Saturday, 17 July 2010

Give us a break.

Everybody needs a break.
Even those of us already on a ten month break.
We needed a break from the break.

With three surfboards and and the associated paraphernalia in tow we’re not exactly nimble travellers so we’ve tended to find a nice spot near the coast and stay put for a while. But, we’ve learned, there’s more to life than the beach so we take the occasional mini-break from our break. We leave our cumbersome baggage with trustworthy coastal dwellers and skip, fleet-footed inland with only daypacks to hold us down. Our trip has been punctuated throughout with these weekenders and because of their contrast to surf-life they remain some of our strongest memories in a trip brimming over with highlights. The long weekend in Fort Cochin, northern Kerala and a spring-break in Ubud and the central highlands mark indelibly on my otherwise moribund memory.

Leaving our boards and travel-bag with the wonderfully sweet Jani at our hotel in El Tunco we drank down the last drops of farewell with our newfound international surf-family and took a shuttle west for a bit of culture(innit). Guatemala is the only Central American country which genuinely retains some indigenous culture. Mayan villages, peoples, language, dress and customs remain surprisingly intact, particularly in the highlands, uncorrupted by the inexorable Yank-ification which, via CIA militia-funding and corporate colonialism, has already consumed most surrounding countries. It was this American colonial defiance which drew us first to Antigua, ironically to see a well—preserved Spanish colonial-town, then to Lake Atitlan for the real deal.

Despite the hordes of tourists that both of these ‘authentic’ sites attract their inherent beauty remained and enough real life weaved around the tourist-focused attractions for us to gain a sense that these were still living, thriving communities. Now they just have a $ boost from the gringo.

Hours after our departure from El Tunco a flash-flood consumed our hotel, sweeping cars and cattle down the street and out to sea. The river rose three metres within 30 minutes engulfing the ground floor in a swirling, swampy broth. Our bag had been stored in the ground-floor office of the hotel so we returned to a bag full of mud-drenched clothes, books, travel documents, notebooks, medical kit, toiletries and all the aide-memoirs we’ve been lugging around the world with us for nearly a year. As we sifted through our soiled, sorry possessions our heads and hearts dropped. The flood, and subsequent storms had scared off most itinerant surfers, the place was empty, the locals were rebuilding and repairing and our spirits were low. That evening we chatted, laboriously via google translate, with our still smiling, gun-toting, effusive night guard. He and his family of four lived a little further up stream and they, along with their neighbours, had lost pretty much everything. Their clothes, furniture TV, cooking equipment… everything. Only minutes after the water first crept under their door their two young boys were up to their necks and scrambling and swimming for their lives in the pitch darkness as the water continued to rise. Thankfully everyone in the area survived, but it put our measly inconvenience into perspective and shook us from our self-indulgent bourgeois despair.

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