This past week, I was in Xela with two of the doctors I am working with, Kirsten and Andrea, to see patients for a few days. The days were long, with early mornings and many hours driving, so I was eager to get back to my beloved Tecpan when we were done. On the afternoon we were heading out, we sat at lunch (at the Guatemalan equivalent of KFC which is called Pollo Campero), and Kirsten sighed, “well, I’d consider this trip a success. No accidents! No car trouble!” Immediately I thought to myself, well now she’s done it…
We headed out from Xela around 3pm, excited to be back in Tecpan before 6pm. Less than an hour into our drive, we received a call from a friend, Herman, in Tecpan who shared, “just so you know, there is a roadblock at Las Trampas (a spot on the highway that we had no option but to pass to get to Tecpan) and I’m afraid you won’t be able to pass.” *Nobody panic.* Figuring this guy knew what he was talking about, we did a 180 and headed to nearby Solola to look for somewhere to kill time for a few hours. En route, Andrea and I called everyone we could think of who might be a reliable source of information on the traffic situation, as well as scouring the news for any updates. Finding absolutely nothing, we felt conflicted. On the one hand, Herman seemed sure of his intel. (Side note: never distrust Guatemalans who are sure of a prediction. One of Marta’s favorite lines is “it wants to rain!” and she is right approximately 98% of the time.) On the other hand, we could’t find any info, we had another source telling us “I reassure you 1000% the road is clear you will have no troubles,” and we really, really wanted to get home. So, we decided to risk it for the biscuit.
As we got closer to Las Trampas, a long, long line of vehicles came into view. Uh oh. Everything from individual cars to motorcycles to school buses full of people who had been waiting there for who knows how long. We’d been deceived!!! We immediately pulled another 180 so as not to get barricaded in the line, and pulled over to the side of the highway. I hopped out and started asking people who were in various states of dejectedness what was going on. In short, nobody had a damn clue. One man thought the blockade was ending in half an hour, another was convinced it was going on all night. Another told me that two camionetas (school buses) had just parked perpendicularly across the length of the highway and abandoned them, and no one was quite sure what they were protesting. What an incredibly effective protest…
We eventually made our way to a hotel for the night, realizing we wouldn’t be able to pass. We knew we had to get up early to be back in Tecpan in time for a 7:30am clinic, but we soon received a call from our source (who I by this point was blindly trusting), who said that the blockade would start up again at a cool 5am. Which meant we had to roll out of our hotel at 4am…
Fast forward to next morning: pitch black, world is quiet except for the three of us and the poor hotel worker who had wake up to manually open the gate for us to get out. Car doesn’t start. Turn the key again. Car doesn’t start. Repeat x25. I look despairingly at the jumper cables in the backseat. Hotel worker shrugs at me as if to say, “Godspeed sister. You’re screwed.” Finally, on the 27th try, the car starts. We peeled (pealed?) out of the parking lot at breakneck speed, scared to ever stop the car, lest it refuse to start again.
The final confusing moment of the adventure: we successfully crossed the barricade on the highway, but the whole area was a literal graveyard of abandoned vehicles, hundreds of them, so packed that we had to cross to the opposite lanes of the highway to find a spot of road to drive on.
Okay, so answers to the questions I know you are all asking. No, to this day I have no idea what the protest was for. No, I have no idea where all the drivers and passengers of the abandoned vehicles went (in particular the hundreds of poor bus passengers). No, I did not sleep enough hours. No, I have no idea how cars work and certainly would have had no idea how to use jumper cables. And YES, I will come back to the US an infinitely more patient person than I was when I left.
No, no, not on THE water. I am very much retired. Though it’ll be sad to not come close to the brink of death for the third year in a row in the HOCR alumni race in a few weeks!
Anyway, a few words on where the water comes from here…
Marta, my host mom, has mentioned in passing several times to me various comments about the water that comes out of the showers and faucets in our home. “Best to wash your clothes before 7am, because that’s when we have the street water.” “Before you shower, let me go up to the roof and turn on the water!” “Make sure you flip the switch in my bedroom to turn on the water.” But every time I turn on a faucet or shower, there has always been water there… Needless to say, over the past few months I have become thoroughly confused and increasingly too embarrassed to clarify.
