Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Much Needed Day Away

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Transcribed from notes made in Panajachel, April 15, 2013

I must tell you, friends, that since arriving in Guatemala 12 days ago, I’ve been sick. Not debilitatingly sick, but uncomfortable enough to send me to the doctor last week. Before I go any further with this, I want to stress that whatever is wrong – and all will be revealed when I go back to the doctor tomorrow afternoon – it isn’t something I acquired here. I brought it from the States. Both Dr. Calderón Bracamonte and I agreed that I hadn’t been here long enough to pick up any of the usual nasties, so the doctor is approaching it differently than he would normally.

Dr. Calderón Bracamonte’s prices have increased slightly since I saw him last a year-and-a-half ago. But at $19.50 for the office visit, including work-up and a sonogram, and an additional $19.50 for the lab work, I’d say it’s still a good value.

Antsy in San Pedro
Since I hadn’t left San Pedro with the exception of two trips to San Juan, which hardly counts as leaving town, by yesterday (Sunday) I was pretty antsy and was determined that today, no matter what, I was going to Panajachel. As I write this (in longhand), I’m taking a break from shopping to have some lunch at the Llama del Fuego deli. They make a mean vegetable and rice curry that’s among the best curries I’ve ever had. It became a favorite the last time I was here and over a year-and-half later, they’re still touting it as la especial del día. It’s just as good as I remember it. The other ongoing special is sopa de pollo. I had it once. It was good, but definitely not like grandma’s chicken soup. There’s a limonada con soda to wash it down all for Q55, or about $7.15. The limonada was a bit of a splurge at Q22.

So far things are tranquilidad, but rather than tempt fate any further, I’m going to make my way back to the muelle and catch a lancha back to San Pedro. Not only was the purpose of this trip to get out of town but it was also to stock up on a few items at the “modern supermarket.” I’ve written about the “modern supermarket” before, which is owned by Walmart but bears little resemblance to its North American parent. Still, there’s an element of trust in the merchandise – for example, meat that isn’t marinated in flies – because it’s backed by Walmart. Okay. Maybe bad example because Walmart has been under attack in the States for neglect in their grocery departments. Solina always makes fun of me when I call it the “modern supermarket,” but I don’t know how else to differentiate it from the other, smaller tiendas in town. One of the things I was able to get there was sunblock, which I badly need. My nose and forehead are pretty much peeling off my face.

San Pedro, Today

¿Cuanto Cuesta?

There was one stop yesterday before making my way to the dock. I wanted another burlap shoulder bag to replace the one I already have but wasn’t able to bring with me on this trip. It’s really so much lighter and more convenient than my backpack for around town. So I made my way to the artisans’ market just up the street from the restaurant. I saw just what I wanted and in response to my cuanto cuesta, the woman said Q80 ($10.40). This is the part of shopping here that I really hate: the haggling. It’s expected on the street and I think if you didn’t do it, the person trying to sell you something would think you’re a real idiot, or at least a sucker.

The Art of “The Dance”

So I came back at her with ¿Cual es su mejor precio? (What is your best price?) She came down Q10 and I countered by coming down another Q10 to Q60. Game over. She accepted my offer. I think I could have gotten it even lower but really didn’t want to play anymore. I was overall satisfied because my other bag started at Q100 in Antigua and I got that price down to Q50 or Q55 at the time.

Almost Wish I Hadn’t Gone

The boat ride back to San Pedro almost made me wish that I hadn't gone in the first place. But I must digress for a minute here to tell you about the dock in Pana. It’s always been precarious, just a few planks wide, but now when you arrive in Pana, you get off the boat, which can be a challenge in itself, and step on to a floating dock. From the floating dock, you step up to the “fixed” dock using a step that fastened to the floating dock. The floating dock is attached to the fixed dock with some rope, which leaves a gap between the two docks as the floating dock rises and falls on the waves. Of course, you have to reverse the process to get to the boat by stepping down to the floating dock. I don’t know which was worse: stepping up or stepping down. In both instances, I was too busy keeping my balance to photograph this phenomenon.

The water was choppy and the way the boat was slapping the troughs of the waves, I don't know how the bottom managed to stay in tact. One of my fellow passengers crossed himself and was saying his Hail Mary's. From first hand experience, I know better than to sit in the first bench on the boat, but anything in back of it was already taken, so I got a second bath of the day as I held on with white knuckles to the side, silently praying, too, that we would reach San Pedro alive.

ATM Guaranteed To Produce Anxiety

This afternoon, before I go to the doctor’s office, I have to stop by the bank and tap the ATM machine. Yesterday, I had to pay Q110 ($14.30) for a 25 gallon canister of propane gas if I’m to continue to have hot water and another Q14 ($1.82) for around 10 gallons of agua pura, if I’m to have clean water to drink, which left me a little short today. When the propane tank starts to get low, it’s anyone’s guess when it will run out. There’s not any kind of gauge like a gas gauge on a car, and you just have to lift the tank every so often and use your judgment. What would I know of these things? There’s a 50 gallon electric hot water heater in my garage that produces an endless supply.

The ATM is guaranteed to produce a few anxious moments as the machine whirrs around and you keep your fingers crossed that it will actually give you your money. At least the bank has taken one fear away; that of the machine eating your card. Now, you quickly insert and pull out your card. A trip to the ATM is usually followed by a visit into the bank itself for cambio. Actual admittance is gained after the guard who is armed with a small rocket launcher sizes you up through the tinted glass and lets you into the vestibule. You then have to wait for the guard to again lock the front door before he lets you into the banking area. It’s a little different in San Juan where there is no vestibule but the guard has a hand-held wand to pass over you.

Solina also teases me about going into the bank for change, but in a country where the average wage is about Q50 a day, if that, change for the Q100 notes that come out of the machine can often be difficult to obtain. It’s no different from what I do at home, going into the bank to break those 20 dollar bills.

Good News!

Tests were all negative.

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