Going from a wandering vagabond to a short-term resident in Guatemala was a nice change for Jim. Having a chance to study Spanish, live in a home, eat 3 meals a day, consistent roommates and somewhat of a routine was a refreshing vibrant endeavor for someone who had lacked any sense of structure the previous couple of months. Weekends were still filled with adventure including beach time, volcano hikes or random to-dos in Antigua.
- Attempt waking at 7—failing and barely sneaking out of bed in time for a quick breakfast of bread and coffee
- Walking across town to a lovely garden for 4 hours of Spanish lessons (including a snack break) with 1 or several roommates and waving at the same girls each day on their walking commute to work
- Choosing a different block to walk back home on to fully navigate the colonial town
- Eating a massive lunch—the largest meal of the day—followed by a 2-hour nap of body numbing, entirely comatose sleep (deeper of which has not been had since)
- Studying Spanish for a few more hours
- Running Cerro de La Cruz
- Eating another prepared meal
- Chatting with the host family and the rotating cadre of roommates
- Occasionally going out to meet the poor vagabonds who were as terrified and homeless as Jim when he first made it to Antigua
This routine indeed lured Jim into staying put for nearly 2 months. Meeting all of the random people coming through was enough to stimulate the curiosity, Spanish was challenging and learning Guatemalan culture from his host family and Spanish teacher was fascinating, and endless! Life was pretty good, and it’s hard to say why Jim left. Perhaps it was the water, perhaps the hopeless wanderer could be quelled no more, perhaps it was a call for tacos north in Mexico. Whatever it was he headed north through the winding hills to Lago Atitlan.
And oh, how the roads were windy, but the old American school busses which were decked out with new paint, chrome, Jesus and trucker girl decor, flew around the corners with amazing speed and agility that one really wouldn’t assume to be allowed by physics. Somehow, though, everyone survived and the busses didn’t go careening off the tall cliffs on the many different mountain passes. Jim often kept a bottle of Fernet Branca in his bag for medicinal purposes, like settling the stomach and stress relief from the constant near-death-experience feeling.
Occasionally a kid would come through the crowded bus offering snacks of every sort.
“Do you think I can handle food on this roller coaster?!” Jim tried to explain in Spanish, unsuccessfully.
“QUE?! Quieres algo de comer?” Said the kid.
“ROLLER COASTER! NO!” Jim yells whipping his hands around to try and explain.
“No, voy a vomitar, necesito una bolsa! Tengo dinero!” Jim pulls out a dollar to pay for a bag and quickly puts it to use.
The kid, happy with a quick profit in selling a bag he thought worthless, quickly scurries off the bus and away from the green gringo. Finally the bus arrived in Panajachel and Jim swiftly made his way to a boat knowing that he would be approached by Pana’s finest young entrepreneurs and he didn’t have space for any more trinkets. Safely aboard the boat, he enjoyed a short jump over to Santa Cruz were he stayed at a small hostel that also prepared meals.
He barely left a one mile radius for several days, time seemed not to move at all in Santa Cruz, nothing to do, nowhere to be. It was perfect. Days spent thinking, reading and eating. In fact Jim fancied himself a philosopher after a week there and had solved a number of world’s biggest problems. He was going to go share his new found wisdom with the world but decided to visit a few other towns around the lake first.
Happy with his revolutionary thoughts, he figured he could bounce them off all of the hippies gathered at their Mecca in San Marcos and see what they thought. There was a strange haze in San Marcos, it always lingered in the air and Jim somehow forgot about his big ideas after stepping into it. The next few days were a blur of jam bands, burritos, strange conversations and an interesting Cocoa ceremony put on by a legitimate wizard who took style tips directly from Gandalf (the Grey, not the White). Jim snapped out of the haze only by the grace of serendipity and deciding to jump off a bridge into the cool and mind clearing (but probably toxic) waters of the lake. After coming up for air, Jim ran back to grab his things and jumped on the next boat to San Pedro, the spell had been broken.
Once in San Pedro, Jim grappled with the few big ideas he had left after the hippy brainwashing and was devising ways to enact them. However, the lake water that saved him now plagued him. After making many new friends the day of his arrival, Jim disappeared from the small town life he was ready to get caught up in. Was it a week? Several days? Only a day? It felt like a month. Jim was knocked out. With barely enough energy to leave his bed, he drifted in and out of sleep despite throbbing headaches, muscle cramps and convulsions, and gut pain that very well could have been a knife. Jim was hallucinating so how would he know? Eventually after several days of being bed ridden, he had the strength to drag himself from bed and reach the local farmacia.
“I’m dying,” said Jim, forgetting he was in Latin America and needed to use Spanish.
“Muriendo? Tengo algo para usted.” Answered the clerk/pharmacist/establishment owner who was also watching her kids. She must have known the look of dying gringos though, because Jim didn’t have to say any more.
The prescription was like drinking lava, not initially, but a half hour later. Whatever it was, it burned Jim’s insides, killing every living thing within his digestive tract, which turned out to be massive parasites that had been eating all of Jim’s food before he could digest it. The next day Jim finally was able to walk at a normal pace and find his way to a restaurant. The feeling of turning food into energy had long been forgotten, and it was euphoric at this moment.
Among other things forgotten were the world’s problems Jim had solved only weeks, or days or months, whatever it was, time doesn’t exist in Lago Atitlan, earlier. While his luck had held in the fact that he survived the lake, the ideas he had were casualties lost forever. If only he would have written them down…