This confusion compounded by the following additional facts: our house has a pila, which is essentially a large tub of water that gets filled every morning (by the street water???) and is used throughout the day for washing hands, washing dishes, watering plants, etc. Other things that the pila is used for: Marta washing her hair. Sons brushing their teeth. Dog falling into pila (not a joke). Young host family cousins “fishing” from the pila with fishing rod won at the local fair. Further complicating factors: when Marta is not washing her hair in the pila, she is bathing in a temascal, which is a sauna of sorts at her brother’s house. Her sons boil large pots of water and bring those into the shower to bathe, despite the fact that the shower is functional and runs hot water! (As best it has been explained to me, this is out of “tradition” for how things used to be. But this was certainly not in the lifetime of the teenaged sons, so I think they are doing this out of habit…of their parents/grandparents.) All said, I think I am the only one who actually uses the shower to shower in.
So, one morning last week, I came home from a run around 7:15am and was the only one home (the rest of the family went to Mass at 5:45am…this is the topic of a whole separate post). Sweaty and eager to bathe, I flipped the switch in the bedroom like I knew to do, turned on the shower, and, as always, water came out. The water pressure was a little lighter than usual, but I didn’t think much of it. I covered myself head-to-toe in soap, and, right about at that moment, the water pressure lessened and lessened, until it eventually became a trickle, and then stopped entirely. Not a drop. Uh-oh. Think, Katie, think. I reached around the shower curtain and turned on the sink, thinking, I just need to splash this soap off my body with any water and then I can get out of here. Within 40 seconds, the sink trickled to a stop as well. Damnit. I stood there, covered in suds, completely dumbfounded.
Luckily, as if she had sensed my plight, I heard Marta come home just a few minutes later. Unaware that I was already in the shower, she shouted through the door, “Katie I hope you’re not about to shower! Let me turn on the water!” “Wow you came home at the perfect time!” I shouted back, lying, “I was just about to shower…what timing.” She ascended to the roof, resumed my mysterious water source, and I rinsed, grateful and embarrassed.
Later that morning at breakfast, I sheepishly admitted, “Marta, I think I still don’t understand how the water works here…I know it’s been 3 months but I’ve been too embarrassed to ask.” After a good laugh, she patiently explained to me again. Now I (sort of) understand.
Profound moral of the story: sometimes you have to ask embarrassing questions in order to avoid getting yourself in significantly more embarrassing situations.
Here’s an unrelated photo of me on a tire swing over Lake Atitlán. But there’s water in the photo, so…
A quick post to recount a few recent perplexing encounters that turned out fine but were very unclear in the moment and involved a lot of me thinking to myself, “how the hell is everything so confusing?”:
First, Leah and I were in Antigua for the weekend, and were to stay at a hotel called “Casa Lynda.” We showed up to the front desk to check-in, and the receptionist was immediately confused, and doubted that we had a reservation. I thought to myself, how is she already confused? We haven’t even given her the name on the reservation yet. Undeterred, I told her my name and showed her my receipt from Booking.com (don’t judge…I didn’t make this reservation). Her confusion only increased. “Do you have a photo of your room?” she asked. How would I have a photo of a room that I have not yet ever been in?! “No…” I responded hesitantly. We had a good 10 minutes of back and forth, including her calling for backup, and me insisting with my dumb Booking.com receipt, before Leah noticed the spelling of the hotel name “Casa Linda.” “Didn’t you specifically tell me the hotel name was spelled with a Y?” she asked. Uhhhhh.Turns out we were at the wrong place… Looking to laugh it off with the poor, confused receptionist, we asked, “This must happen all the time, no? Such similar names! That’s crazy!” She gave us a look of pity and offered, “This has literally never happened before.” Hmph.
Upon arrival to the real Casa Linda, we similarly pleaded with the receptionist, “We were at the wrong Casa Lynda! How confusing! This must happen to your customers all the time, huh?” “Hm nope, never heard of this issue…you guys are the first! Not sure how you got so confused. Seems very straightforward.” Bewildered, we sulked away to our room.
