Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lanchas y Pantalones/Boats and Pants

One overcast and mild afternoon after my Spanish class, I took a boat to Panajachel.  The reason being that I was having problems with the ATM here in San Pedro and needed to withdraw money.  San Pedro is small enough to be home to only two ATM machines, both belonging to the same bank.  The one I used wasn’t accepting my card and I had heard suspicious rumors about the other ATM machine thus warranting a little afternoon trip to another town on Lake Atitlan called Panajachel.  It was a relaxing afternoon filled with wandering around stalls looking at artisan’s wares, shoving a few delicious coconut macaroons down my gullet, and trying on cheap sunglasses as I’m in the market for a new pair.  The latter being an unsuccessful attempt at buying said merchandise, as it was cloudy out and spitting rain, not the best day to test out sunglasses.

I’d had my eye on a certain style of pants you can buy here in Guatemala.  If you’ve ever been to Thailand and seen the ubiquitous fisherman pants adorning every market, this is the equivalent in Guatemala.  I don’t know if they actually have a name though, like the Thai fisherman pants do.  They are kind of like a pair of pants and a skirt combined with lots of excess fabric but they have legs and elastic around the ankles and waist.   You can adjust the pant legs since the ends are elastic to make them long or short, very versatile.  I refer to them as hippie pants and they look really cool on some people, functional and comfortable with adequate air flow.  I passed a stall that had those pants in a nice striped pattern that I liked.  I started chatting with the woman and asked her if it was possible to try the pants on.  She said, of course, grabbed a large piece of fabric and held it in front of me.  Oh, I thought, just right here on the side of the street with people walking by?  What if she dropped the fabric by accident?  What if a big gust of wind picked up?  Bah, I though, when in Rome…or when in Panajachel, I guess.  I slipped the pants on and looked down at myself.  There wasn’t a mirror handy and all I could think was, my god, I look like I’m wearing MC Hammer pants!  Needless to say, they did not lend themselves favorably to me. 

“Ohhh muy bonita…” the woman practically purred at me.  These pants manage to look great and trendy on some people but on me they looked buffoonish.  I felt like a clown, all I needed was some oversized shoes and a red nose, maybe a rainbow wig.  Had I ever felt the need to clone myself five times, all of me would still fit in these pants and I daresay that woman probably says the exact same thing to everyone who shops at her stall.  A shrewd businesswoman just trying to make a sale, I would never blame her for trying. 

All I could think about was what my mom’s reaction to these pants would be.  I couldn’t ask for a better person than her when I need an opinion because she’s acutely honest and I love her for that.  I imagined myself descending the staircase at my parent’s house wearing these Guatemalan hippie pants donned for some spring occasion like a little BBQ on their patio with my dad, my sister and brother-in-law.  She would look up from the salad she was making, start smirking and say something along the lines of, “What do you have on, Bek?  Do you plan on going out in public like that?  You look like you have a load in your pants.”  Said “load” meaning poo.  The crotch is meant to hang low, really low, down to your ankles low, hence the skirt/pant combo, but I really felt like, had I had a load in my pants, these would be the best ones to wear.  And considering I just got over a bout of parasites claiming territories in my digestive track, I could probably use a pair of pants to cover up any unforeseen and immediate attacks that may occur in the future.  But I digress.  The pants looked utterly ridiculous on me or rather I felt ridiculous in them, the hippie pants would have to be a no-go.  With my mom’s voice in my head, I wandered away thinking about the time I returned from studying abroad in New Zealand with a nose ring.  She hugged me at the airport and the first thing out of her mouth, as she fluttered her hand near my nose was, “uhhh, when are you going to take that out?”  I smiled and laughed out loud, as I do when I think of my mom and her “mom-isms.”

