San Marcos La Laguna: Good morning, from our house to yours

October 25, 2014 in Guatemala, North America

San Marco docks

It is morning and the house is quiet.

Steam, rising from my teacup, uncurls and stretches white fingers between the streaks of sunshine reaching through my dusty window. The garden is still asleep, despite the birds’ best efforts to wake her. One creamy peach coloured bella donna just stretched her long throat and yawned in the direction of an emerald hummingbird, making the rounds. The azaleas that line the stone path are beginning to open their fuschia eyes, reluctantly. The bananas have pulled their green sleeping bags up around their ears in denial. Only the coffee plants are awake, chattering softly to one another, passing messages I don’t understand between the ruby berries. I don’t speak Kaq’chi’kel.

The twin sisters of Atitlan and Tomilan kneel by the water’s edge, performing their morning ablutions, gazing at their reflections in the deep silver mirror reflecting the morning sky. The living ladies of the lake, still active deep beneath their verdant blankets, balancing the handful of water cupped in their ancient hands. Their older brother, San Pedro stands at a distance, surveying the landscape, keeping watch over the Mayan world as he has done for millennia. On quiet mornings it seems that ancient spirits collect and whisper in the clouds the coalesce around his peak; their ghosts reminiscing about all that they’ve seen come to pass along these shores.

While I’ve been writing the sun has stretched her neck and is now peering over the unruly hair of the bamboo hedge that grows along the east side of the garden. Long shadows are stretched across the newly trimmed fringe of the lawn, where Adang labored long in yesterday’s afternoon breeze pushing an old fashioned rotary blade mower back and forth, back and forth. The boys wondered aloud what happened to the gas push-mower that he had last time we were here.

Four years has changed little on our beloved lago.

The little village of San Marcos remains relatively the same, having swapped the bookshop that used to support La Caracol, for another potraviny. (That’s a Czech word that stuck, it means “needful things shop”) The road that deteriorates to a dirt path as it rounds the bed just past our house and ends altogether in Tzunana, is still torn up and under construction, in basically the same places. Children still gather on the basketball court and soccer pitch to play. Days and nights are still punctuated with inexplicable (to us) explosions of fireworks and what sound like small mortars, complete with whistling tracer. Guatemalans love blowing things up.

Water level is up (1)

The biggest change is in the lake herself.

The water level has risen significantly. We were shocked to discover that fully a third of the beautiful garden attached to this house is now submerged. Everything below the stone wall is gone: The kids favourite climbing tree and swinging vine and the beautiful bamboo palapa where we’d hung our hammock. The three palm trees now stick their tousled fronds above the water and hold their breaths. Previously, the lake was barely visible from the clay tile patio of our optimistic yellow cottage. At least once a day someone would breeze out the door and bolt down the path hollering, “I’m going to go check on the lake!” Now, it seems, the lake has come to check on us, with perhaps 80 feet between our door and the shore. The water has claimed the first stories of many houses. The embarcaderos have been rebuilt in every town to account for the rise. Juan, a basket weaver from San Pablo that I walked home with the other day, explained to me that it rises and falls on a fifty year cycle. It has been rising during his lifetime. It fell during his father’s. He’s probably referring to the two meter drop that occurred within a month in 1976, due to a tear in the bottom of the caldera caused by a significant earthquake. The truth is that the lake appears to have a mind of her own. She rises, she falls, in a synchronous dance with the powerful earth that holds her.

“You know,” mused Sarah, as we surveyed her bamboo yoga platform that hovers above the lake, “It’s kind of exciting to live in a place where the earth elements are so vital, where earth, water, air and fire are active and moving. It reminds us that we’re not in charge, she is, and we have to learn to work with that. It keeps me from being sad about the ground we’re losing, because she is gaining other things.”


It was Tor who was first to wish me, “Welcome home.”

There is something about this place that is home to us, and we are not alone in that sentiment. He smiled his snaggle toothed smile and his ice blue eyes shone out from beneath the wild mass of long black hair that refuses to be tamed and he hugged us hard. His first question was, “Do you still have my drum?” Of course we do, he handmade it for Hannah, travel sized, with a reindeer antler for a striker.

