Friday, September 09, 2005

Of apartment hunting, Lake Atitlan, and visa interviews

Life continues apace in Guatemala. We have been hosed multiple times on the apartment front, but we soldier on, as best we can. First we tried to reach an agreement on Apartment A, but the landlord refused to spend the money on the additional security measures the embassy requires for its employees' homes, i.e. screwing an extra 1/2 inch thick piece of plywood on the door and adding stronger hinges. So, we went on to Apartment B, which the landlord had conveniently not told us had already been rented by another new embassy employee a week before we saw it. Then we pleaded with Apartment A to put on the stupid $50 piece of plywood because we would surely be paying about $1000 more each month for the apartment than any Guatemalan would. She relented, but then the embassy decided the apartment was too big to fit embassy regulations. So now we're trying to figure out plan C. It seems like between the Kafkaesque government and the Dickensian landlords, we can't catch a break. In any case, we'll either convince the embassy that the apartment is really just a fine size for us, or move on to another apartment soon, and hopefully, hopefully, be moved in within a couple weeks.

In more pleasant news, we went to Lake Atitlan for the long weekend. It's a deep, alpine lake, a lot like Lake Tahoe, ringed by a series of small towns. We stayed in San Marcos la Laguna, which we soon discovered to be the hippie-new-age-crystal-power center of Guatemala. We stayed in some very cool stone cottages right near the lake. Other than a spur from the highway circling the lake that heads into the main square, there are not many roads in San Marcos; all the other buildings are reached only by footpath. Across the footpath from the stone cottages was the "Las Pyramides," a spiritual retreat complete with a little skeletal Cheops that a paying guest could sit under and, I suppose, absorb pyramid-based spiritual power. Also nearby was a pizza place that served the best pizza we've had yet in Guatemala, which lured us in with an evening showing of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." This isolated pizza shop had somehow acquired a DVD that had both the aforementioned feature and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on a single disc, with distorted pictures and nearly unintelligible audio. For the sake of the Commercial Section of the embassy, and it's strong concern for protection of US copyright, I won't speculate on the legality of said DVD.

More interestingly, the pizzeria also had what I believe to be the World's Fattest Dog. This dog was apparently a mutt, but looked vaguely beagle-like, except it was buried under so much fat, you couldn't really tell. The dog sat curled up at the door, motionless, until the Italian-accented owner of the pizzeria started clearing away dishes as the credits rolled on the entirely legitimate DVD. Our friend Kate, who enjoyed the pizza and entertainment with us that night, is one of those people who doesn't eat the cheeseless crusts of her pizza. I personally saw that dog eat the entire circular crust of her 12" pizza in a matter of seconds, and can only imagine how many pizza-equivalents that dog eats in a day.

Oh, what made me think of the pizza place is that it had a sign near the door, amidst others advertising tours or hotels or whatnot, that read: "Land for sale in San Marcos. Great location, 1 acre, perfect for house or business. THIS LAND HAS HEALING ENERGY. Call 555-1212." I was about to buy, but The Economist said that the housing bubble is about to burst, so I decided to grab up some land with HEALING ENERGY in a couple years, when it's more reasonably valued.

Anyway, the lake was nice. We kayaked. Kayaking was great, and we wanted to do it the next day, so we asked the guy when his little kayak rental shack would open, and he said he'd be there at 8:00 AM. So we showed up at 8:30 and then again at 9:30, and he wasn't there. But kayaking on a lake surrounded by volcanos was pretty sweet.

My job interviewing visa applicants is actually pretty interesting. At least so far. Today, for example, I interviewed a guy who was going to the US only so he could get on a cruise ship to work as a waiter; a woman who claimed God had spoken to her through a prophet and told her to go to the US; a guy going to represent Guatemala in a Tae Kwon Do competition (a couple days ago I interviewed two girls competing in the 10- and 12-year-old brackets at an inline roller skating competition); and a woman suspected of alien smuggling while working for the US embassy. So far, only one person has told me to go to hell when I denied her visa application.

That's about it from here now. I'm sure that's about all you ever wanted to know about the dogs and DVDs of San Marcos. And yet, I will regale you with tales of adventure from Guatemala again soon.

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