Saturday 6/30/07 - Arrival in Panajachel, Tour of Lago Atitlan, Meeting the Familia

We each managed to sleep a bit on the plane, but the level of service we used to expect from international flights was just not there. No food was served (unless you paid for it), no coffee or orange juice in the morning, and not even a warm facecloth to wipe our faces before arrival. So, bleary-eyed and feeling a bit like we could use some freshening up, we arrived in Guatemala City at 4:45 am. As we exited the plane we saw a lot of posters welcoming Olympic International Committee members, who were in town to determine the site of the 2014 Winter Games. There were people waiting at the gate to pick up international journalists.

We went through immigration (which went very quickly, especially since we had no checked luggage to pick up first). We met Luis, our driver, who had a sign with our names on it. We said hello and he welcomed us to Guatemala. We walked to his van, passing a soldier holding an M-16. We smiled and said good morning, and he reciprocated in a very friendly manner. We were pulling out of the airport at 5:15. We passed a bad accident where a car had been run over by an 18 wheeler. The victim had been extricated from the car and was lying on the ground under a sheet. It was very sobering. Guatemala City has very dangerous roads. We had flown into Guatemala City twice, and on almost this exact stretch of road back in 2004, we had seen a smashed chicken bus which had tunbled off of an overpass. So, we were two for two on fatal accidents leaving the airport.

Apart from the initial emotional shock of the wreck, the ride itself was very comfortable and pleasant, and brought back immediate memories. As we exited the city, we passed the McDonald's shaped like a Happy Meal box that we had noticed on our last trip. Outside of town, we passed tree lined boulevards. Political signs were painted on roadside rocks, like natural billboards. We could see volcanoes in the distance. At 5:45, we stopped for gas at a Shell station. It became apparent that we were entering Antigua. This was a nice surprise, as it is a gorgeous city and felt like a homecoming of sorts. We drove through the narrow cobblestone streets lined with quaint brightly-colored colonial buildings. Luis pulled over in front of La Fuente, a restaurant where we had eaten breakfast several times in 2004. He said that we would wait for about 5 minutes and would then be picked up by our next driver,who would take us to Panajachel. We chatted with him in Spanish while we waited. He was a friend of Humberto's and knew the family well. We told him we were so excited to finally get to meet the rest of Humberto's family. I took some photos, and a few minutes later another van pulled up.

There was a couple sitting toward the front, and three people in the back. We sat on the bench in between. The three in the back were Americans who were doing volunteer work at the Hope Mission. They were all quite nice and we had a nice chat about travel, movies, literature, etc. on the ride. We stopped at the Restaurante Katok for breakfast and a bathroom break. The restaurant was very nice and we sat with the three volunteers. One was from Philly and the other two were from Minnesota. They had all met at the mission and were taking a weekend trip to Panajachel and Chichi together. The tables at the restaurant were hewn from cross sections of trees and it was really atmospheric. Artwork for sale adorned the walls. I had panqueques con miel and Craig had a sausage and cheese omelette. We each got a big glass of orange juice. We used the nice clean bathrooms and then resumed our journey. We hit a lot of road construction which left us in a traffic jam for a while. People were selling items to the stopped cars. At one point there were two lanes of traffic going the other direction and ours was swimming upstream in the middle. We were glad we were passengers instead of drivers.

We passed through Solola , and noticed the pink and yellow clock tower which resembled a square wedding cake of sorts. We had climbed this to the bell tower on our last visit. As we descended into Panajachel, the roads got very windy and several people in the van began to feel sick from the motion. We could see the lake and were excited as we approached town. There were the two ugly '70's looking high-rise towers that looked so out of place on the shore. As we reached town, we were flagged down and our driver paid a toll to a man standing in the road. We drove through the streets and the van dropped off the others at the Utz Hay hotel, and then we stopped several meters further down the street in front of Humberto's office (Lago Aventura Tours) at a little after 10:00. Humberto was there looking styling in a Panama hat with a huge smile on his face. We got out of the van and gave him a hug as he welcomed us to Pana. He told us that even though we were later than expected, his tour was waiting for us, and that we needed to get going right away. We dropped our stuff in his office, said hi to Yasmin, who was playing a game on the Cartoon Network web site, and then headed off. Talk about a whirlwind!

