 kilometres west of the Capital) is a mere 20 kilometres northwest of San Antonio Palopó – less as the crow flies. A trip that would be relatively easy in most countries is a little more complicated in Guatemala, especially in this tortuous, volcano-scattered, highland region. 
San Antonio from a lancha - note how the lake has risen!

To get to Sololá, Francisco and I first hopped into the back of a pick-up outside the large white Catholic Church overlooking San Antonio Palopó and Lake Atitlan, and, like Jack and Rose on The Titanic, we stood tall, with raised faces to the wind, taking in the sweet mountain air as we zipped past stunning lake views and crumbling cliffs, while thumbing our noses at the seat-belt laws of the western world. Seat-belt laws exist here in Guatemala, too, Francisco yelled in Spanish above the noisy gear-grinding of the “pick-op”, but it’s a bit of a joke. How else are we going to get there? And that was the truth. There are no buses to San Antonio Palopó, as the winding, treacherous roads are not exactly big-yellow-school-bus friendly. In Panajachel (Pana to the locals) we hopped on one such school bus and headed for Sololá. The buses pull up close to Sololá’s wide main plaza,
Main plaza, Sololá
where there’s a pleasant old park filled with families enjoying a pleasant weekend. I glued myself to Francisco’s heels as he hot-footed it through the maze of the busy, but relatively quiet market, down a steep back alley to a little libreria. We described what we were after to the owner, a humorous fellow, who proceeded to take us down a set of steps to a hideout under his shop. And there she stood – the most beautiful pizarron blanco in Guatemala! We bought it on the spot.
Francisco had a Calculus class to attend (he’s studying to be an engineer), so we parted, and I took off to explore Sololá. As well as its market, it’s full of farmacias and restaurantes, but what I was really looking for was a place to have a pedicure. I scampered up and down asking in sleepy tiendas where I could find a Salon de Belleza, and I did find a few, but being Saturday afternoon, most were closed – or they would return at 2.30PM, or some other such story. In the markets I found a little girl selling bright red nail polish, and another selling nail clippers, so that solved my glamour problem.

 Back to the libreria. Francisco arrived from his class, and we started the trek back home. He, being the gentleman that he is, insisted on lumping the huge board onto his back and heading uphill, through more precipitous backstreets to a pick-op privado. 
Francisco and our precious cargo
Our monster barely fitted, but it did, and after a little negotiating, off we sped to Pana, roller-coasting along while gripping the whiteboard for dear life as we turned this way and that, downhill the five kilometres to Panajachel, which sits 600 metres below, and where the temperature was a pleasant few degrees warmer. Another hike and another pick-op, but this one was not a privado! It was absolutely crammed with Kaqchikel  Mayan women dressed in their traditional San Antonio huipils which differentiate them from women in other communities. They had been selling their wares in Panajachel. They barely gave a glance towards the large whiteboard poised precariously between the passengers, and soon we were off on another winding, spectacular ride to San Antonio Palopó. Just outside Santa Catarina Palopó, we slowed down for a quarter-mile-long wedding party walking behind the veiled bride to a dramatic looking reception venue on the lake. We were soon back to the big white church that stands grandly overlooking the stunning lake. The whole trip there and back for the three of us (our monster had taken on its own personality) was a whole $6.50. But we weren’t finished yet. Francisco lumped our new friend on his back again (easier for one than two in the tiny alleys was his excuse for refusing help), and the gleaming whiteboard was soon standing in the ICO social centre, ready to be a teaching tool for the  many classes that will follow.  Last night, I christened the whiteboard when teaching my English class. Oh, the joy of the feel of those squeaky markers on the brilliant white surface.  It may seem an insignificant item to most, but in this part of the world where people have so little, our new whiteboard stands as one of life’s simple pleasures.
Another of life's simple pleasures!

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