Adventures While House Sitting



Having completed our six month sit on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala we have rented this little gem for a couple of months.


With our house sitting assignment completed we were free to move.  A couple of months ago we found a nice lakeside rental for $350 a month and were very pleased it was still available when we needed it.  That price includes canoes, kayaks, utilities and the convenience of a worker that hauls away our compost and trash and delivers drinking water. The area is quiet with mature jungle vegetation and steep rock walls which prevent road sounds from reaching the well-manicured three acre property.  The house is conveniently accessed by lake or by descending one of three steep stone stairways which wind almost vertically up the lava boulder strewn hillside behind the house. In addition we have a fantastic view of the mountains that hem in the northwest side of the lake.  They remind me of the Sierra Mountains in California.

A few local fishermen spend their days fishing and crabbing in the small bay the house is tucked away in. It is very quiet and private as there are no other lakeside homes in this area. Unlike the place we house sat this house is easy to clean with smooth surfaced cement floors and counters and I even have a traditional cement clothes washing facility out back.  The only disappointment is that the shower water does not get hot.  Many gringo homes in Guatemala are outfitted with electric shower heads which provide warm, not hot water.

The home has a nice glassed in entry, cool storage pantry, kitchen and bedroom on the first floor and open floor design on the second story with lots of windows and an outdoor patio.  The beds are comfy and there is more than enough furniture plus everything one needs in the kitchen. The house is tastefully decorated with Angelika’s art and Guatemala weavings and carvings.

When moving day arrived, we hired Nicolas to transport our goods from one side of the bay to the other.  Nicolas arrived at nine AM on a beautiful day with a three man Koyuko.  Nicolas’s consideration included  layers of dried corn husks and other plant matter strewn across the bottom of the ‘boat’ in order to absorb the water which inevitably seeps in through the cracks of the one inch wooden planked sides.

Nicolas and David hauled two loads to our new home and then Nicolas and I hauled the last load while David unpacked at the new place. The south wind or Xocomil begins to blow around ten AM and sometimes is dangerously strong whipping the lake into a white capped frenzy. Today the lake had eighteen inch swells but they were pleasant not choppy. The koyuko rode low in the water as it was pretty loaded but Nicolas is one of the best lake travelers in Santiago and I feel safe with him even though the koyukos are generally in bad shape and look like they could just fall apart at any moment.  For me it is a bit spooky traveling over water 285 feet deep. I imagine all kinds of strange aquatic and as yet undiscovered creatures actively living their secret lives below the realm of air.

We are renting from Angelika a very well-known Guatemalan artist and book illustrator. Her husband, Vinny, is the author of the books they collaborate on.  Angelika is originally from Germany but moved to Guatemala the same year I moved to Alaska (1980).  Angelika and Vinny (originally from Colorado) recently built a second rental home. The entire home cost $15,000.  In the states the cost to build an identical home would have been about triple that price. Here the homes are custom built using intensive hand labor and porters to move the supplies up and down the stone walkways, by boat and through fields.  What would be considered high-end custom glass and wood work in the states is just a part of the regular Guatemalan building process. Soon the new $350 a month house will be occupied by its first tenants. They are a Canadian couple we have spent a couple of pleasant afternoons with.

Since our rental is located near Santiago our social life has vastly improved as we meet more and more expats and have time for friendships we had established while housesitting. According to the locals there are approximately fifty two expats living in the Santiago area.

We have been at the new house for over a week now and have yet to experience a day without company.  We usually brew up tea and coffee and sit out on the second story patio and chat.  Often the conversations between our guests lapse into Spanish. David and I pick up bits and pieces.  I can’t help but be amazed at the Spanish speaking skills the non-Spanish expats have.  But then again most of them moved here between twenty to thirty years ago so they have had a lot of practice and Spanish seems to be their first language now.

Conversations usually include the unbelievably cheap but professional health care, the cost of living, how people acquired their property, their Tz’utujil guardians and laborers, the best places to eat and shop, what they do for a living (most are artists and entrepreneurs), the programs they have initiated to help the indigenous peoples, the level of the lake over the years, Christianity, Catholicism and the Mayan religion.

In the afternoons, with my new coffee tree walking stick (David made for me) and my camera, I walk through the fields of corn, cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers.  The volcanoes are often in full view and I catch glimpses of the sparkling lake surface as I tread the white volcanic paths.  The farmers are very friendly. Occasionally David walks with me and we are often invited into people’s homes where we learn more about the area over hot coffee.

Since we are no longer land locked as we were at the house-sit, we feel very privileged to be able to hail one of many tuk-tuks and ride into Santiago.  The ride costs 3Q for one person or 5Q for two people. That is 36 – 61 cents.

We are still semi-responsible for the home we were housesitting; handling the owners needs and training new sitters while Cynthia is still absent but otherwise we are free to roam and visit and rest.

In the mornings we sit on the second story patio and watch fish underwater and the bird activity above the water with binoculars. So far we have had only two scorpions visit and a few stray dogs that sit outside of the entry hoping for a bit of food. We are very glad to have this time to socialize, go to church, run errands and take outings with little forethought or expense. We can feel our internal batteries recharging in anticipation of another busy Alaskan summer.

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