Second event: we (again, we = me and Leah, still working on the more friends situation) spent the day on Lake Atitlan a few weeks ago, and around 4pm we realized we needing to start our journey home stat to avoid getting home after dark, which included a boat ride and then a 2 hour bus ride. We headed down to the dock, crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t have to wait too long for a lancha (a boat). Just as we arrived, a lancha pulled up. Such luck! We eagerly jumped on, congratulating ourselves for our success and trying to banter with our fellow passengers. We waited a few minutes for the boat to fill up, and then pulled away from the dock. About 90 seconds after leaving the dock, I thought aloud, “I wonder where this lancha is going…” I don’t know why we assumed that it would be going where we wanted to go; this would be like getting on a random bus and assuming it was going to your destination (which, have also done, and 0/10 would recommend). Leah hopped up next to the driver and with incredible phrasing asked, “hey there, quick question (‘solo una cuestionciiiita’ is our new favorite phrase and means ‘just a tiiiiiiny question!’). My friend and I are going to Panajachel, and just wondering, where is it that you are going?” “I am going to San Pedro, and therefore so is this lancha,” the driver responded, deadpan. Damnit. The kind driver took pity on us and reversed the whole giant boat back to the dock so the two of us could sheepishly disembark, but not before the rest of the passengers stared us down with varying degrees of annoyance and astonishment at our stupidity. So much for our banter.
Dear Dretie readership, please excuse the lag time since my last post! Multiple things have been occupying my time recently, including new friendships (hey Leah), various GI illnesses (thanks Guatemala), and a visit from Matt (the subject of this post)!
Matt was here for under 72 hours, and part of that time was spent in Tecpan playing soccer and picnicking with 15 members of the extended host family (spoiler: Matt speaks approximately 3 words of Spanish). So, I thought the other day of the weekend we would have a nice, relaxing day in Antigua…
The day started out successfully with a delicious, relaxing breakfast at the ultimate farm-to-table destination in Guatemala: Caoba Farms. Imagine poached eggs over a bed of vegetables grown right there on site, a farmer’s market selling things such as vegan cheese and argon oil, and a vast greenhouse you can walk around and appreciate all the types of kale they are growing. Seriously, this place is straight out of Brooklyn, and it is still crazy (but also amazing) to me that it exists in Guate. Better yet, don’t just imagine, here’s a photo:
From there, things got weird. I had vaguely heard of a nice trail not far outside of Antigua, so I decided we should go for a hike. Here’s the way this place was described to me: “Really nice trail, very well marked, also some pools that are pretty creepy and I wouldn’t recommend swimming in.” So off we went, on a long walk down a deserted dirt road, to the supposed start of our hike. We eventually hit what seemed like a dead end in the road. Not just a dead end, but a giant gate covered in barbed wire and “Private Property” signs posted everywhere. Understandably, I assumed we must have taken a wrong turn, until Matt said, “wait doesn’t that say ‘El Pilar’? Isn’t that the name of the place we’re trying to go?” In fact, it appeared the road had ended in our destination. This place is truly hard to describe, but can best be summed up as a vast, mostly deserted, combination of construction machinery, a seeming rock quarry, and several giant swimming pools with a few bare-chested men lounging around them. Ah, and a security guard holding a very large firearm.
We eventually gathered from the guard that we needed to pay an entrance fee to climb the “montaña” (mountain). He told us, “You just follow this road straight, up, up, up, and you’ll be at the top in about 90 minutes. Might take you two hours back down so you can enjoy the birds. Can’t miss it.”
With no more clarity on what lay ahead, we wandered past the swimming pools, past the deserted rock quarries, past some old men sitting on a porch (very unclear if they were selling things, or if they lived there and were eating lunch). We eventually reached two large signs, one pointing to the left for “Bird Observation” and one pointing to the right for “Mountain.” “Well, the guard definitely told us we wanted to go to the mountain, right?” Spoiler alert: wrong. We did not want to go to the mountain. Should have gone left. But alas, we went right, and commenced on a 90 minute uphill climb up a winding, gravel, sun-exposed, seemingly destination-less road. It was occasionally beautiful (see photo), but mostly just hot and dusty and dry.
