Sunday, September 7, 2014

A lake where everyone knows your name

Remember that hidden village Leo DeCaprio found in “The Beach”? I’ve always wanted to find that. A place where time melts away, and the people you meet feel like they’ve been your friends since birth.

I finally found it on Lake Atitlan. La Iguana Perdida is that place, minus Leo Decaprio and that hot French chick.

As often happens with travel, we found this place by accident. On our way to another part of the Lake we got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm. Not wanting to trudge through the soaking streets of San Marcos looking for a place to stay, we decided to hop off at the first dock we reached. Soaked to the bone we stepped into the Iguana and immediately felt like we were home.

Since then we’ve all grown as close as family. James, Milda, Jack, Matt, Carlie, Garrieth, and Katie. All our new insta-best friends.  We spend our days together floating on the lake, napping in the tv room and stuffing ourselves with cheese, wine and the most delicious BBQ you’ve ever tasted.

Each night is a completely different experience. Open mic / joke night (sing a song, tell a joke and take a shot.) Cross dressing dance party. Hangover Sunday pizza and movie night. And one of my favorites, sitting together outside watching the lightning crack behind the volcanoes that surround the lake.

We’ve been here for over a week and a half now and really have no plans to leave. When we eventually do I know we will long for the days and nights we spent as lost iguanas on Lake Atitlan.

A soda bottle and some string

Today we ventured up into the local village surrounding Lake Atitlan. Like most villages it was filled with countless tin houses, a few stray dogs, and a handful of locals looking at us like we were lost. Near the center of the village we stumbled upon a church and a basketball court. The court was mostly empty except for a few kids playing in scattered rain puddles.

We sat and watched as the kids pulled their make shift boats through puddles of rain. One boat was made out of a flattened 2 liter 7up bottle, while the other looked like a Styrofoam “to go” plate. It was the kind of scene that makes your heart smile. No Xbox, no Ipad, just their imaginations.

It’s also the kind of thing that could inspire a holier than thou rant about how spoiled kids in the west are, or how sad it is that kids back home lack this type of imagination, but instead of focusing on that stuff we just sat back and enjoyed the moment in front of us.

Afterwards we went to a local shop, and purchased all the soccer balls the small shop had in stock. We walked back down to the court and handed one to each kid. Thanking them all for allowing us join their imaginary worlds for a bit.

I think this parrot wants to kill me

There’s a parrot outside my door. He has fallen in love with my wife and I think he wants to kill me.
He sits all day outside our door waiting. Watching. Hoping I try to come outside. Every time I look out the window he’s sitting there. Starring. His stupid parrot eye locked on my every move.
He taunts me. “Come outside. I promise I won’t tear you to pieces. You can trust me.”
What I should do is charge outside and kick him in his stupid parrot head, but he knows I wont. He’s just a parrot and I’m a person.
So I sit inside. Listening to him breathe on the other side of the door.
Waiting. Watching.
Maybe I should just give him Sabrina. We’ve had a good run.

Hey hey we're the Nightmare Monkies

Howler Monkies sound like dinosaurs with terrible diarrhea. 

Sweet sweat lodge bro

As travelers we like to think we’re pretty much open to trying anything. Eat Guinnea Pig? Sleep in a tree house? Take a helicopter to the top of a glacier? Tumble down a hill in a giant inflatable ball? Sure why not?  That’s the point of travel after all, the opportunity to see new places and try new things. Most of the time it works out great, our minds are open and blogs are written. Other times it doesn’t. This is one of those “it didn’t work out” blogs entries.

Yesterday we decided to take a walk through El Panchán. The jungle community we have called home for the last few days. It’s a strange and awesome place to say the least. Located just kilometers outside of one of Mexico’s most well known and loved ruin sites, El Panchán is a collection of thatched huts, run down “motel rooms”, camping sites and a few over priced restaurants to round out the experience.  Humidity fills the air during the day and the nightmareish screeches of howler monkeys own the night (I’ll get to those in another entry).

Up to this point we hadn’t seen much of El Panchán. I arrived with the flu and was in bed for a day and a half, while Sabrina busied herself writing blogs. A successful tour of the Ruins in the sweltering mid day sun behind us, we decided to take a stroll through our neighborhood. Deep into the jungle community. Passed places we wish we had stayed and places we were glad we didn’t. Until we came upon the end of the road, literally. A sign out front read, Ancient Tattooing and Body piercing. The gate was open so we thought why the hell not. We entered.

After nearly being eaten alive by a hairless Mexican dog sporting a Mohawk, we introduced ourselves to a couple people hanging out on the porch (playing a wooden flute of course.) They looked at my tattoo and assumed I was ready to get another one. We said actually no sorry, we’re just some dumb white people walking through the jungle, hoping to find something cool. He said well you are in luck. We have tons of cool things going on here, one of which is an Ancient Mayan Sweatbath Ritual we are hosting tonight. You should come.

