Take Flight

Trip Start May 12, 2009
Trip End Sep 29, 2009

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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Friday, September 11, 2009

   There have been many times I have stood on a tall cliff in the mountains and gazed at the eagles soaring in front of me. Like anyone I think, I have dreamed of what would happen if I jumped off the cliff and were able to follow the eagles.
   Today, I got to do just that.
   I went paragliding from Volcan Atitlan over Lago de Atitlan. As I ran off that ledge and when I felt the wind put resistance into the nylon canopy, a huge smile broke across my face. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. It felt just like I imagined it might, to feel the resistance of the thermal drafts under the canopy, and see the treetops form a mossy pattern under my feet. There were eagles soaring nearby.
   I flew tandem with a crazy Frenchman. He may have been crazy, but he knew how to fly. The flight seemed all too short, and before long we were crashing through a tree and down onto a futbol field.
   Addicting. When can I go again?

   There are moments when I am completely enveloped in my new world. When I sit on the street corner next to a Mayan woman chatting and sipping atol, I know I have "arrived". This town of San Pedro is friendly, and full of energy, color, and movement. I see teenage boys shoving each other down the street roughing up each others hair, a 15 year old new mother in traditional Mayan clothing nursing her newborn, and old men sitting on the street corner commenting to each other on the goings-on.
     As the sun set, a woman began speaking over a loud system in the central plaza. I went over and found a group of school children in matching green and white gym uniforms with green and white pom-poms (boys and girls) doing a choreographed dance routine to popular songs. I joined the crowd, standing at the back. I could easily see over four rows of people, because at 5`6" I stand a full foot taller than many Maya women (and men).
    Police were doing security, and a huge crowd was gathering. There dance moves consisted mostly of variations on the macarena, hand jives, and foot tapping. Sometimes a pair would step out from the group and do a series of jumps in rhythm to the music, and at the end of every song in the remix the group would move into a new formation.
   The way that attention was never called to a single dancer reminds me of the way Maya culture puts an emphasis on the group over the individual. Pairs sometimes stepped out of the group, but never a soloist.
   The presentation was in honor of the Guatemalan independence day approaching on September 15th. After the school children danced, it seems to me that someone connected their I-pod to the sound system. It was a very nice set up, with about 20 first-world quality speakers set up around the park. The bass was solid, and it could all be heard clearly all over the city. After the kids cleared out, we had the Village Peopleīs "YMCA", Shakira "Hips Donīt Lie", trance music from Faithless, Christina Aguilera "Genie in a Bottle", a few reggaeton songs, and popular ladino groups played over the sound system. And of course- Michael Jackson made an appearance in the line up. So, "Thriller" was played over about 20 speakers for the town of San Pedro to hear. Kind of surreal.
  After that, I think someone pulled the plug on their fun.

    I spent a day in the nearby San Marcos, also a town set on the lake. San Marcos is incredibly tranquil, set almost entirely under the cover of deciduous trees. The air smells loamy, and like fresh rain. The small straight footpaths follow the borders of each chunk of land, beside milpas, behind shacks, through herb gardens. There were many gardens I wandered into that felt like they could be in north England. Where San Marcos touches the water, there are stands of cat tails, weeping willows, and gazebos.
   Some people have also decided that San Marcos sits on a powerful "energy meridian", and has "really good juju". San Marcos attracts hippies like moth to a flame. The message boards in San Marcos tout locals who can balance your chakras, align your vibes, give Swedish massage, cleanse your spirit (alcohol and herbs are involved in the ritual "cleansing process"), and give aromatherapy treatments (treatments??? How complicated is it to smell something nice?)
   A trippy place.

   Tomorrow, onto to Xela! Quetzaltenango, better known locally as Xela, is the second largest city in Guatemala. It is something of a mecca for volunteering in Guatemala and human rights causes. It has a park named after the Roman? goddess of knowledge, Minerva.
   Getting late now. I still have a bit of a walk through these winding, narrow, cobble stone streets and down a few alleys to get back to my little room on the lake. Hereīs for hoping we can get a campfire going tonight!
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