- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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San Cristobal, Mexico, February 5, 2007-- 
It is Monday.

Last Wednesday I took the shuttle over from
Remate to the big bus terminal city whose
name completely escapes me.
I bought a first class ticket (for not much
more money a lot more difference) for
Guatemala City, knowing I would not enjoy
being there, but it being necessary to go
through to get to Panajachel and San Pedro.
There was some stuff to see: gradually we
rose in elevation, crossed over from the
jungle where Tikal is and up onto a plateau
and I began to see cactuses.  Cacti,
Not for very long however, as we continued
to rise and and soon came into real
mountains...REAL mountains.

Guatemala City seems to sit astraddle
several ravines.  It is an enormous city,
the largest in Central America if I'm not
mistaken, about 2 million at last count.
And not what you´d call the Vienna of
Central America, if you get my drift.  They
have cops standing in doorways with
sawed-off shotguns, barrels AND stocks, so
I guess they´re either expecting trouble or
NOT expecting trouble. But certainly
prepared for turning miscreants into pink
mist if the occasion arises.  Not very
smiley guys, either: my best "Buenos
Noches" elicited only dead-eyed stares.

We got in at about 7 pm, and I immediately
caught a taxi over to the Hotel Fenix,
which my Lonely Planet book (a gift from
XRayBonnie, who was going home when I last
saw her and didn´t need it) recommends as
cheap.  It is.
I spent the night sleeping with the light
on as usual in strange surroundings, and in
the morning caught another taxi over to
another bus terminal to take the chicken
bus up to Panajachel, which I did without
incident.  After we had arrived in
Panajachel, which is on Lake Atitlan, about
6000 feet up, after a couple of false
I located a place to stay (Casa Maria, in
the alley branching off from the Guatemalan
Habitat for Humanity office)... there´s an
old caretaker guy there who plays marimba.
I didn´t get to hear him, but let´s just
assume that he´s muy fabuloso.

One thing I had wanted to do was play some
for people in bars and also money, so I set
out, CD in pocket, to check out the
possibilities.  I hit pay dirt almost
instantly at the Pana Rock Cafe, where, the
CD piquing interest, I went back to the
Casa and got my guitar for a live audition
for the owner, a French babe named Pascale,
who immediately sent for some harmonica
dude named Slick to elicit his opinion,
I got the gig, at a considerable fee, for
the next night, Friday.

The interesting thing is that Slick turns
out to be the brother of Murry Kelly, an
excellent plues guitarist and generally
all-around classy guy whom I´d known in
Albuquerque in the late 80s.  Small world.

So I hung around Panajachel a while, made a
boat trip over and back to San Pedro, lined
up a couple of gigs there, which I had to
cancel because af an email from home about
some business I´ve been neglecting.

Here´s the deal on Panajachel and San
Panajachel is the place where the rich
people from Guatemala City come for the
weekends and then go home, mostly.  San
Pedro is a lot more laid back, very heavily
populated with, well, if it were 1967,
they'd be hippies.  A lot of Americans did
come down then and some bought land and now
you got your third-generation Gringomalan.
I like both towns, but if you like a lot of
action, then Panajachel.  If you like laid
back, San Pedro.

I played the gig at Pana Rock, got dinero,
had mucho fun, got mucho borracho and went
back to the Casa.  Next morning I went with
Slick and bought a few regalos for the
wimmins back home, and set out via chicken
bus for the ultimate goal of San Cristobal
in Mexico, and from there to take the bus
over to Cancun and fly out from there.
I crossed into Mexico with no international
incidents (when I'd turned in my Mexican
tourist visa at Chetumal to avoid paying
another 10 bucks or so, they'd warned me
that if I came back through Mexico, it
would cost me a lot of dinero for another.
Didn't happen.  The old dude guard at the
Mexico border just had me fill out another
and waved me through (I told him I'd lost
my original..."Lo ciento. Es perdido"
seemed to work).

I began this narrative in Gringotenango
(the slang word for Panajachel, used by
locals and expats alike, means "place of
the Gringos").  But time, travel and events
have overtaken me and this is the first
chance I've had to update it all.

Today I leave on the non-chicken bus for
Cancun, a distance of about 800 miles, it
looks like.
If anything bad, or good, happens on the
way, I'll let you know.

Otherwise, the next installment from me
will be from El Rancho Tedioso, back in
Tennessee, because I got a lot to reflect
on about a lot of things.

I'll also include an mp3 and some pics from
the route.
Hasta la vista, baby