Our good friend Mukul from India came to stay with us, and after a few days of sightseeing in the Boston area, accompanied us to Guatemala.
We had set the alarm for 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, but wound up waking up at 1:45. We took showers, finished getting ready, and left the house by 3 o'clock. The airport in general was dead at this hour, but there was a short line at the Continental check-in desk. They announced that their computers had been down since last night and they didn't expect a fix until 9 a.m. So they would be forced to manually ticket people. As they handled the passengers at the front of the line, we realized that this would be a painfully slow process which involved phone calls to their headquarters in Houston to verify all of the details. The only people who were spared this fate were those who had printed out boarding passes at home. We kicked ourselves for not having done so ourselves. Hadn't even thought of it.
We inched closer to the check-in counter. Passengers were getting edgy and were trying to cut from the end of the line to the front, shouting that their flight was leaving in 10 minutes so they needed to get through. "We're on the same flight," I said. "To Houston?" they asked. I nodded. "And we've been in line since 3:30, so please wait your turn." That quieted them down rather quickly.
Our flight was scheduled to take off at 5:25, and it was 5:15 by the time we were ticketed. There was no line at security and we were able to pass through quickly. As we arrived at the gate, we were allowed to walk right onto the plane. We were seated two rows behind Mukul. So much for our idea of grabbing a fast food breakfast. Our connection in Houston was tight, and we did not want to miss it. Humberto would be leaving home very early in the morning to meet us at the airport in Guatemala City. Time ticked by and at around 6 o'clock we started taxiing. But by the time we actually took off, it was 6:35. We were anxious during the flight about the timing. It was totally beyond our control and the suspense of cutting it so close was palpable. Two shrill old ladies shouting to each other from across the plane in the rows behind us didn't help our moods. They served us a breakfast of cornflakes, a blueberry muffin, and a banana. We both had some orange juice and Craig had a cup of coffee. At least we had something in our stomachs.
When we landed in Houston, we were directed straight to the service desk, several gates away from where we landed. We had already missed our flight, but they were able to ticket us on the next flight at 11:15. I called Humberto on my cell phone to tell him the change in plans. He said he was already in the city, which meant he now had some time to kill. We apologized but he understood. We went to Starbuck's and got chocolate chip cookies and water and a lemon pound cake. The flight boarded a little bit late. Once we were aloft, they served us a chicken burger, salad, and Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies.
We landed at 2:15 p.m., an hour late (two hours late from our originally scheduled flight). We went through customs quickly and, having no checked luggage to collect, exited the building. Humberto met us out front and summoned our driver Armando. We got into the van and drove back toward Panajachel. We pointed out the aqueducts and the Aurora Zoo as we left the vicinity of the airport. We apologized for being late and Humberto said that he had been able to catch a nap in the van while waiting for us.
As we drove we saw the devastation that Tropical Storm Agatha had delivered a month before. We had seen images on CNN of a huge sinkhole in Guatemala City as a result of the storm, and now we were seeing firsthand how the violent rains had caused mudslides across the road. There were several places where the road was down to a single lane for both directions.
We took a short detour through Tecpan town to the 15th century Mayan archaeological site of Iximche, but it had closed just minutes before, at 4:30. We would have made it in time if we had made our scheduled connecting flight, but never mind. We continued toward Panajachel, making a quick restroom stop. The airline hadn't had a vegetarian meal for Mukul, so he was understandably hungry. At one point he asked Humberto if we could stop to get some food at a cart which was advertising chicherinas and French fries. The young Mayan woman smiled and placed something that looked like an orange sheet of plastic into the oil and it expanded into what looked like a giant pork rind. This was apparently a chicherina. Mukul dug right in, and Craig and I panicked for a moment thinking that it might be meat-based in some way shape or form. Humberto calmed us and said that it was artificial. He explained that the locals eat them with ketchup, mustard, chili, etc. Mukul, seemingly unaware of our panic on his behalf, saw that she also sold french fries, so he ordered some. He asked for more salt, which made the woman giggle. Apparently they aren't usually eaten that way.
