“I bloody well am,” I yell back, through gritted teeth.
“No you’re not, your paddling needs to be even. We’re going in circles, so paddle harder on your left,” he says.
We are somewhere in the middle of Lago d’Atitlán – Lake Atitlán – in Guatemala, halfway between the villages of San Pedro and San Marco. What was supposed to be a 20 minute paddle across a small section of the lake has somehow turned into an hour-long mission for us. The wind has picked up, the waves are buffeting the canoe off course, and yes, I am steering us in circles. My temper is starting to fray….
“On the left!” comes the shout from behind me. It is at this point I threaten to put my paddle somewhere unpleasant for A.
Eventually we make it to our destination; a lookout from which you can see out across the whole lake, and to the steep hills and volcanos that border it. We climb up to the rocks to the lookout platform and bask in the warm sunshine, and admire the vast saphire lake that stretches before us. A little later, given we are on a lookout that is over deep water, we do what must be done – take a running jump off the platform into lake. Naturally.
Our days at San Pedro are long and mostly lazy. We don’t get up before 10am most days, and breakfast is spent down at the Tin Tin cafe overlooking the lake. We do make an effort to learn some more Spanish – with the lessons coming in at $4 an hour, it would be silly not to make time. So we sign up for classes – afternoon classes of course. The rest of our days is spent catching up with friends at The Clover, which quickly became our gringo pub of choice.
San Pedro is a small town, and exploring only takes us one afternoon. The hour-long wander is enough for us to find the cute town square, complete with baby turtles swimming in the fountain, along with one of the most pimped out chicken buses we’ve ever seen. Public transport never looked this good.
The exception to our lazy days and nights was New Years Eve. It started with quiet drinks at The Clover then moved to a random hillside party which could only be reached via water taxi. Armed with cheap rum and enthusiasm we headed off, not sure of what we would find. We found about 200 local twenty-somethings dancing in a dusty paddock to some of the worst music we had ever heard in our lives. The cheap rum was quickly put to good use.
Two memories endure from that night. The first is the New Years countdown. Or total lack thereof. We think we arrived around 11.30pm and given none of us had use for a watch, none of us were wearing one. So we were sipping our rum and wondering what time it was, when we saw fireworks going off in one town across the lake. Then the music cut out…ten seconds passed…and then the music started again. The five of us were left squinting at each other in dark yelling Is it New Years? What? Happy New Year? Is it? Was that it? at one another. After another half hour, and no other major signals that 2012 was indeed upon us, we assumed the obvious, shrugged and wished each other a happy new year.
The other enduring memory is that of the “magic bottle”. The magic bottle was in fact just a bottle of pepsi, that A and his friend V drank from, topped up with rum, drank from, then topped up with rum, drank from etc until they were pretty much drinking straight rum. Then came the stunning observation from A and V that they had “fitted” two bottles of rum into this one pepsi bottle and so began the long conversation about this magical bottle. Despite labored attempts from myself and another friend C to point out the obvious flaws in this logic, the conversation snowballed until so enamoured were the pair with this magical bottle that when all contents were drunk V gave me the bottle to hang on to, because it was so very special. Said plastic bottle was quickly dumped in the bin.
Despite the hideous thumping music, the night did in fact end up to be quite fun. I tried my Spanish out on some of the locals kids, and to my utter surprise found myself understanding and being understood. I can’t profess to have been holding a deeply philosophical conversation with them, I think most of the conversation was about Australia – which I correctly described as muy grande, muy caliente con mucho desierto y muchos kangaroos. In other words: very big, very hot with a lot of desert and many kangaroos. I think my next job should be working for Tourism Australia….