We should come! That sounds like exactly the thing we went searching for. He said great, come back at 6. We did. Promptly at 6, as not to miss a second of the sweaty goodness.  We sat there awkwardly until about 7:30. Surrounded by people much cooler than us. Every body part pierced. Skin covered in jaguar tattoos, Mayan warriors, and Lamnbda Chi fraternity symbols…oh wait that’s me. These people were next level jungle hippies. I mean they made the bums hanging out on venice boardwalk look like Fortune 500 CEOS. I was impressed, and somewhat intimidated. We so did not fit in. Never the less our hosts were very welcoming.

They sat us around a roaring camp fire as they prepped for the ritual. The girl with the leopard tattoos covering her body swept the area around the fire, as her boyfriend and our host piled volcanic rocks onto the burning wood. Soon the sound of a conch shell rang through the forest and the rest of the party joined us. After several minutes of conch shell playing, we all disrobed. The girls in the group including Sabrina, wore bikinis. The head shaman joined the circle and lead us in prayer. We raised one hand and prayed to the sunrise, and then turned and prayed to the sunset, the skies, and the ground. Once that was done we we’re ushered single file into the sweat hut. I don’t know if that’s the technical name for whatever this thing was, but that’s what I’m calling it, sweat hut. As we each entered we bathed ourselves 4 times in burning sage, I’m guessing to cleanse our spirit. Then before we entered the tent we kneeled and kissed the ground. Filing into the tent we all found our place around the center fire pit. I think there was 12 of us in all, packed inside this 7x7 tent. I made myself comfortable on a leaf matt our host laid out for each of us, and prepared myself for who the hell knows what. The conch blower started shoveling in glowing volcanic rocks, which our host grabbed with two sets of antler horns and tossed into the middle of the circle. Then another person took what looked like some kind of twisted rope material, and began drawing circle crosses on the rocks. The material acted like a fire pen, you could actually see the crosses being burned into the rocks. Shimmering like volcanic glitter.

Once the rocks we’re in place. Our host took a seat next to me with his deer skin drum, and then the shaman took a seat next to him. The shaman then began to speak about the ritual, what to expect, why we were here, the significance of it all…unfortunately it was entirely in Spanish, so Sabrina and I understood nothing. I turned to look at her; classic “what the fuck did we get ourselves into” look on my face, only to find she was wearing the same expression.  I turned to look at our host, all he said to me, in broken English, was “if it too hot..go to ground, find cool place.” I was like uh ok. And then the door to the tent shut. Total darkness.

I immediately wanted to run out of the tent screaming. But I didn’t. My heart was racing so quickly I thought it might burst. I looked to Sabrina, but she was in total blackness. We were 1 minute in to this thing, that was supposed to last an hour and a half, and I was already drowning in my own sweat and panic. So I took a deep breath and just tried to focus on the only light in the tent, the burning volcanic rock.

The shaman began to pray over us. Then our host started singing. Then he started to play his drum. My head was spinning by this point. Minute 2. The heat was already unbearable. I took another deep breath. I focused on the rock. Listened to the beat of the drum. Tried to center myself in the moment, and it worked. Until the shaman threw water on the rocks, and the temperature inside the tent soared 1000 degrees. The air was so hot I couldn’t breathe it without setting my lungs on fire. Sweat was pouring down my face and body as if I had just jumped in a pool. I looked over at Sabrina, she was already face down on the floor trying to find “the cool place.” I reached over to touch her and her body was soaking wet. I asked her if she was ok and she said “for now”. Just then the shaman began tossing sage water on all of us, as a blessing. The singing and drumming continued. I swear to God I thought I heard the Shamman puke. That’s when I went to my knees.

I was shocked. It worked. It was much cooler on the ground than it was sitting up. Maybe I could do this, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought as I sat soaking in a pool of my own sweat. I grabbed a hold of Sabrina’s hand and she grabbed mine, then she said “I’m done. I need to get out.”

I’m sure I broke 1000 Mayan sweat Ritual rules, but I tapped our host on the knee and said “we need to go”. He responded “a few minutes more”. So we waited, sweating straight to our core. The shaman said a few more words and then miraculously the door opened. We said thank you to the fire and crawled out of the tent absolutely drenched. I looked at Sabrina and she looked at me, we “survived “ 15 minutes in the tent.  15 minutes. We suck.

Soaking wet in sweat and shame we sat around the fire trying to collect our thoughts. A few unanswered questions remained. Did they stop for us? Are we forever cursed?  Could we have kept going? What do we do now?

If at the beginning we felt awkward, we felt 10 times worse now. We wanted to run into the jungle and hide. We failed. The whities couldn’t hack it. We we’re convinced our host was going to be exiled from the group for inviting us. Even worse, the shaman was now out of the tent sitting across the camp fire from us, while the ritual in the tent continued. Oh man, we really fucked this whole thing up. He came out in the middle of it all! The God’s are going to be so pissed. How do you say “I’m sorry for being so white” in Mayan?

We were frozen. Unable to figure out our next move. Suddenly the Shamman got up and walked away. “He can’t even stand the sight of us” I thought to myself as we collected our stuff and headed for the gate. On the way out we saw him sitting on the porch alone talking in the dark. I turned to Sabrina and said, “I think he’s praying for our souls.”…nope, turns out he was on his cell phone. I guess it couldn’t wait.