Join us for Christmas Eve Service at 5 PM. No Sunday Service on Dec. 25.

A "Moment of Death" in Guatemala

How could I be so stupid? If I would have known what a big “gift” I was giving the boat driver, I would have at least said “God bless you” as I handed him the cash. It was a moment that lingers. Every time I think of it I get a little sick feeling in my stomach. I was ripped off.

 I was living for a short time in Antigua, Guatemala to study Spanish and immerse myself in Hispanic culture. I spoke little to no Spanish, but knew I wanted to learn. While I was there, I wanted to take a few daytrips to explore as much of Guatemala as possible. One of my trips was to Lake Atitlán.

I was on the bus on the way to Lake Atitlán and was excited and nervous all at the same time. I felt adventurous, independent, and streetwise. How many other 19 year olds were travelling Latin America on their own? I was sitting beside a European girl who was a bit older than me, and we were slightly embellishing our crazy travel adventures.
We arrived to Panajachel, a Mayan city on the lake, at about 11 a.m. The bus driver, in Spanish and English, announced that the bust would pull out at 5 p.m. whether everyone was on it or not. I did not want to miss the bus, as I only brought enough stuff for a day trip. I had six hours to explore and soak in the culture and scenery. I rushed down to the lake to catch the first boat I could. There are five or six main Mayan communities on the lake, and I wanted to visit as many as I could in the time I had. A boat was almost full and seemed to be pulling out. It was a small boat with about seven passengers on it. I ran out on the dock and motioned to the driver that I wanted to ride. He rattled off something in Spanish. Once, through hand gestures, broken Spanish, and the little English he knew, I was convinced that the boat was going to visit Mayan communities and return to Panajachel, I asked, “¿Cuánto cuesta?” Again, he rattled off something I did not understand. I thought I heard a number in there somewhere, and it was a high number. All I knew is that I had six hours to explore and take in the beauty of this remote volcanic lake. I had no time to waste. I heard a few tourists in the boat grumbling that they wished I would get in the boat so we could leave. Yeah, the price was high. However, it was a boat ride on one of the most beautiful volcanic lakes in the world. We were to visit each Mayan community. A boat, motor, and gas must cost a ton around Lake Atitlan, as they were commodities and not commonplace. When would I have this opportunity again? Am I going to let money prevent me from enjoying this adventure? If I do not get on this boat, who knows if I will find another that will be back before 5 p.m.? So I held out the money. Maybe it was what he asked for, or maybe he would shake his head and look at me like I was a fool. He smiled, took it, and helped me on the boat. I must have offered him enough.

I tried to forget the price I just paid to get on the boat. We headed to Santiago Atitlan, the largest Mayan lakeside community. The weather was perfect, and the lake was beautiful. I began to talk with a few European tourists on the boat. I took a picture of them with a volcano in the background, and they did the same for me. We commented on the grandness of the lake with the volcanoes soaring over it on each side. And then I heard the line that ruined my day. “Yeah,” said one tourist, “and to think we get this boat tour to each Mayan community all for $7. This would cost hundreds of dollars in Europe or the States.” My blood began to boil. I agreed that the price was phenomenal while sweat began pouring down my face. We were pulling up to a dock at Santiago while I was trying to keep myself from punching the boat driver in the face. What was I going to do? I did not speak Spanish, and there was no way that boat driver was going to return my money to me. I had just bought him a new boat and maybe a new house. Why had I let the murmuring in the boat force me into a rash decision? Why did I not verify the price with anyone in the boat before handing the driver my cash? Why didn’t I learn my numbers better before travelling?

I got off the boat in Santiago and it looked like a very nice place. We were to meet back at the boat in an hour. I was so furious that I caught the next boat back to Panajachel. I knew that, even though I more than paid for the boat tour, I did not want to spend all day with the boat driver. I also had heard that being on time is a bit relative in the Mayan culture. I was not convinced this boat tour would be back by 5 p.m. I had little money left for this trip and could not afford missing the bus back to Antigua. So, I took the next boat back, and when I stepped on the boat I handed the driver $7. On the way back I felt less independent. I felt less street-wise. I got back to Panajachel at probably 12:30 and had fish for lunch. I walked around and sat by the lake until the bus pulled out at 5 p.m.

I have beautiful pictures of Lake Atitlan. I “blessed” a boat driver and learned a few valuable lessons. To this day I have never told a soul how much I paid for a $7 boat ride. So, humbly, I will tell you that I paid a lot of money.
Posted in

No Comments