February 5th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 1

Up + about at a respectable hour, then down the road to catch a bus.  There wasn’t one for a couple of hours direct to Panajachel, so we took one back to Los Encuentros, where, fortunately, there was another bus waiting… tho’ not to Panajachel, merely to Solula, where we would have to change again.  On this 2nd ride, it was incredibly crowded, about 38 people in one minibus.  And then the trip down to the lake, during which Val became more + more fed up.  It was partly the way things were not going well, I think, + partly the cost of changing buses.  Anyway, we soon arrived, + found quite a pleasant hospedaje, with rooms arranged around a common courtyard.  We then tasted the local speciality, yogurt + fruit in a pancake – delicious – + explored the town a little.  Then, back in our room, we had an argument – it had to come, it had been brewing all day.  Basically, it was about money.  Val thought we were spending it too fast – I disagreed.  And tho’ our positions were + are irreconcilable, we just agreed to differ, tacitly. 

We then set off on another walk, down to the lake this time, which really is most incredibly beautiful – as Val said, + I think I have to agree, perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  We were enjoying a cold coke at a local café when 2 Swiss guys arrived, breathless – as they have every right to be.  They had been on a bus between Solula + Panajachel which had been attacked by guerrilleros.  The driver + his assistant had both been killed – put on the ground, hands behind their backs, + shot thro’ the head.  The same had happened to the driver of another bus, + a couple of other people too.  The Swiss guys had been robbed of all, + the bus had been set on fire, leaving them with nothing.  And this was half an hour before, a couple of miles away.  Incredible.  Nobody could believe it.  Nonetheless…

In the evening we first ate a splendid meal, + then visited a local bar which also acts as a cinema.  Some clever person has had the idea of renting video movies + showing them there on a big screen.  We saw “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” for only Q1 each.  And we both thought it a remarkable, brilliant film, very beautiful, very clever, very moving.

Well, no doubt now about the seriousness of the political situation; the remarkable thing is how little it seemed to affect us.  One has to be careful about the sort of stories one hears where someone “just missed” an involvement with something terrible – just missed means not being involved – but we did feel that it could as easily have been us.  However, crucially, it wasn’t.  And our laid-back approach may have been influenced by the fact that this was written a few days on.  There was quite a discussion among the rest of us as to the ideas behind the attack, with one traveller expressing the thought that bus drivers were considered part of the government.

I should explain that Panajachel is one of the six villages surrounding the lake, and the most tourist-y, though it was clearly suffering from a lack of tourists; my recollection is that Haig had advised Americans from travelling in Guatemala, and this had had a serious impact.  However, for us, it meant that prices were low… Hm.

  1. Pamela Blair

    What a gorgeous photo! I just looked up Panajachel, and it’s on Lake Atitlan. A woman in my French class was just there, at a yoga retreat. I think the place has definitely changed in the last 40 years. Google showed a grand hotel with yachts moored in front of it, and a swimming pool, plus a town that appeared to be thriving. The story you tell about the bus drivers is horrifying. I can’t imagine how those Swiss guys must have felt. I wonder how you could stay in such a place. Weren’t you concerned you might get caught in it?

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