Hotel of dreams

Our reason for moving to Guatemala has finally been made official: my parents have purchased a property with some old houses we are converting into a small hotel in Santa Catarina Palopó. It’s a charming place on Lake Atitlán, with big changes coming. And the property itself is a sturdy old turd that I am going to polish into a sparkling diamond.

Town square




The town is a lovely, lively little hub during the day. But it really comes alive at night. Roosters crow intermittently, all night long. Nightfall, midnight, the witching hour, before sunrise, sunrise. Dogs bark incessantly. All kinds of barking: crying, baying, howling, yapping, snapping, snarling. Sometimes they’re mating, usually they’re fighting. Whichever it is, all the other dogs in town gather to watch and encourage. It’s a lot of unnecessary animal noise that I believe could be resolved through regular beatings.

We are currently living in one of the houses on the property. One perk is that my mother is also living in one, next door. The other morning she entered our bedroom in her bathrobe, ‘like Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond’ (her words). She wishes I would unpack faster. She does not understand why I organized the kitchen that way. Also why is there no Diet Coke ever. But she has purchased a sofabed and groceries, so.

My tiny white daughter acts imperiously to her impossibly kind local nanny. This has been a surprise. I keep expecting to hear her demand to be dressed like Mary in The Secret Garden. I’m not sure what to do about this except tell her to be nice, since she can’t quite grasp the concept of colonialism’s toxic legacy, which she is actively, albeit unwittingly, perpetuating. Mostly I tell her ‘no’ and leave the room.

“But who’s going to dress me?”

Sadly, I have fewer photos than I would like. Unless I make a conscious effort to leave the house with a camera, much of daily life goes undocumented. My current smartphone is called a Nitro 4S. It was “new” and came in a yellowed rubber case. The reason I have this phone is that my UK iPhone was stolen my second weekend here, outside our Guatemala City hotel, by a shoeshine boy. He stole my purse, which contained the phone, my US iPhone, a Guatemala Nokia, my driver’s license, and my sunglasses. I complained loudly to hotel management, my family, and the other shoeshine boys. (He was not found.) A few days later, a friend called my Guatemalan phone and attempted to shame the new owner. (The phone was not returned.)

Part of the charm of life here is that it is never certain; every day is an ‘adventure’, they say. I am learning to see it this way. For example, last week we were caught in a ‘manifestacion’. A protest. It stretched throughout the day and changed locations, surprising you at all times and everywhere. Listening to the strikers’ calls for justice and human rights was moving, as was the respect their fellow countrymen, held up on the roads for hours, extended to them. These people fought a decades-long civil war to earn the right to be heard and they deserve to exercise that right to the fullest extent.

And while they made their voices heard, my frozen chicken defrosted in a bloody puddle on my lap in the back of a public transport flatbed.

Beans for dinner. Viva la revolución!

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