We got back into the van and it dropped us at the lake, where a group of 20 American medical students were waiting to begin the tour. Even though we were a bit late, none of them minded and they were all very pleasant and chatty. As all of our stuff was in our bags back at the office, they offered us sun screen, hats, etc. I gave Craig my bandana to tie around his head to protect it from the sun. We walked down the sandy shore to one of the many small docks where small boats and ferries were waiting for customers. There were some horses made out of flowers sitting on the beach and they looked like parade float decorations.

As we boarded our boat, Humberto handed us each a sack lunch containing a ham and cheese sandwich, Oreos, a peach juice box, a small banana, and a bottle of water. It was all such a whirlwind. The med students were doing an immersion Spanish class in Antigua and also volunteering in medical clinics. Their weekends were free and they had decided to do Humberto's lake tour. Humberto usually goes to San Pedro La Laguna, San Antonio Palopo, and Santiago Atitlan. However, yesterday there had been a festival in San Pedro, and it needed some cleanup, so Humberto substituted Santa Catarina Palopo instead. It was a short boat ride to Santa Catarina. The lake water was a very nice turquoise color, but it has pollution problems. Lake Atitlan fills a volcanic crater, and is the deepest lake in Central America, with depths of up to 340 meters.

As we departed from Panajachel, we watched Humberto, sitting at the front of the boat, addressing the medical students. He was pointing out various sites and telling them facts about the area. We were very proud of him. He was very professional and was clearly excited about his job. Craig was lost in these thoughts and couldn't really process the facts that Humberto was saying. Everything was happening so quickly! Craig's attention was drawn to the side of the boat as we passed an Evangelical lake baptism. Though Catholicism has been popular in Guatemala since the Spanish conquest, Evangelical religions have been gaining converts in recent years. Two men in western dress shirts and slacks stood on either side of a young man in a white T-shirt and jeans. They prayed over him and then submerged his head in the water.

We then docked at Santa Catarina Palopo (a Cakchiquel Maya village where the women wear traditional blue huipiles, or blouses), and walked up the cobblestone road from lake into town. We passed women who were using traditional backstrap looms to weave gorgeous textiles. They wore their hair in a traditional way, wrapped around their head with thick ribbons. Women and children were trying to sell us their wares. Women were selling their textiles, and children were selling embroidered postcards, bracelets, and little dolls. We are used to this kind of onslaught, but it left me feeling a little overwhelmed today, as I hadn't really slept and the whole trip was such a whirlwind so far. The medical students were moving pretty quickly, and, since we were always taking pictures, we wound up taking up the rear most of the time.

Humberto brought us into a small compound, and an elderly Mayan woman in traditional dress welcomed us. There was a shy young boy who watched us but tried to keep out of sight. Humberto pointed out the Mayan sauna. Chickens and roosters were wandering around the yard. The old woman beckoned a small group of us into her kitchen. It was dark in there, and we all immediately took off our sunglasses, unable to see. She found this quite amusing and laughed and joked with us about it. The walls of the kitchen were blackened from years of smoke and soot. A small fire glowed on the floor. A couple of metal pots were balanced on some rebar above the fire, held in place by several stones.

After thanking our hostess, we continued up the hill through the narrow winding alleyways of Santa Catarina. The town had a medieval, labyrinthine feel, and you could never tell what was around the next corner.There seemed to be a lot of construction going on. We said hello to some workers who were installing rebar in a cinder block building. Wooden forms were in place for pouring cement. Craig complimented their job and they gave us big smiles. We asked if a picture would be ok and they posed for us. From out vantagepoint on the hill we looked back and could see the volcanoes towering over the beautiful lake. We passed some turkeys who gobbled wildly as we walked by. There were also a lot of cute little chicks scratching on the ground.

Many of the buildings were little stores which had children minding them. We passed some adobe walls which were incredible to see. They were so textured with bits of hay and straw. While we were admiring these and taking some photos, the remainder of the group continued on. Soon we could not tell where they had gone, as they had turned some corner in the narrow maze of streets. We were with the medical students' chaperone from Antigua, and the three of us laughed that we had gotten separated from the group. We went back down the hill and stood next to a small store. Soon Humberto turned up to fetch us. We told him that we are the troublemakers, always lagging behind for photos. It was quite funny.

