After a hot and pressurized shower, which is rare and considered something like a miracle to a third world traveler, we ate a quick breakfast and walked towards the beautiful Lake Atitlan. To take advantage of the few hours of sun left of the day, we decided to rent kayaks and explore the surrounding area via the water, where we could find panoramic views and silence. After asking around at a few boat rental shops throughout San Pedro, we found a place that rents kayaks for fifteen quetzales an hour, about two dollars, and gave him enough money for three hours worth. The man gave us a few old but able kayaks and we set off into the massive lake, following the shoreline east where we heard about a nice little beach worth visiting.
We were going against the current which made kayaking considerably tougher, but I didn’t really mind. With my muscles and mind toughened from summiting Acatanengo, volcanos on all sides of us, and the beautiful lake below, everything was about perfect. Volcán San Pedro rose over us and Indian Nose, so named because the hill looks like the face of an indigenous man on his back, was just behind us under clear blue skies. On our old kayaks we paddled another kilometer around the base of Volcán San Pedro until we found a deserted pebble beach facing the sun. The water was very refreshing, or at least it was at the time, before we found out that Lake Atitlan is one of the most polluted lakes around. Unknowing, we spent the next couple hours throwing rocks and swimming in the grand Lake Atitlan. The only other person we saw was an old fisherman on his wooden canoe casting his line every few minutes and the far off ferries lugging people between the dozen villages on the lake.
We laid down on the warm boulders for a while until it seemed like it was about time to head back. At that time of year the clouds come in a few hours after noon every day, like clockwork, and the time was nearing. We left, or attempted to leave, as Dylan seemed to have suddenly lost his ability to kayak and capsized around ten times over the next half hour. He would try to enter the kayak before either the kayak or him, and occasionally both of them, flipped over and he would utter a barrage of words no child should ever hear. Chris and I couldn’t stop laughing but we were far enough that Dylan didn’t notice, or so we hoped. Finally his kayaking coordination came back to him and we began our journey with the wind on our backs.
Of course about ten minutes into our return trip the wind turned around and put the current, which was far stronger than the way out, against us. It wasn’t overly scary and not excessively hard but it wasn’t the best conditions to kayak in by any means. The clouds thickened to a dark grey and we hurried our pace, getting back around fifty minutes later and barely missing the rain. We went straight to a Chinese restaurant (it’s a great joy of the backpacking world that Chinese restaurants are nearly as widespread as sketchy hostels, locals who stare at you, and terrible imitations of pizza) and ate huge meals without saying more than a couple words to one another.
Afterwords I went to a small used bookstore I passed earlier that was located down an alley near the lake. Outside sat the owner, an old Russian man on a broken wheelchair with matted long grey hair and fungus covered feet. He sat either looking at nothing or something miles away – I couldn’t tell – while smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with a stack of old books next to him. I said hello to which he returned a humph, not out of rudeness but seemingly of life exhaustion or distaste for small talk. I entered the bookstore which I quickly learned was also his house based on the dusty bed with smelly sheets that covered a quarter of the store. The rest of the store consisted of dirty old books stacked randomly and squeezed into broken bookshelves. I spent a half hour looking around and contemplating this man’s life. I wondered what his story was, but I knew that was something I wouldn’t get out of him if I tried. At a distance his life seemed sad but I imagined a life of adventure behind him and that his mind was full of knowledge I would never grasp. Perhaps he was a great writer whose works would be discovered once he passed away in his old Guatemalan bookstore.
As I thought about this all while looking around, another old expat living in San Pedro was talking his mouth off to the Russian bookkeeper, talking about his day and his plans for later. The owner didn’t say a word back and after a few minutes the American expat awkwardly said “Well, I should get going now,” and left slowly. I walked around for a little longer and ended up buying “One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovic” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn to which the old Russian bookseller seemingly said his first words in months with a slight grin “Yes yes, this is a very good book.” I told him i enjoyed Russian literature quite a bit to which he said nothing. I wanted to engage him in conversation but chose to allow this Russian accidental Taoist master to float with the silence and his books in his wheelchair as he seemed to prefer.