Together with Adi and Tanja we drove Alberto to the small village of Santa Catarina Palopó, where we purchased permits to cut down two of the dying trees on the property, and made the necessary arrangements for the firewood to be cut, split and stacked. Two days later we heard the buzzing of the chainsaw, and within the week the wood coffers were again overflowing. In fact, the trees were so massive that Alberto & Juliana were able to sell some of the excess firewood to supplement their meagre income.
Not only had lack of firewood been a problem for the family, but Juliana also informed us that storage of maize - their staple crop, was becoming a real issue. The costs of storing it in nearby San Andres had become exorbitant, yet left in sacks in their house resulted in the loss of at least a third to the rats and weevils. Although they had heard about metal silos to preserve the maize, they hadn't pursued the idea since the cost of a silo was equivalent to an entire month's income. So we went with Alberto to check out a prototype in the nearby village. The former Ministry of Agriculture employee who is now fabricating these silos informed us that the current demand has far exceeded his capacity to produce them. However, noticing our cash in hand he readily promised delivery of an eighteen quintal sized silo within a week. Alberto and Juliana are now fully engaged in harvesting the remainder of their maize crop, eager to ensure that it is completely dry before filling their brand new silo.
Although it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the sheer beauty of the hacienda setting, we did manage an outing with Adi & Tanja every two or three days. Skimming across Lago de Atitlán in one of the numerous water taxis gave us a remarkably different perspective - instead of looking across at the three majestic volcanoes from our verandah, we strained our necks upwards to take in their towering heights. Across the lake, we leisurely wandered the streets of Santiago Atitlán while admiring the marked differences in the local traditional dress. A couple of hours later, after purchasing a few mementoes and stopping for a sandwich in an undeniably "gringo" restaurant, we made our way back across the sun-streaked lake to Panajachel.
We collectively decided that Chichicastenango on a bustling market day had to be included on our "to visit" list, even though we all know what a tourist destination it has become. Adi & Tanja suggested that we arrive before six am - a time when the vendors are busy setting up their stalls, and before most tourists have even thought about getting out of bed. However, we opted instead to enjoy our daily morning ritual at the hacienda - fresh tropical fruit on the verandah, followed by a leisurely breakfast on the stone patio that is warmed only after eight am when the sun finally peeks over the hills behind us. We eventually made it to Chichi by mid morning, and in spite of our many visits we still cannot help but be enthralled by the dazzling colours, the exquisite embroideries, the delicately carved wooden masks, the rainbow-hued handmade candles, and the incense burning rituals on the front steps of the picturesque Iglesia de Santo Tomás. However, next time we'll definitely have to consider a six am arrival!!
Coming back to the hacienda after any of our various excursions we are invariably met with smiles and hand-clapping by Alberto and Juliana's children. Only minutes after our return, the first of the shy faces presents itself around the corner of the verandah. Another soon follows, and then others, until all have turned up for their daily playtime at "the big house". They had already stolen our hearts three years ago, and now we noticed the same phenomenon happening with Adi & Tanja - how could anyone not fall in love with such cute and well behaved kids? The entire family was very sad when we told them that Adi & Tanja had only one day remaining at the hacienda, but how they enjoyed the little farewell party - watermelon juice dribbled down everyone's chins, bowl after bowl of popcorn readily disappeared by the handful, and the Swiss chocolate was indisputably the biggest hit of the week. But no one could match the smiles on Alberto's face when he was presented with his own brand new Swiss army knife, and how proud he felt when the family gathered around to check it out. Thanks for leaving a little piece of Switzerland behind, Adi and Tanja!!
The hacienda is a wonderful sun-trap during the daytime. However, as soon as the sun begins to set behind Volcan San Pedro, we find ourselves quickly changing from shorts and t-shirts into jeans, socks and warm fleecies. While comfortably ensconced in our lawn chairs on the verandah to enjoy yet another stunning sunset, Alberto is busy lighting the evening fire in our sunken living room. Sitting around the fire with a bottle of wine, a gourmet dinner, and stimulating conversation definitely continues to be one of the highlights of the day at the hacienda. Three years ago the firewood supply in the storage shed outside seemed endless, but this year we noticed that very little remained, so decided we'd better take a closer look at the situation.