August 2010: It’s 6:00 am at Panajachel’s west dock. I was waiting for the water taxi to bring me to the other side of Lake Atitlan in order to hike up Volcán San Pedro (9,900 ft) before noon.
My thoughts were that the strenuous hike would be the major highlight of the day. It turns out that the boat ride, which made stops at all the tiny villages along the shore of Atitlan, was just as memorable.
There are less non-Guatemalans in this area since most visitors rightfully head toward Antigua Guatemala or Tikal, so at the second water taxi stop when the pale Caucasian woman with jet black hair boarded the boat with her toddler, it was hard for me not to notice. They sat behind me.
After the boat began moving again, she politely tapped my shoulder and asked in a thickly German-accented English if I was Chinese. I replied that I am American, but yes, I am ethnically Chinese. It turns out she recently moved to Guatemala with her Chinese husband after 5 years in Shanghai. Since moving, her son has had few occasions to use his Chinese, and she asked if I spoke Chinese. And after I replied yes, she graciously asked if I wouldn’t mind conversing with them in Chinese until they got off at their stop in San Marcos for yoga class. Chinese was the last language I expected to speak in the Highlands of Guatemala, but it made for a memorable morning.