Central America | Guatemala | Peten | Flores – A glimpse of Petan Guatemala
I am in Guatemala, in the Province of Petan. The city I am writing from is called Flores, a wonderful town squeezed onto a tiny Island. The island, which is tied to the main land by a 500meter causeway, is on the beautiful Lago Petan Itza.
Directly across from here nestled in the hills are two incredible little villages where I spent the last two weeks improving my Spanish. I changed schools and consequently villages for my second week of Spanish lessons, which meant moving into another home as well.
Staying here to take Spanish was a last minute change of plans but most definitely the right decision, my
Spanish has improved significantly. The Spanish classes however are a small part of my two-week experience here. Living with local families provided me with an incredible glimpse into Guatemalan life. My first family resided in the village of San Jose, a small community that has won an award for being well organized clean and friendly. It is infact a model village and is being touted as such. The people here are extremely proud of this award. I came over by boat, a long boat they refer to as a launch. On my way into the village everyone I passed regardless of age greeted me with an hola or Buenos Dias as though they were expecting me. I felt welcome before making it to the school.
The family I stayed with live in a simple casa on top a very steep hill. The entire town is built on the hillside that rises up from the lake making any destination a good work out. The roads are so steep in
fact that the locals slalom there way up and down. At first glance it might appear that the whole village has been drinking as they zig zag there way up and down these roads but it acts in the same way as skiing to dilute the work and gravity.
The casa itself is a simple structure built upon three cement foundations poured at different times to accommodate a growing family. The walls are constructed of sticks which are plastered over and painted in pastel colors. Some of the roof is thatched and some tin. The toilet is a clean pit toilet and beside it, divided by a stick wall is the shower and cement sink. The shower is of course cold. The water is pumped up from the lake.
Food is cooked both outdoors over a traditional fire pit and indoors on a gas range. The kitchen also has a fridge. Meal portions are small but adequate and always tasty. Most meals served are simple, a plate of chopped fruit for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch and beans with fried plantains for supper. Of course hand made tortillas are served with every meal along with potable water.
Each morning I would walk out doors to face the days new sun shining over the lake, step into the cold shower for a refreshing start to my day and then head inside to the kitchen table. It was profound to find the basic provisions of this home so incredibly comfortable and adequate. I wanted for nothing. The family I stayed with in San Jose were very open and warm. They strongly encouraged practicing Spanish and never ran out of patience. The kids were a fun addition. They sometimes seemed so interested in my white skin and funny language I felt like a zoo animal.
Everyone has a difficult time pronouncing my name and asks what the Spanish version is. I told them King but they soon reverted back to BBliiw or something like that. One day while playing soccer with the locals, mostly kids, I did change my name for the kids sake to
‘Bob’, they struggled so bad with Blair I couldn’t take it any more. They liked that a great deal and for the rest of the game I heard it called out a hundred times. From that day on I would hear ‘Bob’ called out from behind bushes or casa steps turning to find one
of the kids smiling ear to ear with the success of pronouncing my name.
The streets of San Jose are clean of litter and mostly paved. In the center of town is a very nice square that borders the lake. There are docks to swim from, a park to play in and tiendas to buy from. Most evenings the square is bustling with people, it is the place to be. On Friday and Saturday evenings it seems everyone is out playing basketball, catching up on gossip or drinking cerveza.
The pace of life here is your own. It is what ever you want it to be but beware there seems to be a force in place that impeades any attempt to speed things up. The pace makes life here incredibly comfortable and relaxed. It provides a cradle of peace and security. I could live to be 150 here.
The next town and home were a bit of a contrast. San Andre is in comparison noisy, dirty and not nearly as cared for. Horses, pigs, chickens and dogs all roam free and litter the streets with their feces. The people of this town not 500 meters from San Jose have not adopted the clean town motto. They toss their refuse everywhere. The streets and buildings are not as well cared for and the sense of pride so obvious inSan Jose is missing.
The family I stayed with were not quite as well off as the first. The pit toilet was a true test for me as was the kitchen. Both lacked hygiene to a degree that made mind games necessary. I wont get into details in case some of you are trying to eat. But Im glad I stayed, the family again was incredibly friendly and open. One of the boys, Denni quickly became my best amigo and followed me everywhere. The kids here are incredibly well mannered although I did find that kids from families a little better off, seemed to show it with an attitude akin to the western world.
After a couple of days at my new home in San Andre the towns water ran out. I took a couple of the kids down to the lake with a bar of soap. The lake was full of towns folk. Men gathering buckets of water, women washing clothes on rocks that had been set up long ago to aid in the task, people with soap and shampoo suds concealing their bodies and kids playing around in the water. Every face sported a smile. This was a community event. It was in no way an inconvenience and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. My presence did not make any one uncomfortable in fact they just smiled a little wider when I took my shorts off and jumped into the lake in my underwear, the bathing suit of choice in these parts. There are plenty of families whose casas are without plumbing of any kind which make there way down to the lake and play out this ritual.
All of the money the schools bring in, there are 4 between the two villages, directly benefits the communities. The teachers are local; the families are of course all local and community projects are sponsored from moneys gathered. All 4 schools have an ecology project attached with volunteer opportunities.
It is a win win combination. Guatemala is a third world country although I didn’t get that sense in these two communities. If I would have been introduced to these people by way of magazine or documentary Im sure I would been left with the feeling that these people are doing without a great deal of comfort and happiness. In person I have discovered they lack neither and in fact have more than most people in the developed world. I wish I could package the real lessons I have learned here and share them with the people of the first world.
Love Peace and Bicycles, Blair