Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Taxi Boat Rides in Guatemala

One of my absolute favorite things in San Marcos La Laguna de Atitlan is taking the taxi boat rides. The lake house where we’re staying in Guatemala has it’s own dock. It just requires some patience, some aggressive hand waving (or whistling if you can) to get the attention of the small boat operators who will gladly take you to your destination. Each boat can carry 10-12 people with small cargo (wood for the kitchen, goods for the market, luggage). A boat ripples through the lake every 20 minutes or so…depending on the day, depending on the weather. Each boat ride, a unique experience like eating oysters, each oyster offering a slightly different taste, a slightly different texture.

For as little as 10 quetzal ($1.25), you can experience the beauty of the volcanoes against mountains, the jungle green landscapes, the lavish lakeside properties, all while gliding on water.

One Sunday, we’re heading back from Panajachel (one of the largest towns on Lake Atitlan boasting a high rise hotel and ATMs).

The boy and I are amidst a group of tourists. There’s a backpacking couple speaking hebrew. A group of 6 spaniards infusing the air with castellano. As each person climbs inside the taxi boat, their voice and presence takes away the boat’s ballast, leaving instead a buzz of loud, graceless words and sounds, a frenetic energy like a drone of bees descending on flowers. I hide disdain behind black wayfarers. The problem with tourists is that I am one.

There’s a mayan family. They step forth as light as songbirds. The woman has on a black and purple weaved tapestry of a skirt and blouse, a purple headband neatly tucks her black hair in an up-do. Her 2 children, a boy and girl sit at the front of the boat. Both children chew on bubble gum observing the tourists, a collection of bugs. The husband wears a cap, a backpack on his shoulders, he takes his place next to his wife. They whisper and sit on the first row of seats.

The last passenger on the boat is an older british woman carrying a small orange life jacket and her 2 year old bundle. The girl has a cherub face, short black bangs; a little mayan diva in denim. Mother and daughter not bond by blood but by name. The little girl escapes her mommy’s protective lap preferring a seat next to the older playmates.

The engine starts. The mommy lunges and snatches her baby girl; the girl cries out hysterically, not wanting her place on this woman’s lap. The mournful cries become even louder and sharper as the blue boat casts off the shores of Panajachel.

On this day, the lake is agitated disrupting the innocent naps of creatures beneath.

Today, we do not glide. The engine propels the boat faster. It takes air, and it’s ka-thump, thump…bottoms lift off of seats. Bodies involuntarily move forth, then hold firm on steady legs. 

It’s starting to rain.

Ka-thump, thump! At each lift, oxygen pours in. The mouth gasps wind, water splashes on face. A momentary baptism. I’m no longer annoyed. The motion thumps me back to my body. Each thump, an opportunity for gravity to deliver us whole again, unified in muscle and being.

Finally, there is calm and silence as all bodies rock and rip through white waves on water.

Ka-thump, thump! I welcome, the smack back into the present state.

And there, from where I sit, I see the face of grace and love. The little boy, he’s being sprayed by rain and lake...water on eyes, pouring down from all sides.


He smiles back.

I see the face of jesus, the buddha, a glimpse into our own godliness.


I see my mother on her journey decades ago when she escaped our home country, Vietnam. Vuot bien. There she is by herself, amidst a group of men, women, and children, where I sit. The horizon ahead jolts and blurs. She's praying if she'll make it.

The mayan woman takes a weaved fabric from under her arms, unfolds it and offers a piece of the cloth to the British woman to cover her baby girl, now deep in sleep.

Why is it so important to be in your body? My spiritual teacher once asked me.

To move with the tides of life that carry us so.

To move through motions that anoint us whole.

Everyone on their own destination. Everyone inside this blue boat. Being carried by the winds of fate. Something has shifted.

I no longer feel like a tourist.


By Mai Brehaut


The boy waiting for the taxi boat
me and the bro on the mekong in 2008

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