Walkabout, Space Cookies, Guatemala, Central America, 2013

PSST, LADY, YOU WANT A SPACE COOKIE? (GUATEMALA)

You know that moment we are all seeking as travelers? You know, the one where you arrive somewhere, immediately forget about how much you need to stretch your legs or go to the toilet, and you just look around in awe, take it all in and think: “That, ladies and gentleman, is my next Facebook cover photo”. Well I had one of those when I arrived at Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. It was a sunset after the rain, at the beginning of June, and the myriad of colours were slowly retreating behind two volcanoes whilst we were hustled onto the last boat across the lake. At least I think we were being hustled on, but I couldn’t be sure as I don’t speak a word of Spanish, which makes everything just a bit more exotic. As we were whooshing across the lake to the hostel in Santa Cruz I thought to myself: “The only thing that could make this boat trip better would be weed-laden space cookies!!”

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How fortuitous, as the very next day a purveyor of these delicious treats found me wandering the streets of one of the many Mayan villages that dapple the shores of the vast lake. I am not sure what she said, but I heard it as: “Psst, hey little lady, yes you!  You look like you reside on the shady side of the street. Would you like to buy a delicious and very special cookie, which will also support the local economy?”  Well, if it was to support the local economy, how could I say no? “Five please.” Which was lucky, as that day a very large flock of predominately middle aged, squawking women travelers had arrived at the hostel, and as there was no escape from the village after dark, these cookies provided an avenue for retreat. Each afternoon after my adventures—such as worshipping Maximon, “The God of Drunkards and Gamblers,” in a village living room—I would take a cup of tea, sit by the dock and eat my cookie, timing it so that I was very, very hungry by dinner time. My only other option for company that was not part of the squawking flock was a docile ginger fellow who grappled daily with the intricacies of a very complex card game called Shithead. And then I met Tracy.

I was in full astronaut mode when I met Tracy (who was there for the diving), so it is understandable that seeing she bared a vague resemblance to one of my best friends from home, I thought that it actually was one of my best friends from home playing a trick on me—for three days—but I was reluctant to broach the subject as she was just so good at Shithead. The day after I met Tracy, we met a guy called Richard who arrived at the hostel with his mother and sister. He had too much facial hair and an idiotic hat, but enough potential to warrant further investigation, so I engineered to sit with him at dinner. His mother was immediately impressed by my eating capabilities and commented how nice it was to see a girl with a healthy appetite. This prompted to me to tell her the story of the little old lady who sold me space cookies, and how “when in Rome…” (I am not actually sure what it is that they do in Rome aside from getting shat on by pigeons whilst paying extortionate prices for coffee.) Next thing you know, I had set up a date for the next day with the object of my desire’s mum, with Tracy as my wingman to hopefully laugh at all my hilarious jokes, with an assumption that Richard would come along, and with the missions of riding a chicken bus and picking up more space cookies (the main form of public transport in Guatemala is disused, souped-up American children’s school buses, where passengers are crowded in like chickens).

The next morning we all set off, and I was perhaps overly cautious, taking my back-up-throw-away-wallet. But I needn’t have been, as sitting next to me on the chicken bus was a very young woman with her wide-eyed baby. Thinking it was a perfect time to demonstrate my maternal tendencies, I cooed at the baby; but rather than gurgling and giggling, her eyes welled up with tears momentarily before she started screaming: it was like she had seen the cookie monster.  Out of our group, I was the only one that was not slightly amused, and hopefully Tracy was laughing uncontrollably because she thought I had planned it and she was being a good wingman. We then stopped for lunch, where lots of Mayan children were trying to sell us friendship bracelets and hair ties. Richard kindly pointed out to them that I was looking to buy gifts to take home, and I had just taken four hundred dollars out of the ATM. This caused me a world of awkwardness, and I liked it! After lunch we had our final stop of picking up our cookies in San Pedro.

As the boats only go in one direction (clockwise I think) you are unable to take direct routes unless you pay for a private boat, so even though San Pedro was the next village, we had to take the long way around, and I was relieved to see the cookie lady was still where she had been before. She was so happy to see me, and I felt that, even though we did not share a language, we had built a rapport. As we shook hands her gold-toothed smile said: “Nice doing business with you, gringa, I charged you five times too much,” and mine said, “Thank you so much, kind Mayan cookie lady, I know I paid too much, but I probably would have paid five times more.” After we had purchased what remained of her cookies, we scurried for the last boat, took a seat, and before I could say to Richard’s sister and mum, “Careful, they are quite strong, so make sure you only eat half,” they had gobbled up a whole cookie each. Oops.

It was not long into the boat ride when it occurred to me that boats stopped running early during the rainy season as the storms transpire in the afternoon, and on this particular afternoon it went from a light sprinkle to a torrential downpour in no time. The boat was full of both tourists and locals, lightning was striking very close to the boat, and I astutely realized it was not a daily occurrence when a local man grabbed a life jacket after seeing water coming through the floor. I was momentarily afraid, and I think I might have tried to flirt with Richard, something about a big strong man making me feel safe, but he did not hear it over the storm, or he wisely chose not to respond. To say “we” felt relieved to get back to the hostel would be incorrect, as I don’t think Richard’s mum and sister even noticed it had been raining before going into their rooms and disappearing for the night. By dinner time I had managed to embellish on the story, which had gone from being caught in a little rain to a near death experience on a rickety boat in a third world country.

The next day when I came down to breakfast the family was gone. I don’t know if the previous day counted as a date, probably not. Not only was Richard unaware that I had amorous intentions, I had made a baby cry before drugging his mother and sister and taking them on the boat ride from hell. At least I thought he would say, "Adios!" On the flip side, I did have a new partner in crime, as Tracy and I were heading to Antigua together that day, unbeknownst to Tracy, with a pocketful of space cookies, and I had forty likes on my new cover photo.