A trippy hippy island and a frightening encounter.

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The chants didn’t quite skip across the water, they bounded across the lake. The darkness served only to compound the spiritual bombardment emanating from the loud speakers on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

Our boat slid across the oil-slick bay, as if floating on a wave of divine inspiration. We disembarked and picked our way through the narrow lanes of San Marcos with just the faint light of a tiny torch, trusting that some form of higher being would guide us to our lodging.

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Our faith was restored after we reached our private little eco-cabin at La Paz Hostel. It was here that we drifted to sleep to the tunes of wellness zealots who had found a new home in San Marcos.

The wellness zealots woke us before the sun and we decided to continue our personal transformation with a session of Yoga before breakfast. Feeling aligned and centred, we set off for a walk to San Pedro and its famous market.

As we ambled along the winding road which hugs the shores of the immensely picturesque Lago Atitlan, past fields of crops and scarred hillsides not yet recovered from the recent hurricane, we pondered the presence of so many westerners chasing enlightenment in San Marcos. We questioned whether any of the local people shared the passion for self-awareness and the quest for a metaphysical metamorphosis.

We were soon to find out.

The walk and the views had prompted a degree of introspection among all of us, but we were soon rudely awakened from this bliss.

Two young local men emerged from the bushes as we rounded a bend. They greeted us, and we responded. They then demanded money. We politely refused. They demanded again, in a more threatening tone. Again, we politely refused, trying to hide the panic in our voices. The locals insisted, and produced machetes. Big machetes. They pointed the machetes at us and repeated their demands for money, cameras – anything. We backed off and as much as we tried to remain calm and assertive. We were genuinely frightened that the carefully-sharpened edge of their machetes could soon part us with our valuables, or something much worse.

We turned, quickened our stride and walked back around the bend we had just passed, checking continually over our shoulders to see if they were following. The distant rumble of a motor vehicle and the menacing swoops of birds of prey overhead were the only other sounds on this quiet stretch of road.

Eventually, we put enough distance between ourselves and the opportunistic locals, who disappeared into the bushes.

A farmer on a rise above the bend looked up and was surprised to see us round the corner we had passed but moments earlier. He asked us what happened and then offered to walk us back to the nearest village – displaying his own large machete. No thanks.

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Dazed, shocked, frightened and jolted savagely from our tranquility, we stopped and regathered. It was only through sheer fortune that we had not been robbed, injured or worse. It was also through sheer fortune that the distant rumble of a motor vehicle belonged to a taxi which pulled up beside us. We hopped in, relieved to be driven the rest of the way to San Pedro.

A brief conversation with the locals on the bus did little to settle our jangled nerves. They told us that even they are reluctant to walk that stretch of road because of the threat of robbery.

Not quite the serenity we’d expected.

Image: Rachelle Blake

 

 

Which footballer would you sacrifice?

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Do you have a favourite football team, or a favourite team from any sport for that matter? Do you follow that team passionately and devotedly?

Is there a particular player in that team you really don’t like?

Do you call for the head of a player who you blame for costing your team the game, or the championship?

What if you could literally take the head of that player?

You might consider this practice extreme, barbaric, excessively cruel and impossible. But it happened. Many years ago, admittedly, but it was regular practice.

Sacrificing a player after a football match was apparently common practice among the Mayan people of Honduras. At least, it was according to a friendly guide at Copan Ruins, an ancient Mayan city in western Honduras.

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As we passed through the area which served as the ‘football field’ the guide claimed that a player would be sacrificed after every game of the sport which shared some features of modern day football and was a popular form of entertainment among the Mayan people of that era.

I sought clarification but he was drawn away by a fellow visitor to explain another aspect of the ruins. Thus, I don’t know why, or how, the player was sacrificed. Was it a player on the winning team, the losing team? Either way, it was strong motivation.

The last football game I attended, a Rugby League game in Australia, featured my beloved Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights. It was actually the first game of the new season and I was full of enthusiasm for my team after some wise recruiting during the off-season. The Sharkies lost, however, due largely to a few disastrous handling errors from one of our players.

I know who I’d be sacrificing.

Images: Rachelle Blake

Step back in time.

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Everything stopped. Everyone fell silent. Candles flickered in the darkness and threw tempered light across the rows of fruit and vegetables lined up in the market stalls.

Thinly clad feet shuffled in the soft light and murmurs surfaced from unseen corners of the vast space. Whispers of an unfamiliar tongue slowly emerged. Soft laughter and truncated sentences.

The voices spoke K’iche’, and rolled off the tongues of local women dressed in the traditional clothing which draws thousands of people to the textile market in the small mountain town of ChiChocastenango in central Guatemala.

From our vantage point on the balcony of the first floor, we witnessed a rare sight. As a blackout plunged the hall into darkness, we gazed down upon a market operating as it would have done for hundreds of years. Local people speaking their indigenous language, to the light of the candles, dressed in traditional clothing and selling produce from the land which has sustained them for generations.

A fortunate experience indeed.

Image: Rachelle Blake

 

 

 

The none too subtle art of photographing people.

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Travel offers countless opportunities to take wonderful photos. Exploration of new frontiers allows us to perfectly capture landscapes, architecture, cuisine, monuments, ruins, culture…and people.

Most visitors yearn for a keepsake image of local people in traditional attire, but capturing such an image can be problematic.

During a trip through Central America, my travel buddies and I wanted some photos of elderly Guatemalan men in traditional clothing in the villages on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

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We were mindful of keeping our distance, aware that the men may not like to be put on the spot with the request for a photo. We also wanted to photograph the men in their natural setting. Most of all though, we wanted to photograph the men because they looked so stylish.

The question was, though, how do we take a photo of the men? We could ask them to pose, but that seemed disrespectful and the photos were likely to look stilted – and we had no interest in being in the photos ourselves as we were dressed in the clothes that had served us during the last 3 months of backpacking.

We decided that two of us would pretend to pose, near our subject, while the other took the photo. The photographer would point the camera at us and just happen to catch the man in the frame.

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Despite our concerted efforts to appear natural and innocent, most of the men knew they were being photographed. One seemed displeased, others unconcerned and a few shot us a small knowing grin as they saw us fail to hide our own laughter.

We persevered with this charade for some time, and only captured a few images. We felt more foolish with each attempt and decided that enough was enough. It was time to get the bus back to the hostel.

At the bus stop, what did we find? A number of local gentlemen on their way home, looking extremely dapper. This time, my two travel buddies brushed off their fledgling Spanish and asked the men for a photo.

The men happily obliged.

I guess another thing that travel teaches you is that anywhere in the world, no man can resist the charms of two attractive young women.