We walked back down to the dock where the med students were waiting. We all boarded the boat again and took a short ride to San Antonio Palopo. As we approached the shore, we could see buildings lining the hillside. In the center of this vista was a white church, which was very pretty. There was a large colorful sign near the dock welcoming visitors to the town and promoting their first-class textile artisans. The vistas were beautiful in every direction; a small sailboat was moored with a volcano in the background...simply gorgeous. The dock area had a thatched-roofed shelter. We disembarked and stood under the shelter while Humberto gave us some background information on the town. Women and children were once again trying to sell their wares. One young woman named Maria, who spoke some English, targeted me. She had some very pretty textiles, but I wasn't ready to buy anything yet. We hadn't even had a chance to change any money into quetzals! I tried to be polite and tell her that I had to catch up with the group (once again my photography had left me in the back of the pack). However, my attempt at subtlety didn't work; she simply said ok and walked with me, continuing to show me her textiles along the way. Eventually I said no thank you, and she said "Maybe later? If you buy something, you buy only from me, ok?" She seemed really sweet and I agreed to this, after which she left me alone.

Humberto took us into some textile shops and the women there demonstrated weaving with a backstrap loom, the most traditional kind of Mayan weaving technique. The traditional dress for women here was similar to Santa Catarina. They were wearing bright blue woven huipiles (blouses) and skirts. Their hair was wrapped in narrow ribbons and encircled around their heads. They knelt on a woven reed mat and hooked the loom's strap around their waist. San Antonio Polopo is known for its fine quality textiles. Those made with the backstrap loom are very intricate. They are often woven from brightly colored threads, and sometimes even have metallic accent threads. Humberto had sent us some beautiful scarves in the mail, and this was where they had been made. We recognized the work immediately. The shop also had "machine woven" textiles. These were looser weaves and not as intricate. They are made on foot looms, and the practice was introduced by the Spanish. These are much less expensive than textiles woven with backstrap looms, and the foot loom is generally the domain of men rather than women.

Humberto encouraged Craig to pick out a scarf to protect his head in place of my lavender bandana. Craig selected a brightly colored machine woven specimen. We chatted with Humberto while the med students picked out textiles. It was so good to see again him after three years of email correspondence. And we were so excited about meeting the family after our tour. Some of the female med students bought woven ribbons, and the Mayan women wrapped them into their hair for them. A woman showed me a beautiful red and orange hand-woven silk scarf that I couldn't resist, and I bought it, while vowing that I would still buy something from Maria when I got back to the dock.

As we left the shop, we saw a brightly colored cemetery on a lush green hill overlooking the lake. I really like this type of above-ground cemetery; I find them very picturesque. And the bright colors have a celebratory rather than mournful feel to them. We continued up the narrow winding streets. We passed two little girls in traditional attire who were selling bracelets that they had woven themselves. I bought a packet of 12 for $1, and asked the girls if I could get a picture of them. They agreed. We were accosted by lots of children, who addressed us with calls of "Una foto? Un quetzal?" Craig and I don't like to give money for photos if we can help it. We would rather purchase an item and work a photo into the deal. We don't like to encourage the habit of children begging to get their photos taken for money.

Next Humberto brought us to a small compound which (we later found out) was owned by an elderly couple named Juan and Juana. There was a freestanding kitchen built with bamboo and adobe. It seemed like anything and everything was mixed into the adobe, and we could see scraps of paper and plastic bags poking out of the mud. Humberto brought us into the kitchen and showed us the traditional way of cooking: three rocks are positioned into a triangle (representing womanhood) and a small fire smolders in the center. Humberto pointed out that there is also a cinder block "oven", though it is currently used as a shelf. It was given to Juan and Juana by a devlopment aid agency, but they were not comfortable using it. They prefer their traditional ways. They like to keep their traditions alive, and welcome tourists to see the way that they live. A woman demonstrated weaving with a foot loom. Chickens and roosters roamed around the property, and children watched us from a distance. We continued walking up the hill and saw two cats in a half-finished building.

We then arrived at Iglesia San Antonio, the church we had seen from the water. It had a gorgeous view overlooking the lake and volcanoes, but it was hard to see the view because a chicken bus had parked right in front of the overlook. We were so close to the church that it was impossible to get the entire building into a single photo. We entered the church. There were lace panels draped from the rafters, and carved wooden statues flanking the walls. Like many Latin American churches, the atmosphere was more festive than somber. Bright red block letters were draped above the altar, proclaiming the "corazon de Jesus". There was a small shrine to the right of the altar which was festooned with Christmas lights. A group of people were praying before it. We noticed a stone baptismal font in the back of the church.

