Inspired by Guatemala

Travel Perspectives, Travel Writers & Books — By on April 23, 2008 at 7:51 am

So, what’s a reasonably successful, fiftysomething writer to do when her kids are grown and she finds herself falling in love with Guatemala? Well, buy a house and move there for part of the year. Why not? That’s the somewhat surprising turn that Joyce Maynard’s life took a few years ago, as described in this story.

To reach her favorite place in the world, Joyce Maynard flies for five hours from San Francisco, near her main home in Mill Valley, Calif. Then she is jostled for two and a half hours in a hired minivan over dusty two-lane roads beset by construction delays and clogged by buses spewing fumes. Finally, she boards a launch for a 45-minute ride to the tiny dock near her casa.

Ms. Maynard’s two-story wood and adobe second home perches on a green hillside just outside the village of San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, on the edge of Lake Atitlán, one of the deepest lakes in the Americas. Three dormant volcanoes, their peaks often clouded by mist, rim the southern shore of the lake, standing guard over the teal blue water. One of them, San Pedro, is perfectly framed in the view from Ms. Maynard’s bedroom balcony, but every window has a spectacular vista.

Stone steps curve gracefully down from the house, through tall wrought-iron gates, to Ms. Maynard’s own dock on the lake, from which she takes her daily swim. On the water, pale blue launches, called lanchas, ferry passengers from village to village. Fishermen drop lines from their cayucas, small wooden dugout boats with upturned prows.

It is here, somewhat to her own surprise, that Ms. Maynard spends up to four months a year, writing and running workshops for writers.

She had no intention of owning a home in Guatemala when she set out to travel there seven years ago with her daughter, Audrey, who was studying Spanish in a Guatemalan school. On her stone patio one recent morning, a tan Ms. Maynard, wearing a magenta camisole and khaki capris, recalled the conversation that changed the course of her life. “I said, ‘I so envy you, Aud, for getting to be here and study your Spanish,’ and she said, ‘What’s stopping you, Mama?’ ” Dramatic pause. “And I realized, ‘Nothing!’ ” …

“I was writing books, I was having a career, but the biggest adventure was watching them grow and launching them into the world, and they’re launched,” she said, stretching her arms wide with an incredulous laugh. “I had a bit of a crisis figuring out what could possibly be an adventure after that.”

The adventure turned out to be San Marcos, west of Guatemala City in the central highlands. The village is poor. Its indigenous Maya population of 2,500 lives in one-room pueblos and cooks over open fires. Tiny adobe markets called tiendas stock a few staples. Women in traditional dress sit with baskets along the dirt and cobblestone paths, accepting quetzales, the local currency, for their avocados, potatoes, onions and eggs.

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