I HAD BEEN told that you really have to see San Marcos La Laguna to believe it. You certainly do. It's a tiny village on Atitlan's shores which attracts a certain type of person. And I got a glimpse of that type of person on the boat over from San Pedro. I noticed I was the only person wearing trainers, whereas everyone else was wearing those sandals which make you look like a German sex offender; most of them made from hemp, probably. And it seems I'd forgotten my brightly-coloured, ethnic shoulder bag. Thankfully, it's only a short hop across the lake. Any longer, and I'd have felt queasy, and not from the motion of the boat. A crusty woman with matted hair was waxing lyrical about the "special energy" of the place to all who'd listen. Which pretty much meant everybody in the small boat. As she droned on, and I attempted to zone out, her toddler bounded across the bench to her and lifted her tee-shirt. I didn't know where to look as the little mite began sucking on a tattoed tit. Grim. She didn't bat an eyelid as the toddler suckled away, kneading her other breast with his podgy hands. If the shore hadn't been a few hundred metres away, I'd have jumped overboard and swam for my sanity.
We pulled up on a small, rickety wooden jetty. I think I was off the boat before it came to a halt. Heading up the narrow pathway I was accosted by a local boy, who said he could show me the way to the village centre. I thanked him, but said I didn't think I would get lost on the three pathways. This didn't deter him, and as we passed a fruit stall he'd tell me I could buy fruit there. A little further on, and he helpfully pointed out that I could buy books in the bookstore. Enough was enough. Thanking him again, I said I wasn't looking for a guide. He stopped, snorted, and regarded me from under his furrowed brow, hands on hips. "Pues...no propina?" Cheeky bugger. I wasn't tipping someone I'd been politely trying to lose for the last ten minutes. He kicked up some dust in a huff and backtracked to the jetty to find another sucker.
I hung a left down an arid path, walking slowly and taking in the hand-painted and drawn signs for various things. Soya shakes. Lactose-free milk. Taste-free cookies. Fun-free lives. Various types of non-invasive treatments for anything ranging from stress to cancer. First back rub I've heard of which kills tumours? I was shaking my head at some other nonsense posting when the crunch of gravel drew my attention to someone's approach. A long-haired man with round glasses and a beaded necklace (de rigeur in these parts) was walking towards me. I half expected a talentless, screeching Japanese woman to be scuttling behind him. Where's Mark Chapman when you need him? As he closed on me, I saw he had the sign to beat all signs hanging around his neck. I cannot speak, as I have taken a vow of silence. Brilliant. I fought the urge to laugh as he nodded and passed. It looked almost more of a fashion accessory than a serious statement. Let's face it, if you really wanted to avoid talking to people, you'd rent a cave on a mountainside for a few weeks? Far easier than walking round looking like a pretentious pillock.
I'd walked round the village twice, so headed out to the rocks. Climbing along the path, I reached the point where it's possible to leap into the lake from a wooden platform. I hadn't brought my shorts, so had to be content with watching. It's a pretty long drop, and I was wincing as a couple of the lads there jumped in with their feet apart. One clever clogs decided to take a run up and do a forward flip; hitting the water feet-first, his momentum saw him slap the water face-on. There was a collective gasp as everyone waited for him to surface. Surface he did, red-faced and in visible pain. Served him right, show-off.
Not even the pair of naked blondes sunbathing at the water's edge could keep me hanging around, though. The last straw came in a cafe on the perimeter of the village. I'd stopped for a cold fruit juice, and couldn't help but overhear a conversation a couple of tables away. One of them was explaining that Inshallah meant "if something is kind of destined to happen", and then someone used the C-word. No, not that one...the Cosmos. I shuddered involuntarily. Sighing in surrender, I noisily drained my glass with the straw, and headed for the jetty and the relative sanity of San Pedro.