After leaving the church, we walked down the hill back to the lake. Along the way we passed a little hole in the wall called "Comedor Elbita". Chicken was frying in a pan in the yard. Maria immediately identified me as we walked along the dock. I bought a couple of backstrap textiles from her, including one that was the same pattern as her own huipil. Of course, the fact that I bought some from her immediately motivated her to try to sell me more, but I made a getaway onto the boat.

We now had a longer boat ride to the Tzutujil Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan. This was the only one of our three lakeside destinations which we had visited on our prior trip in 2004. Back then, we had walked to town from the Hotel Bambu. This time, we were arriving by boat. Santiago Atitlan was by far the largest of the three towns. The dock area was bustling with food, textiles, ferries, etc. We saw tuk-tuks, the three wheeled motorized vehicles which are very popular in SouthEast Asia. We hadn't remembered these from last time, yet the place was overrun with them. Humberto said that they been imported from India about 2 years ago, and that they had grown immensely in popularity as cheap, convenient transportation for tourists and locals alike. Humberto introduced us to a couple of Mayan women by the docks. Their headdresses (called a tocoyal, or xk'op in Tzutujil) were quite different from the ones we had seen in Santa Catarina and San Antonio. These were long ribbons wrapped around their heads in concentric circles so that in the end they created a sort of halo which protruded a couple of inches on each side, with colorful weaving on the perimeter. These ribbons were 10 meters long, and the women unwrapped them and then demonstrated how to put them back on.

We walked up the familiar cobblestone streets past galleries and textile shops. Humberto said that if we were looking for paintings, this was the place to buy them. There were beautiful paintings of the colonial streets of Antigua and Lake Atitlan with volcanoes in the background, as well as other paintings which were more geometric and brightly colored. These depicted scenes of Mayan life (many focusing on markets or weaving) as seen from directly overhead. This style is known as vista del pajaro, or bird's-eye view. According to Yucatan Today, contemporary Mayan art originated in 1920 when Juan Sisay from Santiago Atitlan and Rafael Gonzales from San Pedro la Laguna were inspired by traveling artists who came to paint in their villages. Paintings from very large to very tiny were on display in the shops, and Humberto pointed out the different styles of art.

Our first stop was the shrine to Maximon. We had seen Maximon in 2004 during Semana Santa parade. During Semana Santa he is taken to the river, his clothing is washed, and then he is paraded around town. The procession ends at the St James the Apostle Church. For the rest of the year, Maximon's effigy resides in the house of one of the locals, and is presided over by his cofradia (brotherhood). Maximon lives in a different house every year, and locals bring tourists to see him. Humberto led us through the steep cobblestone streets of Santiago Atitlan until we reached Maximon's dwelling for this year. Humberto explained the beliefs surrounding Maximon, and how if you would like to see him, you must present an offering. Locals give offerings of tobacco and aguardiente liquor, but donations of money are also happily accepted. The rate is a quetzal or two per person. We still hadn't had a chance to change any money, so I offered a dollar bill to the member of the cofradia who was monitoring the door as we entered the darkened room. He took the bill and pinned it to Maximon's lapel, while coins were kept in a little plate. Candles flickered, and two men flanked Maximon on either side. There were some other men and women sitting around a table behind Maximon. Maximon was dressed in a black hat and many layers of woven Mayan fabrics, as well as a necktie. His altar was decorated with fresh flowers and offerings, including a pack of Belmont cigarettes. There were religious statues around the room and it was a somber yet festive atmosphere. I asked if I could take a photo, and they said that I could for a donation. I gave them 2 more US $1 bills, which they tucked neatly into Maximon's lapel before I took the photo.

