The Santiago Experience

We woke up the next morning with San Pedro volcano right outside our window, less than a mile away, rising into the crisp morning air, and we do mean crisp, about 55 degrees. Brilliant colored flowers surrounded our patio, the roosters were crowing, and birds singing. Our world seemed at peace, and we were part of it. Eco-Hotel Bambu starts serving breakfast at 7 AM, and for those of you who know me, I was more than ready. The sun rose at 4:30, so what’s the holdup anyway? Let’s get this show on the road!

We walked down the cobblestone path to the restaurant and sat on the deck overlooking the lake to enjoy a breakfast fit for a king. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and homemade breads with the sweetest, smoothest honey you have ever tasted. The coffee, yes real Guatemalan coffee, unlike anything you will ever find in the States. Smooth and strong, good to start your day.

San Pedro Volcano
San Pedro Volcano

In the early morning the lake is calm and smooth like a mirror. Local fishermen start the day early casting their nets and searching for the biggest tastiest fish the lake can deliver. Women walk down to the lake almost as soon as the sun rises to begin their daily work scrubbing the laundry, yes, just as you see it below, seven days a week.

Hard Way to do Laundry
Hard Way to do Laundry

Our hotel room, was situated in an 8 unit block with every room having a view of the lake and the volcano. We could see amazing displays of flowers and shrubbery no matter which way we turned; the grounds were just kind of mind boggling, and wherever we walked we found new exotic colors exploding in our eyes. Had we only stayed here in this little paradise, we would have thought this community to be one of the most beautiful in the world. All the staff at Bambu, our hostesses, the bartenders, the waiters, the maids and the groundskeepers, were just the friendliest most helpful people. The countryside is just as you see it, but there is an element in any third world country whose life and spirit is dampened by poverty and they lack emotion or humanity as we know.

Our Room at Eco-Hotel Bambu
Our Room at Eco-Hotel Bambu

A few hours after breakfast, we decided to drive into the city of Santiago to explore, on their most holy day. This man you see below offered to “guide” us through the city to see all there was to see. He soon led us into a crowded, stuffy, pushy, rude, local market place where I was crushed into a mass of people and soon robbed of my wallet, all my identification, my credit cards, and my photos of son and grandson. Amazingly, our guide did not seem surprised that I had been pick pocketed; he was surprised however, to find that the thieves had gotten nothing – no money – only plastic that was soon to be useless to them. Do you think we were set up? We surely do.

Our "Guide"
Our “Guide”

This angering experience gave us a new perspective; in all our travels we have never been harmed, robbed, or even intimidated. We started looking closely at people, and we took precautions we’d never before felt necessary. As we watched people in this city we soon realized we rarely noticed anyone smiling; less often did they laugh; there was no sparkle in the eyes. As soon as we returned to our hotel I was overwhelmed with anger at a city full of people who had little or no regard for their land, their environment, the water; I just wanted to leave and go home if all I was nothing more than a source of lots of money to these people. Here we were with very little cash, no means of getting any more, and in a country where few people speak English. Was our trip at an end?

I spent the rest of the day dealing with 3 different banks to try to replace my 3 stolen credit cards; Capital One flat out refused to send a replacement card to any country outside the USA; Bank of America tied me up for more than 3 hours on the phone over the next three days and managed to screw everything on their end up. I felt like pulling my hair out with Bank of America, dealing with 10 different people (oh yes, I logged every call, time, date, and names), and hearing 6 different stories about where my new card was on any given day. Chase Bank, on the other hand, was phenomenal. Every call to Chase was answered by a live person on the first or second ring, and I had a new card delivered by UPS to the Radisson Hotel in Guatemala City less than 3 days after it was stolen. Guess what bank has my future business? I cannot say enough good about all the folks at Chase Bank who helped me.

After all this frustration I felt like hugging our sweet, wonderful hostess, Rebecca, at Hotel Bambu. When I told her I had been robbed, and I was not sure how I was going to pay her before we left, she said to simply not worry. We would take care of it sooner or later. I offered to pay her with what little cash I had left, and she said I should keep it as I might need it before I got my replacement cards. She helped us recover from this personal invasion and convinced us to put the unfortunate event behind us. She set up an inexpensive personal tour of Lake Atitlan with a patient captain, Francisco, seen here piloting his launcha, helping me with my Spanish, and telling us all about the area – in Spanish only. This good man was such a contrast to the day before, such a kind gentle person we seldom find.

Captain Francisco, our Kind Mayan Captain
Captain Francisco, our Kind Mayan Captain

Lake Atitlan is staggering with its unending beautiful vistas. In the photo below you see San Toliman volcano at 10,340 feet on the left and on the right, Atitlan volcano, whose peak was frequently shrouded in clouds at 11,560 feet above sea level. San Pedro is behind us at some 9000 plus feet. I took more than 200 photos on our short tour of the south end of the lake as every moment was stunningly refreshing. This fantastic beauty breathed life back into our sagging spirits.

Another View of San Toliman and Atitlan Volcanoes
Another View of San Toliman and Atitlan Volcanoes

I can’t even begin to wow you with my photos as no matter how good they might be, they can never represent the awesome power and beauty we experienced that morning. I can never thank Rebecca enough for helping us through our rotten day; I think she knew, perhaps more than we did, just how much we needed this experience to help get our lives and our spirits back on track. What a contrast from the day before.

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