There’s been an education. Another week of studying Spanish, this time deep in the lake-edge small-town rain-forest drama in San Andrés, El Petén. I’m going to go ahead, generalize, and say that a week of intensive in-country Spanish study is a lifetime.
In San Andrés, everything one person told me contradicted everything the other told me : the school building burned down two years ago because of faulty wiring or arson; it can’t be rebuilt because of lack of resources or lack of municipal permission; finca means farm and rancho means ranch or rancho means farm and finca means ranch. The town is one of those places I can find my way around immediately because the land climbs steeply up from the lake, and it’s hard to forget whether you’ve just hiked upwards or crept down.
In the forests that are so close to town, but not as close as they used to be, we saw columns of zampopos, farmer ants, marching along swept-clean ant-paths with their neat cutouts from leaves proudly held high – they carry the bits of leaves down into their hills and wait until the leaves sprout the type of fungus that the ants eat.
We saw the zampopos first at Motul, then at Tikal, two Mayan ruin sites which are not the same amount of famous. We saw pyramids covered in earth and trees, pyramids excavated and reconstructed, astonishing carvings, stelae, tombstones, plazas, and this remarkable latex-producing fruit called cajones de caballo.
The archaeologist who just wrote a book on the flora of the Motul Reserve gave us a tour there, and we spent another afternoon with a traditional healer who was also the school director’s aunt and learned about medicinal properties of things like almond tree leaves and eggs laid by hens who live in the household instead of out and about.
One of our last nights in town, we were talking near the lake on a porch sheltered by tin roofing, when rain started up for the first time all week… we watched it, and listened, and waited for it to ease up so we could scuttle to bed. When it did, we stepped on to the street, and the street was dry. Only the edge was soaked, where water had flowed off the roof we’d been sitting under. The street dipped down and swelled up, and as we walked we felt rain at the higher parts, but none touched the ground. Fog was rolling in from the lake and collecting on the lakeside slants of roofs to pool and drip to the ground, and each consecutive street of houses on the steep hillside, parallel one above the other, collected and pooled and dripped consecutive slices of fog out of the air.