I sauntered around a few other stalls but here’s the thing; I have a slight phobia of shopping here.  I do not like, allow me repeat this, I do not like when the person who is selling the merchandise stands at your heels and breathes on you as you look at their wares.  Literally, some are relentless and will follow you around and comment on everything you touch or even look at, “I make good price special for you.  Here are more colors, more patterns.”  Bullshit, buddy, you make special price for everyone and I’m no fool.  Having someone stand right next to me with a seemingly running commentary on everything I lay my eyes on annoys and frustrates me to no end.  And when I’m annoyed and frustrated, I’m not going to buy things from that vendor.  They are an overbearing in-law.  And when you go to leave without buying anything they make you feel guilty, “you don’t like anything?”  It’s not that I don’t like anything, it’s that you’re following me around like you’re a dog and I’ve got a raw steak in my back pocket.  

I like to be ignored quite frankly, until I come to you and ask how much something is.  I loathe bargaining.  As an American, brought up to shop in places that have price tags, I’m no good at it.  I will pay the first amount that is said simply because I’m afraid of insulting someone and I’m a total pushover in the bargaining department.  I’m a merchandise seller’s wet dream really; I’m weak and lack control of the situation.  I simply like price tags, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that except the fact that I get stressed when I have to bargain, sweating profusely and smiling uncomfortably as I timidly ask for a cheaper price. 

I left Panajachel empty handed, slightly sad that the hippie pants looked like I had taken a sail off of a boat and wrapped it around my waist.  They were baggy enough to have caught some wind and propel back me back to San Pedro had I bought them.  It’s important to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing and not feel like you’re a leftover backup dancer from the hey days of MC Hammer.  I got to the dock in time for one of the last boats in the late afternoon heading back to San Pedro.  These boats aren’t that big, they squish in about 30 people.  I sat at the stern and looked to my left.  I did a double take.  Whoa, a boat was half sunk in the water and there were 10 or 15 men wrangling with it like it was an errant animal escaped from the zoo.  The bow was above water and the stern and motor were almost all but sunk in the water.  But that’s not necessarily why I did a double take. 

I did a double take because one of the guys who was in and out of the water struggling with the boat didn’t have pants on.  Just a shirt and his underwear and not any ol’ underwear, mind you, but blue Superman tightie whities with that wonderful red and yellow Superman emblem brazenly flashing center stage.  I looked around to see if anyone else was noticing Superman and if anyone else found this as comical as I did.  Was this a machismo thing?  Did he just not want to get his pants wet?  Was he embarrassed or proud that there were at least 50 people watching his heroic efforts whilst clad only in his Superman tightie whities?  He seemed to be one of the guys in control of the sinking boat, trying to lift the motor out of the water alone much like the real Superman would do.  It was obvious he was never going to achieve this goal on his own, however.  The boat had sunk too far and the waves were too strong.  I looked up at the embankment that several other men were standing on with a rope trying to haul the boat up.  There too, another guy with only his underwear on!  What was the deal?  Why?  He wasn’t even in the water!  And upon closer inspection, there were actually several more guys helping with the boat in just their underwear, all tightie whities, no boxers or boxer briefs.  Some in the water and some out of the water.  It’d be one thing if the boat had sunk in the middle of the lake and you removed your pants to lighten the load while you swam to shore but we were at shore already.  And none of them seemed phased by it.  “Oh, Juan, we’ve got a sinking boat at the dock, get your pants off, will ya?”  And then something like, “And where’s Superman?  He’s usually game for this.” 

If you are of the mindset that everything happens for a reason, then this happened to me because I needed a good laugh that day.  I was stressed about my card not working in San Pedro.  My initial thought when the machine rejected my card being, “Oh. My. God.  I am going to be stuck here forever.  I’ll never be able to get money out of an ATM ever again and I will have no money and never be able to leave.  I’m going to have to live here and I don’t even have cash to rent a room and I’m going to starve because I can’t buy any food because I can’t get money out of this goddamn ATM.”  So Superman was a welcome, if not slightly bewildering, sight.  Also in case you’re wondering, the ATM in Panajachel worked and also no, I never think irrationally when I’m stressing about something.  Never.  Not in a million years.   

Views from a little private beach I hiked to 


  1. You light up my life! UD

  2. So glad you didn't get those ridiculous pants. I know the ones you're referring to. So. Glad.