San Pedro Sightings

Steep Streets

Apparently this street simply goes straight down, so beware. Oh, and check your brakes first.

As with most places we visit, there are always random sightings and happenings that are uniquely telling of that location. Here in San Pedro, we are in one of the many towns situated on the shore of Lake Atitlan, a lake formed by a volcano, with mountains surrounding the lake and therefore the towns. The cobblestone streets wind all around town, with no sense of direction other than being completely unplanned, and with inclines that remind us of some of the steepest streets in San Francisco. The town has about 13,000 residents, and I’ve been told that compared to some of the other towns on the lake, it has a relatively healthy economy. There are a good amount of tourists in town, some of which are drawn to one of several Spanish language schools, such as ourselves.

We are currently living with a Guatemalan family, in a bedroom in their home, sharing meal times, bathroom space, and living space. It is a complete immersion experience, and our home is on the main street that comes into town, so we see and hear every person and motorized method of transportation that enters the town. It has been adjustment to not only live with a family that has three generations in one house together, but to also have meals cooked for us three times a day, six days a week. While these have been adjustments, they certainly have not been a drawback to the experience so far, as we are quickly improving our Spanish skills, and enjoying a completely new perspective on life.

As for San Pedro Sightings, there have been many to draw on thus far, but a few have really struck us to stop and say, “Wow! That’s a new one for us!” Here are those few, with hopefully many more to come.

Motorcycle Maniacs – Motorcycles are a popular choice of transportation in San Pedro, and most likely in other cities of Guatemala. They fit on the narrowest of streets, cost less than a car, and are more fuel efficient than a car. Yet, they are not made to fit the amount of people a car or truck can, which doesn’t seem to stop most residents from testing the limits of the motorcycles’ capacity for people. On several occasions, we’ve seen families of 3 or 4 people fit on one motorcycle, oftentimes putting infants as young as 4-6 months in the lap of the adult closest to the front. Throw in a few steep down hills, and the quick speed of a motorcycle, and that’s a scary sight. My favorite family motorcycle memory was the one of a young girl of maybe 3 years riding at the front of the motorcycle, holding on to the handlebar with her left hand, and holding a sippy cup in her right hand. No matter the country, nothing seems to come between a toddler and their sippy cup.

The Definition of Sharing – As mentioned before, the streets are laid out in a fashion so un-grid like that to “learn” the city streets means walking down the main streets, testing the side streets, the alleyways, and popping out on the other end of streets to find yourself saying, “I had no idea this street went this way!” It’s city layouts like these that give me a greater admiration and appreciation for taxi drivers that draw on their mental maps of the city faster than I can form a Spanish phrase. One of the features of the streets and alleyways are the sharp right turns that they often take, creating many blind corners where you can’t see who is coming next. A few nights ago, we were taking a walk after dinner, walking down one of these blind corner alleyways, when a kid comes roller skating by, only he was wearing just the left roller skate, and propelling himself with his right foot, just like he was on a scooter. Matt and I both said, “Aw, poor kid, he’s only got one roller skate!” Then another kid came running after him, and Matt later told me that he thought to himself, “I bet we’re going to see that other roller skate come around the bend.” And sure enough, around the bend comes a third kid, this time wearing the right roller skate of the matching pair, propelling himself with his free foot, just the same as the first kid. Now that is the definition of sharing.

It’s a Small World– In our travels just in the past year, and even ranging back to our first travels abroad and around the US, we’ve had many “pinch me” moments, where we can’t believe the serendipity of our meetings with others (a la “What Are the Odds”). Yet, in each place we visit, we seem to forget that these moments can happen anywhere, no matter how far from home we are, or how far from “normal” we are. We had such a moment yesterday. We were eating a snack at one of our favorite cafes, Café Atitlan, where they serve good coffee, good food, and good fruit smoothies, for cheap prices with fast internet access. We were just finishing Skyping with Matt’s parents when a young couple sat down in the café. I didn’t pay them much notice, but the guy was certainly eying us. Within just a few seconds of sitting down, he said to Matt, “I really feel like I know you. Where are you from?” We didn’t give his recognition of us much credit because we certainly didn’t recognize him, but as soon as Matt answered, “We’re from Ohio,” the guy said, “Are you Jeff Urbanski’s brother?”

The couple’s names were Chris and Abigail, and It turns out Chris went to high school with Matt’s brother, and Matt had met Chris some 10 years ago. As soon as the connection was made, we were all in an uproar at the café, wide-eyed and amazed that we were sitting across from people we knew, yet people we didn’t know were anywhere within our vicinity. It turns out they had been in San Pedro for the last 7 weeks, and yesterday was their last day here. They had just discovered the café just two days earlier. We ended up talking with them for four hours, sharing stories and photos of past travels and future ideas. About every 45 minutes to an hour, we all had to pause and sigh in amazement at how our worlds had collided on their last day in this city. What a world this is that we live in.

Those are just a few glimpses into our daily life, from the daily “pinch me” moments when we see just how creative people can be with transporting people and goods, and with taking advantage of the few luxuries that enter their lives, to the rare moments when people who seem to be strangers are in fact friends, only it just takes a little longer to recognize them.

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