Who needs a petting zoo when you have dozens of animals roaming the streets and right by our front door? Asher, you love just sitting on the front porch watching the animals with their babies walk by. You especially love when the horses neigh and you get excited to hear the last vocable from the chickens’ bagh bagh bagh BAGAGH. We don’t need to strap you into your car seat and drive thirty kilometers outside the city to find four legged or feathery friends since they are around every corner in El Remate. Asher, your mother and I find it fascinating as to why children are so drawn to animals. Just like humans, animals make interesting sounds, move in unpredictable ways and respond to their environment. Animals are interesting to children because they are hardwired to be. Asher, you love pointing to the eyes and mouths of the animals in your books, smile when your mom and I make animal noises, and I wouldn’t doubt it if some of your first words are animal names. It has been awesome for you to spend four months of your critical development surrounded by animals.
Asher, we spent several days walking all around El Remate. We walked up the mountain at the end of our street which provided beautiful views of the lake. The foot path continued through the tropical forest and you were in your glory. You always love going for walks, but if it is a walk in the woods, you are in heaven. We passed several self-sufficient shacks with chickens and pigs grazing in the yard, small patches of corn, and fruit trees. Everyone we passed shouted a smiley HOLA and it was evident that these rural Guatemalans were quite content. Many of the locals in El Remate are artisans and we spent several days getting to know them.
Victor lives with ten relatives on a property with two small wooden cabins and an open air communal kitchen consisting of a pail of water, a few pots and pans, and a wood burning stove. After some introductions, we asked if we could see him at work. He was extremely happy to show us his trade and the speed with which he turned a block of wood into a monkey was astounding. We looked on as his seven year old niece changed her one year old brother’s diaper and carried him around so her mother could make breakfast, while a twelve year old was taking care of her three year old and nine month old siblings. Granny asked for a custom order, a turtle she could wear around her neck as a reminder to slow down, one of Eknath Easwaran’s eight points for healthy living. When we returned the next day, he had carved three turtles from three different pieces of wood and gave us a full lesson on each of the hardwood trees he works with. He identified eight different trees just in his small pile of blocks and said there were many more. Around his mountainside property, he could point to any tree, name it, describe the color of the wood and provide other interesting practical facts; a skill long gone in the “developed” world. His specialty is small carved animal key chains of local wildlife that tourists buy from Tikal. It is always fun to pop into shops full of handicrafts but it is amazing to see the artists behind the craft. After meeting his whole family, we purchased several fantastic carvings to remind us of this unique experience. It is always a good laugh watching Granny trying to get something from a bag because that bag is always in a bag which is in another bag, just like a Russian doll. As a seller, exchanging money iis always awkward and Granny elevated it when she opened her reusable grocery bag, pulled out a backpack, looked inside for a flimsy gym bag, opened it up to find a plastic bag, which had a change purse inside a ziploc bag. Even funnier was watching the Russian doll be reassembled.
On another encounter, Granny spotted David and his son Edwin repairing a massive 300m fishing net by threading a plastic line around the sections damaged by crocodiles who chomped at the fish trapped in the net. David was not at all involved in the tourist industry and had nothing to sell us, but it was clear by his mannerisms that he would happily give us his full attention for as long as we wanted it. He pulled up some chairs, answered all of our questions, and showed us some of the other nets he was working on. When Granny pulled out her purple crochet blanket, he immediately said, “ahhh, crochet” and we were surprised that he could not only identify it but that it is pronounced the same in both languages. Granny taught him that the first crocheters were actually fishermen who used the same skills to make their nets as their warm socks. We could not get over the friendliness and openness of these beautiful people and wondered why these experiences are rarities back home.
Since Granny and Grumpy know as much Spanish as you Asher, your mom and I are hanging onto the Quetzales and doing most of the shopping. However, each day we give Granny and Grumpy an allowance with detailed instructions on how to make their purchases. One evening, they enjoyed a set dinner at a fancy lakeside restaurant. The servers were neatly dressed with a hint of Mayan and slowly and one-pointedly delivered Grumpy’s meal as if doing a mantram serve. Granny was still testing the waters after her little bout of diarrhea so she just nibbled off of Grumpy’s plate and enjoyed the homemade buns. Their table overlooked a manicured lot with a giant Ceiba tree smack dab in the middle. The Ceiba tree is sacred to the Mayans and the meal concluded with a fire ceremony and prayer. Granny, Grumpy and six other guests held hands around one of the fire pits while a Mayan woman beat a drum, giving thanks to nature and providing reminders to shake off the shackles of regret and materialism. Granny did not want this moment to escape her camera so she reached into the reusable grocery bag, pulled out the backpack, found the flimsy gym bag inside, opened the plastic bag inside of that then pulled out the camera which was inside the ziploc bag. We all chuckled when Grumpy said the ceremony ended with everyone giving each other lengthy “spirit binding” hugs.
When Granny returned to the house, she was excited to show us all of her photos but when she reached into the Russian doll of bags, she could not find her phone. “Jiiimmmmm, Ruuuunnnnn!” Now pitch black in this tiny rural town, we hurriedly retraced Granny’s steps with flashlights. Sure enough, it was all the way back at the koombaya circle as it apparently missed the entry into the smallest of the Russian doll bags. Catastrophe diverted, we spent the rest of the evening looking through all of the amazing photos we have taken so far with you, Granny and Grumpy enjoying each other and this special town of El Remate.