We exited the house through a back door and continued on to St James the Apostle Church. Craig pointed out that the road we walked down was the same one where we had viewed the Maximon procession in 2004. We got to the church and stepped inside. We had been to this church on our last visit, but had been largely on our own when walking through it, so we hadn't gotten a lot of facts about its history. It was an airy church with skylights and lace panels draped from the ceiling. Carved wooden figures were displayed along the walls and were all dressed up - people take turns dressing them in different garb each month. Humberto sat us all down in a few rows of pews and explained the tragic history of this place. During the bloody civil war, many Mayans of Santiago Atitlan were tortured and murdered. Father Stanley Rother, a U.S. priest from Oklahoma who had served in Santiago Atitlan for 13 years, was very protective of his parishioners and encouraged them to stay in the church when their homes were not safe. He was marked for death because of his devotion to the Mayans in the community. He left Santiago Atitlan to return to the United States, but couldn't remain away from his people and soon returned. He was murdered in the rectory on August 28, 1981, at the age of 46. He is seen as a martyr by the people of Santiago Atitlan. Although his body is buried in Oklahoma, the family allowed his heart to be buried in the St James the Apostle in Santiago Atitlan. There is a memorial chapel there, as well as some commemorative placques.

After contemplating this story, we walked to the back of the church. There were some amazing wood carvings which blended Mayan and Catholic beliefs, incorporating mountains, saints, and scenes from Mayan history. Jesus hung on a crucifix, and was bedecked with flowers and brightly colored robes. Candles flickered in the foreground, and it was quite enchanting. As we walked down the steps exiting the church, we remembered how during our visit in 2004, local children slid down the steps on cornhusks, much like kids would sled on snow at home.

We walked back toward the lake. We saw a little boy carrying a bundle of sticks on his back that was larger than he was. Humberto stopped to show us some fruit being sold by a woman sitting on the corner. It looked like an artichoke on the outside, and inside was hot pink with lots of little black seeds. It was called pitaya. The med students' chaperone from Antigua asked if we had ever tasted one, and she purchased one for us to try. It was juicy and sweet, kind of the consistency of a kiwi. When we were halfway through it, Humberto conjectured that maybe it might not be such a good idea for our digestive systems to be eating this fresh fruit. Craig teased that it was a little late to tell us that now! We then joked that we were staying at his house, so he's the one who will be dealing with us if we get sick. Luckily, on this trip we were able to enjoy all kinds of food and drinks, and stayed healthy as well.

We hadn't stopped at a bathroom since breakfast on the way to Panajachel, so we stopped at the Pescador restaurant, where they charged a nominal fee for non-patrons to use the bathrooms. I like this system a lot more than at home, where you must purchase something to use the facilities. I had just eaten a pitaya and didn't need more food, but I didn't mind contributing to the upkeep of the immaculately clean restrooms.

After our pit stop, we walked down the street, peeking into shops. There were some adorable foot-tall wooden marimbas for sale and I was tempted, but there was no way to really get it home intact. We stopped in to several galleries and looked at paintings. We found one that we liked, which was a scene of Antigua with a volcano in the background. Unframed, it cost less than $10 US, after we were through bargaining. A bunch of the medical students bought paintings at this shop as well. Everyone was tempted to buy large canvases, as the prces were so affordable, but everyone had to settle for a size that would fit in their luggage. It started to rain while we were in the gallery, and we all waited it out for a while, chatting. It was still raining when it was time to go to the boat, and some of the medical students bought large plastic garbage bags from the shopkeeper to wear as ponchos.

We got back onto the boat and tarps were down over the sides to prevent us from getting wet. The boat driver climbed over the top of the boat and put a tarp over the front as well, at the request of the med students. We couldn't see where we were going and it became quite warm. The lake was a bit rough and it was very surreal. Luckily, the captain had a view of what lay ahead of us, even if we didn't! We had fun talking and laughing with our companions, including a really friendly young woman named Crystal.

We arrived in Pana at around 4:00. We said goodbye to the med students and then Humberto walked us to his office. We didn't realize at the time that his family's compound was very close to his office. Paola met Humberto in the street and gave him a big hug. We were introduced to her and soon Yasmin joined us as well. We walked down the little alleyway to their house and then met Vanessa and Paulina, who were outside to greet us. It took us a few minutes to get names straight, as some of the girls go by their first names and others go by their middle names. The girls were quiet at first, but they smiled and watched us intently. They showed us around the house. Humberto pointed out a construction project right next to his house. He would create several studio apartments with private baths, and would rent them out in the short term. Then, as the girls grew up, they could move in with their own families. He said it was his idea to be a surprise for us. He was hoping that the construction would be finished so that we could have stayed there. We were quite surprised and proud of him for being this enterprising.