We got back in the car and continued driving toward Panajachel. The conditions were very foggy and wet. Silty mud coated the tires of the car. Before we knew what was happening, even though the driver was cautious and was keeping his speed down, our car was skidding across the mud. Armando was able to control it and eventually brought the van to a stop, on the other side of the road, facing the wrong direction, about four feet shy of toppling over a cliff. We were engulfed in thick fog and could easily have been broadsided by any approaching car. Luckily no cars were approaching and Armando turned the car around. We all let out nervous laughs as it dawned on us just how badly that could have gone. If we had all been a little sleepy after being up for so long, we all were wide awake now thanks to the adrenaline. We were very thankful for Armando's quick reaction time. We are used to slippery roads at home from ice and snow, but not usually from mud!
As we drew closer to Panajachel, we pulled over at an overlook in San Jorge to give Mukul his first view of the volcano-ringed Lake Atitlan . we arrived at the house and as we walked down the path the kids came running to meet and greet us. Aracely called out our names, gave us hugs, and said in Spanish that she had missed us SO much! It was hard to believe that when we met her she was just 2 years old, and now she was about to turn 5 and would be ready to start kindergarten in a few months! Paulina greeted us.
Humberto and the girls were eager to show us around the property at the construction projects they have underway. The place had changed a lot in the 6 months since our last visit. Two of the guest rooms were now totally complete (we would be staying in our usual room and Mukul would be in the room next door). The other two rooms across the hall are nearing completion as well. The girls pointed out the new set of stairs which led up to the beginnings of a second story above the guest rooms. Aracely grabbed my hand and pulled me into our room, proudly showing off the new shower curtain that she had bought with Paulina. Eddy let us pick him up and we took some photos. I would show Eddy the pictures on the camera and he would identify the person by name. He even said Craig's name, which is notoriously difficult to native Spanish speakers. It was immediately evident that he was talking a lot more this time than the last time. He still says "luz" whenever he walks by a light switch. The girls were playing with Elmo stuffed animals, and they also had an Ernie wearing pajamas.
Neli said hello to us and when I asked about Rocio, she ran to get her. We sat in the dining room for tea and banana bread. I played with Eddy with a teabag wrapper. He would hide it, I would try to find it, he would put it out of my reach, etc. The girls warmed up to Mukul right away. The girls gave us cards that they had made for us, and Paola made an impromptu one for "Mucul."
Eddy rode his big wheel through the dining room. Yasmin made us roses out of paper napkins. Rocio had to leave before dinner. Paulina served us a delicious creamy chicken soup with garlic bread, and she had made Mukul a plate of vegetables. Today was Humberto's birthday and we gave him cards and gifts. Eddy was asleep by now.
Mukul gave the girls some small gifts from himself and his wife Sunita. Then we gave the girls what we had brought for them: silk change purses, mood rings, journals, plush flower pens, flip animation books (of which by far King Kong was the most popular), and cute pink T-shirts that say "Somebody Loves Me in Massachusetts!" with hearts and rainbows. Girls are awesome to buy gifts for! Everybody looked at each others' gifts. Terri the dog was even there!
Mukul busted out his Indian sweets, and we also shared some salt water taffy we had bought when we took Mukul to Rockport. Aracely kept pulling her taffy apart and ended up getting the sticky mess all over herself. Aracely was drawing pictures. I asked if one was a bee ("abejo") and she said "Si" proudly. Craig couldn't find his jacket and wondered if he had left it in the van, or if it had somehow gotten separated from his luggage.
We retired to our room at around 10:15. Tomorrow was a school day for the older girls, and we had been up since before 2 a.m., so it was best to let everyone get to sleep. I wrote in the journal and went to bed at 10:40, setting the alarm for 7 a.m.