If you’re sitting in some cafe in Haight-Ashbury and wondering to yourself where all the hippies have gone (like the REAL hippies, not the third-generation-urban-outfit-wearing posers), well, I have an answer for that: Guatemala. While Guatemala doesn’t even register on most people’s radars (“like, is that a city in Mexico?” – is the usual question I get from friends back home) it’s apparently, like, the ‘in’ place to run away to if you’re into yoga, meditation or marijuana.
My mom and I discovered this when we visited San Pedro, which is this lake-side village in the Guatemalan mountains; about three hours outside of the capital.
Besides the heaps of Israeli restaurants (a sure sign there are hippies nearby), there were free yoga and meditation classes, AA meetings, an organic grocery store filled with imported health food and a reiki massage center. And intermixed into all of that (lest you forget where you were for a minute, and mistook San Pedro for Woodstock) were the Guatemalans. If I had stayed there longer, I would have loved to have asked some of them what they thought about all grungy gringos that had taken over their village. According to my ferry boat captain (a native of San Pedro) he loved them.
“I love the hippies. Lots of paaaarties,” he said, laughing. And then he tried to sell me some weed.
But the head of the tourist information center thought differently. “Mech,” he said making a face. “Those heeepeees!” He shook his head. “You shouldn’t go to San Pedro. It’s not real Guatemala.”
Maybe it’s not real Guatemala, but I definitely want to go back. Besides the fact that every hotel room has a private balcony that overlooks the lake, it’s peaceful and quiet there. And dirt cheap.
My friend who lives across the lake, in another hippie village called Panahachel, says that a lot of the expats in Guatemala are Americans who’re running from the law. I got a chance to meet some of them at an expat bar. They were those same boozed, aging, leather-jacket-wearing bums you find outside of biker bars begging for change or cigarettes, only this time around they were begging for change and cigarettes in Spanish next to a lake that borders a jungle and two volcanoes. It was trippy, in a ‘I’ve just wandered into some weird parallel universe’ sorta way.
Not to suggest that they all the expats living around Lago de Atitlan are vagrant crooks. Many of them are vagrant artists, entrepreneurs or drug dealers, (ha! I’m only kidding).