San Antonio Palopó

The photographs are surprise thumbnails.

Many times, traveling alone is a pleasure. I hear or overhear about a town, an event, a unique cultural phenomenon, a mountain. Either I inquire with the one who is telling the story or go to my room and study my maps. This journey is a wind blowing through me, carrying me in sudden, unexpected directions. I remember months ago, before I began this trip, that I planned on spending all my time in southern México. I did spend two months there and have been here in Guatemala and, briefly, Honduras for six weeks. And the wind keeps blowing.

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I met Carol from New York at the Circus Bar and told her of my plan to hike over the mountain from Godínez to San Antonio Palopó. I had heard there was a passageway and would leave in the morning. She asked to join me. The next day we took a bus out of town in the opposite direction tourists normally travel and were dropped off up in the high farmlands on the other side of the mountains from Pana. We found the dirt "road" the driver had mentioned and began.

We came to Aves Corrida, which is not really a town at all. It is houses and free-running animals scattered haphazardly in the mountains. There we encountered three cute, dirty children. I held up my camera, asking to take a picture. Silent and timid, they backed up against the wall of a house and I shot a frame. I grinned, thanked them and continued on.

[Only months later, after returning to the States and looking over the photos I had taken, did I notice the fading black eye of the oldest one-- the little girl. Upon closer examination, I also noticed marks and scars on her legs. Finally, the expressions on the faces of the two younger boys told of fear, neglect and hardship. Suddenly, an icy wave of dread washed through me. At the time, Carol and I had spoken briefly of the filthy clothing and dirty faces, but quickly forgot about it in light of our wondrous adventure. Now I think of those poor Little Ones often and wonder how they are faring in their world of obvious brutality.]
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We walked until we came to the top of the mountain where the decent began toward the lake and stopped to take in the view. This part of Guatemala is truly magical, grand and visually astonishing. How minuscule we were against the backdrop of mountains, volcanoes and a lake over 25 kilometers long! Soon afterward, we came upon some men from San Antonio, dressed in the black and brown checked skirt, the local design of red shirt and open-toed shoes with heels and heel straps. They were charming and willing to pose for pictures. The only one in ropa Americana (western clothing) had learned a smattering of English in the U.S. and showed it off to his friends. His last name was Pantaleon. He was a gregarious man, so I mentioned that his name sounded like pantalones. He said, "Of course! That is so in the morning I don't forget to put on my pants!" Everyone thought this very, very funny.

As we proceeded down, we began passing through steeply-stepped farms that are beautiful, green and lush. We met a very different group of three children, took a picture, and met their father. He invited us into his house, which sits on one of the carved-out ledges that cover the side of the mountain. We took pictures of him and his wife and six children, and his sister and her three. The two-room house was made of some type of reed or sugar cane with a dirt floor and tin roof. They were wonderful people and Carol and I felt extremely fortunate to be there. We finally hiked down to San Antonio, walked the five kilometers to Santa Catarina, and hitched a ride in the back of a small pickup the last four kilometers into Panajachel.

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