When we finally descended and were thoroughly confused, we decided to just check out what the Bird Observation route had to offer. Within about ten meters, we were fully immersed in a green, lush, well maintained trail through a gorgeous ravine. SHOOT…we messed up. I don’t have a photo to share because I was too bitter to take one.
Exhausted from the strangeness of our hike, Matt went into what can only be described as “low power mode,” and I set about finding us a re-energizing smoothie. We eventually found a great spot with a chatty server devoid of other customers. While she set about making our smoothies, she started asking us where we were from, and quickly deduced, “your boyfriend doesn’t speak Spanish, does he? He’s just sitting there and laughing. I can tell he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying.” I confirmed her suspicion, which you might think would have made her feel less inclined to talk to us. Instead, she began to recount to me her detailed life story, leaving me no option but to provide Matt a patchwork translation: “Um, she says she has two young kids. She’s not with their dad anymore because he was interested in too many women. But she’s better off because she doesn’t need a man! Except she’d love to travel but her kids’ dad won’t let her because he thinks she’d take the kids and never come back, and she can’t leave the country without his permission. And he’s right! She wouldn’t come back!” WOW.
After finishing our smoothies and wishing our server the best of luck with her man troubles, we made our way to a bar that had caught our eye earlier for a drink. Almost immediately, we realized we had made a mistake, but was already too late to extract ourselves. The place was pitch dark (approx 4pm at this point), smoky, empty, and way too cool for us. And yet, there we were. Matt ordered a fancy mezcal from our very young, very blond, very English speaking European bartender, and she immediately perched on the bar, thrilling to have people to chat with. Within about 5 minutes of being there, she shared with us that she had ended up in Antigua because she had had the intention of backpacking from Mexico City to Panama but hadn’t gotten farther than Guatemala (“cool!”). No, not cool, because she had been with her fiancé (one or two Es?! I will never know), but then he broke up with her mid-trip (“oh…”). Decided to stay in Antigua to turn the trip around and end it on a positive note, instead of flying home upset and heartbroken (“good for you!”). No, not good for her, because she ended up getting really sick and racking up enough hospital bills that she could no longer afford to fly home, and was now stuck in Antigua indefinitely, intermittently without a place to stay (“ohhhh….”) Once again, within the course of an hour, we inadvertently found ourselves in an overshare situation that was difficult to extract ourselves from.
Eventually, extract ourselves we did, and vowed to never speak to strangers ever again. This didn’t last long, as shortly thereafter we tried to walk up a giant hill to a restaurant for dinner, only be told by a security guard, “I wouldn’t recommend walking and there is a man who drives by in a van every 15 minutes who will take you to the restaurant.” And that is how we got into an empty van with a strange man at night…. who did indeed take us to the restaurant, and back home after dinner!
Another day, another dream…
SHE’S BACK! (RIP Whitney Houston)
First he (gender pronouns out the door) sets the scene: It’s a completely normal day in New Haven.
I’m sitting in a café watching through the window. It’s perfectly beautiful out and regret over sitting inside instead of on the outdoor patio consumes me. For about two minutes, that is, at which point I realize it’s much easier and less invasive (albeit creepier) to people watch through a window.
The table directly outside the window seats a twenty-some year-old black male. He has brought his own Triscuits to a café. No one seems phased. I watch him eat a few Triscuits.
Directly to his left is a single chair. Origin unknown. It is wicker. Chair does not match other patio chairs. Older man carrying a black plastic bag approaches the chair and takes a seat. He unties his robe to reveal a full second outfit. He’s very nontraditional it seems, but he’s confident and gets away with it. He is wearing a suede tiger-printed fedora that has never been worn better.
At this point, I stop looking around. I’m sold on this man. He has my attention.
A bumble bee approaches. This could be good.
I spend the next fifteen minutes watching the fedora man and the Triscuit guy get in and out of their seat to swat this bee. The bee is resilient and continues to follow them around. They’re waffling between running and speed walking in circles. Triscuit guy tries to act casual. He is sincerely annoyed at the bee, but also seems like the kind of person that wouldn’t BLAME the bee.
