In the summer of 1995 I took what I consider my first real solo adventure and came to Guatemala to go to Spanish school in a little village called San Andres, on the Lago Peten Itza. We’ve spent over a week on this lake and hadn’t yet been to San Andres. The area has changed a bit – 20 years ago the only real way to get to San Andres was via little public lanchas, large motorboats that shuttled between the two sides of the lake. I fully expected to be able to hop on a lancha and visit my former host family and see the school where I first studied Spanish.
On one of our first days in Flores, we were shocked at the quoted price of 200Q ($24) for the ride across the lake. Apparently in the past 20 years there have been road improvements, making it possible for buses to get to San Andres, making the public lanchas obsolete. So it took us a week to finally agree to pay $24 for a 30-minute boat ride to see where I had spent 3 weeks.
The village itself has changed as well with improvements to the waterside: a nice public square and promenade area. After some confusion I managed to find the street where I had lived with Nidia Fion and her 3 children, Siomara, Romero, and Teresa. There was a group of women sitting on the corner and I asked them if they knew where we could find the family. They exchanged strange glances with each other that said something was off. I asked if she’d died and they said yes, 9 months ago, in a terrible incident. The group we had asked was Nidia’s family. I didn’t quite catch what Nidia’s sister was telling me about what happened but maybe her husband killed her. This wasn’t quite the reunion I was envisioning. The sister graciously let us walk around the outside of the house and I took pictures of the rooftops of where I had lived. The house had been improved since I was there, though I could still see the roofs of the little outhouse and my stand-alone room where I had slept. We didn’t go inside the compound so I couldn’t check out the interior.
We then walked to where I remembered the school being and found a burned out shell. I’d heard that it was burned but I just assumed it had been rebuilt. Not so – it was just walls, no roofs, and the beautiful airy classroom with the fantastic view over the lake was an empty space overgrown with weeds.
It was kind of a sad visit, not at all what I imagined, where I would sit down with Nidia and chat with her fluently, then head over to the school and make them proud that I was now speaking fluently, thanks to their teaching 20 years ago.
To top it all off, we’re quite certain that the pig who lived in the house next door to Nidia’s has also been eaten.