Story and photo by Katy Donoghue
I awoke in a panic. I lay frozen, convinced that the angrily barking dog next door was going to burst through the door and eat my face off. From the sound of it, this bite would be just as bad, if not worse, than the bark.
For the next two hours I tossed and turned, hoping the incessant howling would stop. It finally did, but not before I concluded that this was a town ruled by a wild pack of stray dogs.
Earlier in the week, my boyfriend, Calpin, and I arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. We had decided to take some time off work and go on a vacation. After spending one night in Guatemala City, we decided to take a “chicken bus” to the tourist capital of the country, Antigua.
“Chicken bus” is a term used for the common mode of transportation: a vintage American schoolbus with the name of its destination painted across the front and back in bright colors. Passengers are often packed—three, four, even five to a seat. While riding a “chicken bus,” it is important to have steady footing and something to grip, because these suckers take turns around the winding, mountainous roads at full speed.
Antigua is a picturesque town—no more than one kilometer wide—with pastel painted, single-floor buildings and cobblestone roads. The Spanish architecture, dating back to the colonial era, is intact with arches, churches and parks that are quite clean. Antigua is also home to a vast number of purebred show dogs.
Our first night in the town, we had dinner at La Pena de Sol Latina, a restaurant with fantastic food, wine and live music. Afterward, we danced at a wedding in the public square and watched a small fireworks celebration.
photo by Kathleen Paul
Lake Atitlan was our next stop. We had set aside three days to relax, lakeside, at this beautiful body of water, which is surrounded by three enormous active volcanoes. We booked a fairly expensive,luxury meets eco-friendly, room at the Aaculaax in San Marcos, a nearby town. However, the first night we would sleep elsewhere, hence the barking dog incident.
Over the past 25 years, San Marcos has attracted new age hippies who believe that the town is a strong spiritual location. Neither Calpin nor I were into new age spirituality, but we were interested in clearing our minds and trying out some new yoga positions while we were at it.
We signed up for a late afternoon meditation class at Las Pyrimades, a spiritual center that also offers a four week moon course that focuses on metaphysics, astral travel and lucid dreaming.
In silence, we entered the sun temple, a huge wooden pyramid used only for meditation. We were instructed on breathing techniques and, for 40 minutes, we meditated focusing on “inner and outer sounds”—many of which happened to be barking.
We returned to our guesthouse, with a stomach full of chicken, beans, and rice, to find a British couple in hysterics about what they had just witnessed. We followed their directions and climbed a steep path up the mountain, with only the moonlight and glow of Calpin’s iPhone for guidance. After tripping over a few roots, rocks and descending hippies, we had reached the ultimate out-of-our-element experience.
We made sure to keep our distance, leaving a few trees between us and them. Hundreds of rose petals surrounded a blazing fire, while cross-legged singers, draped in hemp woven fabrics, sat nearby.
Middle-aged men, with dreads to their knees, played bamboo flutes and drums, as women, wrapped in Guatemalan fabrics, danced listlessly, with arms flailing. We also spotted the owner of our guesthouse, holding a baby.
I turned to Calpin, and with one look, we were down the hillside, back in our cabin. We went to bed in confusion. We did not understand why the intrusive groups of spiritual seekers thought it appropriate to settle in this already established Guatemalan town and push the native Mayan Guatemalans, who had lived there for hundreds—if not thousands—of years, back up the mountain.
The next morning, after an uneasy sleep of howling wolf-beasts, we checked into our resort. The hotel was built into the rock of the steep mountain that separated us from the neighboring town. Our room was flanked by windows that overlooked the lake and volcanoes beyond. The bathroom was outside; I showered one with nature. Afterward, I threw on my Aaculaax provided bathrobe, stepped out onto our deck, and basked in the sun.
We slept on a large firm bed, with soft cotton sheets and a down comforter. The full moon shone through the window, and no sound that night caused me to wake in fear.
We had learned a valuable lesson in Guatemala: New age hippies, unlike their peace, love, harmony, and happiness predecessors, were exclusive, uninviting, tolerant of stray, rabid, wolf-dogs, and a threat to developing nations.