We walked back to the office to get our bags, and along the way we stopped at a relative's house. Yoselin was there and as soon as she saw us she picked up a kitten and came over toward us to say hello. Could it get any cuter? She and Yasmin were both dressed up in gingham dresses and I got a picture of them with the kitten. Then Yoselin started to make the kitten "walk" on its hind was so cute. We continued on to the office and picked up our bags. We now had a chance to admire the office as we were no longer in a rush. The walls were a cheerful yellow, and there were maps and tourism posters decorating the walls.

We went back to the house and sat at the kitchen table to chat. I asked where the baby was and Paulina said she was sleeping. The younger girls were very curious about us. They wanted to sit on chairs close to us, and soon they were putting arms around our shoulders and sitting on our laps. Yoselin took my sunglasses ("lentes") and tried them on. We took pictures and they were all anxious to see them right away. Yoselin and Vanessa were playing with a small hematite dolphin bead, and it fell to the floor and part of its tail broke off. Yasmin went to her school bag to get glue to try to stick it back together.

Soon the girls couldn't stand it any more and went into their parents' room and woke up baby Aracely, just shy of 2 years old. Aracely stumbled out of the bedroom and was remarkably calm to see two big gringos sitting at her kitchen table. She kept a distance at first, but soon was sitting on Paulina's lap at the table. Yoselin handed her my sunglasses and she put them on. Before long, one of the girls put her on my lap for a photo and she stayed there for a while contentedly smiling. Yoselin had a great time playing with a suction cup, sticking it to the table and then asking me to pull it off.

I went into the bathroom and there was an immediate flurry of activity in the kitchen. Apparently they hadn't been sure if there was toilet paper in there, and the girls were competing to see who would get to deliver some to me. I believe it was Yoselin who prevailed. "Papel! Papel!" she called from outside the bathroom door. I called back thank you, but that I already had some.

Paulina fed us and Humberto lunch. She had cooked it for the family earlier, and had put some aside and reheated it when we got home. It was a nice meal of fresh chicken in a red spicy sauce and rice, served with fresh corn tortillas. It really hit the spot. While Yoselin was sitting on my lap she absently picked off a hangnail from my cuticle. It totally caught me by surprise, and we all had a good laugh. Maybe she has a future career as a manicurist! The girls played with a small stuffed rabbit and a plastic yellow bear. We learned the Spanish names for these animals (conejo and oso respectively). Paola got out a small notebook and started to show us her drawings. She and her sisters drew little pictures in the notebook. One of the girls went over to the gas cooktop and peeled a sticker off the side. She brought it over and showed it to us. It was a My Little Pony pegasus. We talked about the word for pony, and Vanessa brought up the Spanish word for unicorn. This was very coincidental, as we had brought a stuffed unicorn as a gift for the baby. As we spoke with Paulina and the girls, I consulted my small Spanish dictionary. Soon the girls were flipping through it, and Yoselin asked me to read various words. They were intrigued by my watch, and I showed them how the light worked. They chanted "luz, luz!" and cupped their hands over it to block out the outside light. I tried to explain to them in broken Spanish that the time was wrong as we couldn't remember the key sequence to reset it.

The girls were practicing saying our names (Craig always turned out like "Graik", which was really cute) and Vanessa poited to a small gift bag which was hung up in the kitchen. It was from last Christmas, and said "To Yoselin Stefania Love Stephanie and Craig." Vanessa pointed out to Yoselin that we share a name. Paola disappeared with the camera for a few minutes, and came back with pictures of her cousins' toys, including a Hello Kitty wall clock.

Paola, Yasmin, and Yoselin were sitting at the kitchen table, spinning a knife in circles like one might play Spin the Bottle. They seemed intent on who it would land on. Humberto laughed and said that they needed to go to the store each night to buy bread. Since we were there, none of the girls wanted to leave, so they were trying to decide who had to go. In the end, Paola and Yasmin went, but they were back before we knew it, huffing and puffing. Not wanting to miss any action, they had run the entire way. Craig talked with Vanessa and tried to draw her out of her shell a bit. She was a big help with everything around the house and was very mature, but she was also shy.

