Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jill's San Pedro part II

I have really enjoyed being held in the arms of San Pedro la Laguna

a dainty town nestled at the edge of Lake Atitlan

with a quirky newsletter which likes to have fun (I thought this was for real!)

and quirky 'chicken buses and boats'. So for another couple of weeks or so, I moved back in with my family where I was joined first by Carine a 26 yr old French sailor (more of that later!) and by Joyce a wonderfully vibrant lady of 68yrs from the USA. I have been pampered by Leti who is a marvellous hostess and cook (we have 3 sizeable meals a day) and Luis who is a delightful and funny host. Their children once again have been warm and friendly and full of life. And all have helped me to speak Spanish, correcting my grammar when necessary which is most of the time! I feel blessed to have been part of their family for over 4 weeks.

And I quickly signed up again for more Spanish lessons at the San Pedro Spanish School (I had 4 weeks in total) with the lovely Lorenzo . A grammatical disciplinarian but with patience and a sense of humour. Thank you Lorenzo for making Spanish interesting and fun.
I also visited an art project Rio Negro displaying paintings depicting the atrocities inflicted on the Guatemalan people by their own government in 1978 (the year I started nurse training).

In 1978, in the face of civil war, the Guatemalan government proceeded with its economic development program, including the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. Financed in large part by the World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank, the Chixoy Dam was built in Rabinal, a region of the department of Baja Verapaz historically populated by the Maya Achi. To complete construction, the government completed voluntary and forcible relocation of dam-affected communities from fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands.

When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, or returned after finding the conditions of resettlement villages were not what the government had promised,

these men, women and children

were kidnapped, raped, and massacred

by paramilitary and military officials. More than 440 Maya Achi were killed in the village of Rio Negro alone,

and the string of extra judicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives

between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Rio Negro Massacres. The government officially declared the acts to be counterinsurgency activities-although local church workers, journalists and the survivors of Rio Negro deny that the town ever saw any organised guerilla activity.

There is a deep sense of the strength of women at this time displayed in these paintings

The project encourages children to express themselves through art. And each weekend a number of children can be found amongst these paintings being creative with the help of volunteers.

On 4th March we celebrated Leti's birthday with a delicious meal cooked by Joyce

With a bottle of delicious Chilean vino tinto, and the most amazing cake that David and I bought from a local Pasteleria

adorned with a mighty candle in the middle for Leti to blow out

which she did after we sang Happy Birthday!

We also had fun at the regular Smokin' Joe's barbecue every Sunday (the day that Guatemalan families who house Spanish students have off, so don't cook meals) at the local Piscina

Where all manner of folk congregate

for an all American barbecue

cooked by Smokin' Joe himself

Check out the menu on the board behind him. Apparently he kills a cow every week to feed us all. And there is always huge demand. His Guatemalan ladies (to the right of the photo) help with salads and his wife does all the ordering -see the line of orders he is reaching for. And this is the 'smoker'

Whilst David always opts for salad only, and once a delicious pineapple cobbler

I tucked into beef

And it melted in the mouth. There is usually a crowd of us hang out for a few hours then we depart for a siesta.

And on 27th February we said Adios to Carine, a fellow student at the San Pedro Spanish School who left for Tikal before heading towards Panama to join a yacht. Carine had always wanted to see the world by boat. So she set about saving and hunted on the internet, for yacht owners/skippers looking for crew. So far she has sailed from Croatia to Florida. The next leg takes her to Australia. She had never sailed before and suffers with sea-sickness. Anyhow she met met Mike a fellow motorbike traveller and when she told him she was getting the tourist or chicken bus to Antigua, he offered to take her on his motorbike. It's only about 7 hours round trip-oh young love!!

Anyhow I teased him about the size of Carine's rucksack

which I had seen unpacked at Leti's (well sort of), it was a bit like Mary Poppins bag, the contents just kept coming out! In the event although it did look poised to tip the balance of the bike

the dainty Carine

looking slightly nervous, and Mike, it seems a man with an adventurous spirit

set off for an epic 8 hour journey to Antigua-Mike thought Carine might like to see a bit more of Guatemala before she left and they got wonderfully lost on side roads. And the bike lived to tell the tale!

