I don’t like alarm clocks, never have. Whether early or late, I prefer waking up naturally. Less than a hundred yards from my room is the mother of all alarm clocks, dual church bells, tuned to a particularly annoying dissonant interval. At 6:30 every morning the bells are rung, at first slowly–one then the other–gradually picking up speed over the course of a few minutes to a frenzied finale. For good measure the ringing is repeated at 6:45 and 7:00. I usually go back to sleep, which just means I have to endure a rude awakening three times a morning, rather than just once.
Guatemalans are early risers (I blame uncomfortable beds) and their day is well under way by 6:30. As far as I can tell, the bells serve no purpose. Maybe there is an early Mass–I’ve never gotten up at that hour to check.
Maybe the Church, as an institution, has the same attitude about sleeping during daylight hours my father did. Even as an adult I would get calls from him at ungodly hours of the morning for no particular reason. “Are you awake?” he’d ask without hint of apology.
Mike’s coffee shop, the Crossroads Cafe, and their house, right above the shop, is even closer to the bells than my room is. But Mike and family have already been up and at it for a long time by the time the bells ring. The coffee shop doesn’t open until 9 a.m., however, so if I get up much before that I have to start the day doing something besides nursing a cup of coffee. I’m pretty grumpy after being woke up three times in a row, so it is safest to start off with the coffee.
The town is filling up with people here for the holiday weekend. Most of the action in Panajachel is on one main street, which runs directly down to the lakefront. It is lined with restaurants and stalls selling all kinds of Guatemalan tourist stuff. Some of it is authentic and quite good. But much of it is not. Most tourists can’t tell the difference.
There is one particular tablecloth kind of thing which is colorful, but very badly made. Tourists buy a ton of them. A few years ago one Mayan vendor asked Faye and I what the name for them was in English. We said “Crapola,” with as straight a face as possible. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to catch on.
Fireworks are a big seller right now. Lots of tables are piled high with explosive devices, from little poppers children throw on the ground in front of unwary pedestrians, to huge creations that can only be described as bombs. I used to buy the biggest ones I could find, but now they are so big that it feels dangerous even looking at them.
For my friend Mike, there is no such thing as too big. The more firepower the better. On Sunday night he will be in charge of the third annual fireworks extravaganza at a nearby resort hotel. I was there for the first one. This morning I saw some of his preparations for Sunday’s show. I will try to take some pictures, but I may have to do it from a bunker.
Just in case any readers are concerned about the money situation here (which is good practice for a cashless economy), I did manage to find one ATM in town with some money in it. I could identify the working ATM by the long line. I was afraid it would run out again before I got there, but it didn’t.
The banks wouldn’t even exchange Guatemalan currency for American dollars. A few days ago I got a small advance on a credit/debit card, but the banks were not doing that today either. It’s crazy. I heard a couple more rumors as to the reason for the shortage of cash, but nobody can say for sure. You can get by here pretty cheap if you have to. It is amazing how many fresh, hand made tortillas you can get for a quarter.