Humberto showed us the living room, which had been cleared of furniture, and told us that would be our room. He then left for a while, saying "I have to go pick up your bed." The girls' cousin Rocio (age 9) arrived and was also immediately very loving and charming. She sat with us at the table and showed us her music box, which had a magnetic ballerina who whirled around to classical music. The girls were enchanted, and watched it and took a few photos of it. One of their young male cousins was also there. We all sat together at the kitchen table, chatting and taking photos. It became apparent that Yoselin was most fascinated by the camera. "Una foto?" she would say. If we hesitated at all, she would follow it up with "Ah? Ah? Ah?" Out of battery concern I was a bit conservative, otherwise the camera would be going non-stop. "No," I would say. "Si?" she would ask in an adorably high-pitched voice. "Noo..." I would say, and this became our little back and forth game. When I was finally convinced she had given up, she had another trick up her sleeve. She would do something unbelievably cute, and I would smile at her and she would pounce again. "Una foto?" And of course I couldn't say no.

The next thing we knew Humberto was back and the bed was set up with fresh pink linens in the living room. As the sun started to set, Humberto suggested that we all take a walk down to the lake. Rocio told us it was Humberto's birthday, and we jokingly scolded Humberto for not telling us this important fact. What a happy surprise to be able to spend his birthday with him! We headed out and the girls immediately grabbed our hands to hold onto. Yoselin wanted Craig to carry her, which he did for a while, but after so many hours with no sleep, he just couldn't muster the energy. The walk to the lake was nice although the streets were busy and we had to dodge tuk-tuks, bicycles, and the occasional car or truck. Girls were tugging on our hands, swapping out who held hands with who, etc. It was hard to believe we had just met them a couple of hours ago. It felt so right to be with them. They were all wearing fleeces or jackets, but Craig and I were very comfortable in our shirtsleeves. Rocio chatted with me as we walked. She asked me something that I thought was "What do you call it?" I didn't know what she was referring to. She repeated it again, stressing "el" at the end of the question ("him"). When I still didn't understand, she pointed to Craig. "El. El gringo." I couldn't help but smile. "Craig," I replied. She repeated it after me. It is a tough name for the girls to pronounce, as there are really no comparable letter combinations in Spanish. The girls pronounced it more like "Graik" which we thought was very cute. We got to the lake as the sunset was just fading, and I got a picture of the girls in front of the lake and Volcan San Pedro.

We sat down together on a low concrete wall and the girls climbed all over us. Yoselin was in my lap. Rocio was sitting between me and Craig. She held each of our hands, and then placed our hands on top of one another. It was very cute. The girls asked if we know how to swim and Humberto explained that they sometimes swim there. The girls also asked if we know how to play football (soccer). While sitting looking at the lake Yoselin asked if we were going to sleep at her house. When I said yes she got so excited!

Rocio took off my bandana and put it on her head. Yoselin and Yasmin had me hold my hand out slightly above their height, and they would jump so that the top of their head hit my palm. They would then re-adjust the positioning of my hand so that they would need to jump higher or lower. They taught this game to their sisters, and soon I had a bunch of girls (including little Aracely) lining up to bonk their heads on my outstretched palm. I laughed at how ridiculous the whole thing must have looked, but the girls were having a great time, so it was all fine with me.

The girls started counting to ten in Spanish, and then in Mayan, which they are in the process of learning. Rocio took this to the extreme and started counting in Spanish. When she reached 100, I expected her to stop, but she just went on faster and faster. Humberto suggested that we all move on, and we walked along the lake's edge, past some nice hotels and bars. Rocio kept counting feverishly. The more I pretended to be worn out by her, the more she persisted.

We stopped at a little bodega to buy snacks. The girls were excitedly chattering and pointing at various items, all talking at once. I don't know how the shopkeeper kept it all straight, but he kept track of each girl's order. Each girl got juice and some chips of their choice. Craig got a Gallo beer (which he could drink while walking home) and I had a Tiky pineapple soda. One of the girls got a long straw and handed it to me. Rocio was still rattling off Spanish numbers, and when she got to 400, I pleaded "No mas! Por favor!" She laughed and shared her picante Doritos with us.

