I started to climb the road out of Pana toward Solola eager to gaze over the lake from the hilltop town and experience the road I missed when riding in the dark a couple nights back. But when I pulled into a lookout Sacha blasted up behind me and ripped off his helmet yelling, “there’s another faster road out of here.” He was pissed I had pulled out of the gas station impatient waiting for him fidgeting with his things and headphones.
“I wanted to see the lake from up here,” I explained. He started speaking with the armed policemen stationed up her over amazing expansive views of the lake and its three volcanoes. He interrupted their comments as the better road would be the one he’d chosen. Though after he stormed away without waiting for me to do any more talking, the cops replied to my “loco” comment with a simply “bastante”. Simply meaning the guy is nuts. I learned later that the road was a rough one with many parts washed out from the rains. Instead, I took the road through Solala and headed south to Antigua, a mere two hours away.
Along the road women dressed in colorful woven fabrics carried bundles of wood, small limbs about 4 or 5 inces in diameter in need bundles. Fuel for cooking meals for their family. Small children with dirty brown faces somewhat curious yet seemingly confused watch me cruise by. I left my left hand and offer a wave. Sometimes it’s returned, otherwise their heads turn as if on a swivel as I continue.
Along the way I again witnessed the remains of the destruction hurricane Stan lashed on Guatemala. A roadside café all but buried in mud. A new bridge here. And piles of mud and dirt on the side of the road. Then at one site of a mudslide I saw a gathering of 50 or more traditional indigenous Maya peoples gathered around a yellow dump truck. The truck was filled with clear cellphone bags containing basic living stables such as food and the like. I stopped to learn more. The government sent the relief here but nobody seemed to know when another would arrive. I’m sure that earlier in the month another truck made a stop, but I couldn’t get a clear answer. A man bearing a clipboard shouted names and the bags were claimed one by one. Pointing to something in one man’s bag I asked “Que es?” (what’s that). He simply replied “Mush”. I said that’s the same as in english. it was a bag of oatmeal.
Women surrounding the truck were dressed in those same colorful woven fabrics I saw crusing this road. Even more, nearly all sported an entourage of little people: children, almost always with one wrapped in a blanket and slung over their back with little eyes peaking out. Some completely wrapped. I wondered if they were carryingn offspring or bundles of wood, coffeee or fruit. One woman barely 5 feet tall with dark wrinkled skin and deep black eyes and through her parched lips her smile reveealed receding gums, gold teeth and a hungry mouth let me peak inside her blanket. Sure enough a 3 month old girl with her eyes gentle closed, tiny nose, mouth and ears and a bush of black hair. Sleeping sound.
One of the woman told me she had seven children. All girls. An hour later I found myself in the beautiful town of Antigua with its streets littered with tourists and shops packed with high-end gifts, plentiful food and people driving high-end cars. I thought to myself that just an hour from here it’s a different world. People waiting for handouts from the government not knowing when the next would arrive. Their homes destroyed by mudslides. Yet here in Antigua locals tout tours up volcanoes and Spanish classes, while tourists whip out Quetzales by the hundreds to take in expensive meals and fancy coffee. The dichotomy of the two locales tears me up as I wait for Sacha to find his way to Antigua.
Photos: (1) View of Lago de Atilan, Guatemala from outside Solola; (2) Roadside cafe buried after Hurricane Stan mudslide; (3) Guatemala government sponsored aid truck filled with plastic bags of food and essentials for those people left homeless after hurricane damage; (4) One family reviewing the contents of their bag of aid supplies; (5 & 6) Mayan mothers with their most precious cargo slung in colorful garb wait for their names to be called to retrieve a bag of stuff.