The children have returned home with a vengeance. Within thirty hours of arrival Hannah was discussing the possibility of trading work for living quarters at the hostel next door and was exploring the music scene. Elisha and Ezra have been volunteering every day at Konojel, an organization that feeds indigenous children, nursing mothers and widows every week day in the village. A soccer ball has been procured and is being used for its magical powers at attracting children and making friends. Gabriel has been nose down in a book, beginning to consider his first business propositions and using the time to figure out how to self fund his big dream of owning a boat before too much longer. Of course they’ve already made a pilgrimage to the cliffs to jump; the drop is not as precipitous as they remember. It’s quite a lot of fun to have kids this big, full of their own ideas and adventures.


While Tony made a whirlwind return to New Jersey for a client visit I turned the dusty, too long empty cottage back into home. The children went on a murderous rampage, killing innumerable black widow spiders and three fat black scorpions in the first day and half. We only kill the ones inside the house. It’s not very Buddhist of us, I know, but then, we aren’t Buddhist, so perhaps that excuses us. We’ve criss-crossed the lago to the bigger towns in search of laundry baskets, cooking implements, a broom, woven baskets. I’ve said the proper incantations to raise the dead, resuscitating mysterious creatures to life, and have conjured sour dough bread, kefir, seed sprouts and kombucha from the depths of my backpack. Yogurt and cheese will not be far behind.

In between practicing culinary witchcraft and manifesting home, I’ve been arm wrestling the landlord over gas leaks, lack of hot water to the shower, a non-functioning refrigerator, and a gardener whose attendance is sporadic at best. Apparently our good friend has developed a bit of a drinking problem between visits. I’m sad about that. I’ve also done lots of yoga, laughed with my friends, recovered from the first serious migraine I’ve had in a year and a half, at the hands of my amigo Zen, and relished in a bowl of Paul’s heavenly lentil curry. I’ve been missing that for four years.

It took me a while to find Jose.

He’s tucked back behind Paco Real on a side path now, not prime territory for a guy whose livelihood depends on selling veggies to passing folks. He smiled with all of his teeth and we traded questions about family and life in our absence. His kids, like mine, are growing up and out. His wife, who was deathly ill when we left, has recovered. His little ones are suffering from a cold, but nothing serious, he assures me. He can’t believe how tall my kids are. We share that wonderment.


This morning marks a full week back on our lago.

It is the first day of doing things in our weekly routine a second time. The Man and I will head to San Pedro, by boat, and attend the market, hauling home backpacks full of fruits and vegetables and also meat which can’t be had fresh in San Marcos. We’ll eat lunch at D’Noz, overlooking the Indian Nose and we’ll hold hands as we climb the big hill, our lungs not quite having adjusted to the elevation yet.

The house has come alive around me while I’ve been writing.

Ezra emerged first, as always, making a cup of tea, asking questions related to nothing but what’s happening in his own little brain, and doing his best to distract me with them. Hannah was next, happily announcing that she’s landed another freelance job overnight. One that will pay her a hundred bucks an article for two, maybe three, per month. It was the smell of the pancakes his sister was frying up that brought Elisha out of his cave, like a cartoon character floating on the scent of morning. He’s lamenting the fact that Konojel doesn’t feed the kids on weekends. What will he do with his day instead? Gabe, predictable, was the last baby bear to emerge from hibernation, pulling the tendrils of his unruly hair into an elastic and looking for something to eat, “Ooh, pancakes! Thanks Hannah!” 

The gardner is back at his work, continuing to mow towards the water’s edge. Stopping every few minutes to stretch his back. Hannah’s voice is floating over the garden as her fingers pull music from Gabe’s guitar; even the roses have opened their eyes and turned their heads to listen. The first two orchids to open on the long green stalk full of promise are smiling in her direction. My teacup is empty. The Man has yet to show his face, waiting, I suspect, for me to sneak back beneath the covers and gently draw him out of his dreamy place and into the day, as I often do.

Good morning, from our house to yours.