We had a fun walk back to their block. We passed some drunken tourists who laughed and joked with us. We stopped in at the office, as Humberto had some paperwork to do. The girls played outside on the street with their cousins, but Yoselin stayed close by us. She sat on my lap in the office and played with the cap from my soda bottle. She kept dropping it onto the floor, and then I would suspend her upside down while she retrieved it squealing "Wheeeeeeeee!" While she was in this vulnerable position, I would tickle her exposed bellybutton. Humberto taught us the Spanish word for tickle ("cosquillas") which would come in very handy during the remainder of the trip. Yoselin seemed intrigued by my fair skin, which had had a rough day in the sun. she cheerfully pointed out blemishes in a totally curious manner. A young cousin named Neli wandered into the office. She was around Aracely's age. She was intrigued by our presence and sat in a chair next to Paulina, looking at us. Soon Aracely became aware that another baby was getting some attention from her mom, and came into the office and became territorial, sitting on Paulina's lap and nursing, as if to put Neli in her proper place. It was really cute.

Humberto asked if we wanted to eat dinner with them at their house or whether we wanted to eat at a restaurant. At first we minunderstood and thought he meant to all go to a restaurant together. But it turned out that his sister had made tamales, and that was the family was going to eat. They were asking if we preferred a restaurant for the two of us. No way, we weren't going to leave their side. We loved their company and wanted to eat the way they did, not the way most tourists do. So we headed back to the house. We were each served a tamale in a large green leaf. Aracely didn't sit in the high chair, instead she sat on a regular chair and attacked her tamale with gusto. She mastered a full glass of water with two hands - no spill proof sippy cup here! There were nine of us at the table, and Yoselin situated herself in the high chair. All of the girls are good eaters. It was a delicious meal, but, unfortunately, lack of sleep was starting to get to me and I didn't have much of an appetite.

The girls started to nod off after dinner but we gave them their gifts, and that perked them right up. We gave Humberto a backpack, and we gave Paulina some doilies that my mother had crocheted. We gave the four older girls little colorful bags which my mom had knitted ("bolsitos!" they exclaimed). Inside was a necklace with a glass beaded heart, a little notebook, a pad of sticky notes, and a pen with silver ink. They loved them and put the necklaces on immediately. We gave Aracely a small purple pocketbook with a plush unicorn inside. She loved it. She waved it in the air and made it speak: "YaYaYa!" Craig and I laughed and said that must be the noise that a unicorn makes. As she looked at her sisters' gifts, we gave her a small knitted bag my mother had made as well. She put it on her hand like a sock puppet, and then made the noise again: "YaYaYa!" Craig and I laughed some more. This wasn't a noise unique to the unicorn; this was apparently the noise that everything makes! We also gave a teddy bear to all of the girls. It was wearing a team sweatshirt for our local high school. Yasmin was especially smitten with the teddy bear, and carried it around the house.

By now we were all tuckered out. We said goodnight and the whole family went to bed at 10 pm. Although Craig and I were exhausted, it took us a while for the adrenaline of the wonderful day to subside. After a while, we finally wound down and were able to get our minds into restful states, and then sleep followed.
The colorful cobblestone streets of Antigua

Panajachel docks

Evangelical baptism in Lake Atitlan

Humberto explaining weaving techniques in Santa Catarina Palopo

Labyrinthine streets of Santa Catarina Palopo

Santa Catarina Palopo

Humberto leading a tour group in Santa Catarina Palopo

Construction workers

Lake Atitlan

Craig, Humberto, and Steph at the weaving co-op in San Antonio Palopo

Mayan girls selling bracelets in San Antonio PalopoMayan girls selling bracelets in San Antonio Palopo

Juan and Juana's adobe kitchen, San Antonio Palopo

Humberto showing us Juan and Juana's kitchen, San Antonio Palopo

Iglesia de San Antonio Palopo

Iglesia de San Antonio Palopo

Humberto showing us vista del pajaro paintings in Santiago Atitlan

Maximon at his shrine, Santiago Atitlan

St James the Apostle Church, Santiago Atitlan

St James the Apostle Church, Santiago Atitlan

Yoselin and Yasmin holding a kitten

Vanessa, Paola, Humberto, Paulina, Aracely, Yoselin, Yasmin, and Craig at the kitchen table

Paulina and Aracely

Steph and Yoselin

Steph and Aracely

Sunset at Lake Atitlan: Yasmin, Rocio, Yoselin, Aracely, Vanessa, Paola

Steph and Yoselin at Humberto's office

Aracely devouring her tamales

The girls playing with their gifts


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