The fedora man takes advantage of this situation, going table to table asking for spare change. In fear that the bee might latch onto them, most people cough up some change and send fedora on his way.
Apologies for the distraction. Lets get to it. It’s been a while since I’ve contributed to Dretie blog (so long that my name has been rudely crossed out from the title), but wanted to remind everyone that I am alive.
I’ve been rotating in urology (not to be confused with neurology) for the past few months. I know you’re all thinking “urology? That’s a penis doctor isn’t it?”
To that I say: not no.
Instead however, let me offer some quotes that I think will better explain what a urologist does.
That’s pretty much it folks. I hope none of you leaked while reading this. If you did, SEE ME.
I have spent the past week in an area of Guatemala referred to as “la costa,” and I have since learned that it is so named not because it is ON the coast, but rather because the climate is as hot as if it were the coast. Perfect. My dedicated reader(s) know that cross country chicken bus travel is not my strong suit (nor is hot weather), so I decided to treat myself to a weekend on Lake Atitlan, rather than shlep all the way to the highlands on Friday and back to the coast on Monday.
A few words on Guatemalan road repair, and then we’ll get on to the lake. Some of the roads here are smoother than any I’ve ridden on in the States, but some are in total disrepair. The latter are seemingly tackled in two manners: (1) Men and women and children (!!) with no official employment (and no payroll) bring a shovel or whatever tool they have out to the road and fill in potholes as best they can, while asking drivers for spare change. (2) Official construction crews take to the road, but rather than posting signage alerting drivers of an upcoming road closure or suggesting a detour, they stop traffic indefinitely while they work. Most of the delays I have experienced haven’t been more than 30ish minutes, but on Friday we waited in a long line of stopped vehicles for nearly two hours. Some locals, ever enterprising, walk down the lines of cars selling bottled water, sodas, even homemade tamales and baggies of fresh cut mango. Incredible.
The doubled-in-length trip was made entirely worth it when I arrived at my destination and found an incredibly romantic (hellooooooo, solo adventure weekend), cozy, and picturesque lodge on the shores of Atitlan. Highlights included imported American beer (whattup Brooklyn IPA), more vegetables than I have seen in the past month in Guate, and morning dips in the lake. Lowlights included every other guest swimming in the pool ten feet away from the lake instead of the lake itself (endlessly confusing to me), and being the recipient of multiple pitiful glances from guests and staff alike for being the only solo person at the hotel (I am just fine with my book and wine, thank you).
I spent a good part of my first day at Atitlan staring at a volcano across the lake, which I felt was taunting me. So, the next morning, I woke up bright and early, took a boat across the lake, and climbed the damn thing! The 5000 foot climb (ouch) was made very entertaining by the following companions:
1) a very legitimate, expert Guatemalan guide who regaled me with stories of Guatemalan history and culture while I responded with one word answers and tried to focus on inhaling oxygen,
2) a not legitimate, not expert Guatemalan “guide” who had never climbed said volcano before, and spend the majority of his hike proclaiming “are we there yet?! This is so hard! I shouldn’t have had so many beers last night!” Also spent a lot of energy swinging his machete at overhanging branches (don’t ask me why they brought machetes on this hike…)
3) a tourist from India who came to Guatemala via Hong Kong, and was learning Spanish as his fifth language. When we got to the top, I sat down to bask in the view and consume all the snacks I had brought with me. He, on the other hand, took one photo, ate a single carrot, and turned around and headed back down. Okay bye!
Needless to say, a pretty memorable day, capped off by immediately throwing myself into the lake upon return, followed by a delicious dinner amongst a bunch of other American tourists at the hotel.
Before I sign off, I will note the stark contrast that I experienced the next day, when I traveled to a fairly rural town, where many people, especially children, have never seen a white person (un gringo) before. I, along with two Guatemalan nurses, spent the morning going house to house to weigh and measure young kids who are part of a nutrition program we have. As we walked down the dirt roads, I amassed a literal crowd following of kiddos trailing behind me shouting “la gringa! la gringa! la gringa!” I felt like the goddamn Pied Piper.