To top it all off I celebrated my 51st birthday in fine style. Although David spent the day travelling to and from Antigua (another epic 8 hour journey) to collect the bike parcel which finally arrived from the UK, I just chilled. In the morning I taught English to a group of adolescents at a local school. I have been doing some voluntary work for the school which is a social project started by the San Pedro Spanish School. The class is about 10 strong of children age between 13 and 15 yrs old. They are very keen to learn, and great fun to work with. Though a little distracted at times being taught by an English woman who does not speak much Spanish. But I managed to revise with them definite and indefinite articles, personal pronouns and the present tense, negativos, plurals, and possessive pronouns in lieu of an exam on Monday. They were very polite and respectful and a joy to be amongst.

I chewed the fat with Jason (Mike's biker pal) on the high street. Then I tried to book a massage (my present from David) but the place was closed. Then I ambled to the market, where I bought myself a bracelet for 3 Quetzales (about 25p). I had a light lunch, followed by an hours Spanish conversation with Mildred a local Maestra, then Joan and I met for afternoon tea (well beer and Nachos!), which went on til about 6pm!!

Joan had bought a scrumptious birthday cake topped with candles

I took the cake back to Leti's in a tuc-tuc and when asked about it by the driver and a passenger, I replied in my Spanish that it was my birthday and I am 501 yrs old. I never get my Spanish fives correct. They both looked at me puzzled and laughed. Then we all convened at Leti and Luis's for a splendiferous birthday meal.
Leti cooked another fine meal

(it's a bit blurred-David blames my camera)but you can see the spread and the globos (balloons) in the background; I bought a bottle of vino tinto to celebrate. The cake was sliced with great ceremony

by Leti, Luis and me

and after numerous toasts Luis and Leti presented me with a birthday gift

It was a lovely surprise and Luis made a speech which left me feeling very honoured and humbled. My Spanish is limited and what I wanted to say came out all jumbled but it has been a wonderful birthday and one I will cherish. Thank you Luis, Leti, Ines, Tuli, little Luis, Elena, Joyce and David xx.

I must explain the wonderful peraje (scarf) I am wearing. Now this actually belongs to Joyce. We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon taking a tuc-tuc to San Juan about 15 minutes rickety ride away to browse the local women's cooperativas where the women weave, dye and make souvenirs: beaded necklaces, bracelets, earrings, locally woven cotton or wool bags, table linen, as well as bags and clothes made of recycled garments from the USA. They are unpicked, died and rewoven. The scarf I am wearing is made of recycled fabric, and is rather like chenille so quite thick and warm, and Joyce and I both liked it in the shop. I pranced around in it for a while, but since I could not think of how I might secrete it on the bike or indeed explain such a purchase to David, who worries about weight and space on the bike, Joyce had the joy of purchasing it. But she kindly loaned it to me to wear for my birthday. And all about town I was stopped by folk admiring it! Thank you Joyce. I shall have happy memories of our day shopping and 'our' peraje.

So all in all I have enjoyed our extended stay in San Pedro la Laguna and our departure for me is a bitter-sweet one.

Meanwhile David has spent much of his time revising Spanish, meeting up with Mike and Jason, doing some voluntary work clearing ground for a new Spanish School; trying to sort out the part for the bike and getting itchy feet.

Finally the much desired bike bit has been fitted. With the help of Jason and Mike the bike guided out of David's bedroom, and jump started (after a number of false starts) and all is well. We shall be leaving tomorrow morning for Semuc Champey.


  1. Loved the pics Jillie, you look sooo happy and relaxed. It sounds like you have had a wonderful time in San Pedro and met a lovely, lovely family who have treated you like a princess! David I am glad you picked the right part for the bike, can you imagine if you hadnt?........
    Glad the birthady being 501 went well!!

  2. sounds like a great place to wait and the people have been so nice it makes me think I should have a break there when we get to that part of the world.
    congratulations Jill on make that ripe old age, must be a world record.

  3. Hi Jilly, what a special birthday...thanks for the account... here's to embracing life and its multitude of cakes!!

  4. Nice to hear from you. Yes San Pedro is well worth marking on the map. And it was a truly lovely birthday-even though I think I am 501yrs old. I certainly have more grey hairs and frown lines than when we left. xx