A day, they said it would take. To get a 90 day extension on our visa. So we took the 5 hour chicken bus trip up to the big bad city, making sure we stayed in the relatively safe zone 10 of Guatemala city. Malls and Macdonalds. We could have been anywhere in America.
And all went smoothly at immigration. Until we saw a handwritten scrawl – 10 days. Hmm what’s this we asked? Oh yes, come back in 10 days to collect your passports. Begging with the boss, a small stout Mayan woman, we got this reduced to 7 days by her writing ‘Wednesday’ in the top corner of a scrap piece of paper. Not sure how much to trust this.
So we went to eat some lukewarm rice soup and felt glum and got chatting reluctantly to a guy in his late 60s who owned a car battery business. What would make you feel better he asked. Chocolate icecream I said.
And so it was that Carla and I made a new friend, our new godfather, he told us, named Carlos, who took us to a fancy icecream shop with air conditioning and we had a chocolate sundae with nuts and cream and felt a lot better. Carlos had a nephew who spoke English and wanted us to speak to him so we did, from a real phone he used as a mobile from his pick up truck.
And so we went to Lake Atitlan for a little holiday and research trip while we waited for our paperwork to get done. Winding up lush green mountains we saw the lake spread out in front of us. I got a pang of nostalgia for Scotland – so similar to Loch Tummel but bigger, much bigger with little populations sprinked round the edges.
It was raining hard when our boat bounced across the water from Santiago to San Pedro, a renowned party town where we were meeting our friend Dee. And our hostel, Hotel Peneleu, at 20Q each a night (£1.80) was friendly with hammocks and good views and nearer the buzzy local market than ‘gringo alley’. We stayed there 4 nights – went horse riding in flip-flops converted into strong walking shoes, swam in the serene magical water, ate lots of cake and drank lots of wine (impossible to find in El Paredon) and watched Mayan girls playing some high quality basketball.
A market in Santiago where we got loads of inspiration for Anato and talked to lots of shop owners about our project and products, a short trip to San Marcos where we did a runner to escape the overt, oppressive hippiedom of the place, a visit to the womens cooperative in San Juan and a couple of chilled nights in the Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz.
We met some real characters round the lake – Diego – a lost soul trying to make ends meet by selling Mayan relics he finds in the fields and by offering to cook tourists dinner and then charging for it, with a Dutch couple who had converted a Guatemalan chicken bus into a hostel with 8 beds and were driving it round Central America, and with lovely Antonio – an Ecuadorian resident in London who works for the British Embassy who we walked to the very cute town of Jaibilito with. That is a village I could live in.
Oh so nice to be in the mountains again. With no mosquitos and the need for a scarf and without sweat constantly dribbling down your chest.
And we got our visas finally. 90 more days in Guatemala here we come…..