Gentle breezes rock the waiting boats. Each man sits in the rear slumped over the hand built motors. Taken from the inside of a lawnmower or car, the dead give-away is the ‘Victa’ or ‘Toyota’ written on the side. The boys, usually their eldest sons run up and down the front of the boat and onto the beach, reaching for your hand.


‘San Marcos’

‘Santa Lucia’

They yell the names of their destinations at you; what the heck, they’d tell you anything if you flashed American dollars at them.

Pulling away from each chocolate hand I head for the last and quietest of the boats. It has only the driver and he looks kind of awake. In my best Spanish I ask which boat will take me to ‘los pyramidas’ the pyramids.

Bouncing to life he leaps to the front of the boat ‘charter, you want charter, Juan take you anywhere on the lake, anywhere.He’s already untying the ropes in his mad smile of assistance.

“Thank you Juan, but I want taxi.”

He deflates like a punctured balloon. Throwing his arm to the side he subsides into Spanish.

“Alla” (“there”) he says, shaking his head and looking so forlorn that you’d think I just stabbed his mother, and now he can’t bear the sight of me, for want of stabbing me back. I enter the boat Juan pointed to and as the young boy pulls me on board he gives me that ‘I knew it was my boat you needed’ look. He’s an old man in a boy’s body.

There are already two passengers, we only need three more to leave, but it doesn’t stop the driver trying.

“Charter?” he asks me, eyebrows raised expectantly.

“Taxi” I answer, and pull out a book for the wait. The beauty of Guatemala and the constant noise lure me away from the words though, and I can’t concentrate in the awe; mountains rise dramatically around all sides of this gigantic crater lake. Mists and clouds hang low about the water. Lake Toba takes up so much space that it actually generates waves rolling up the sand. The green is so deep it’s four-dimensional; forests and jungle rule every available space. It still feels as if we humans are the intruders here, with our little settlements dotting the bank, unable to hold back Mother Nature. They are almost an abomination of the wild serenity. The cacophony of birds and animals drown the voices of the boys as they continue to drum up business. The depth and darkness of the lake, sky and jungle are broken by the furious flight of giant red-green and blue-yellow macaws.

It’s a place to believe in magic and I do, how I do.

It’s locals who join us – two fat women in their brightly woven cropped jackets and full gathered skirts – like moving tapestries they seem, and I am the only foreigner on board.

Their four children include a scowling teenager, but the rest are those itty-bitty big eyed beauties who melt your heart with their cuteness; these half Indian half Spanish babies are the most adorable in the world. The boat is so dangerously overloaded that ripples are washing over the side and onto my legs, the coolness invigorating me.

I am sitting on the left at the back, and I lean right out over the water watching my changing reflection so the man has enough room to wind the rope around and pull start the motor.

We hum out to the centre of the lake and here the water is a perfect mirror, still. Turning to the right, water splashing in and I’m all giggles that we’re still afloat. San Marcos, our destination, enlarges itself from the dot it was and takes on the fractured beauty of it’s hut houses and pueblo hippy hostels.

I have and haven’t picked the best time to come. You see I hate hippies. I really, really hate them. This year the ‘Rainbow’ an annual global gathering of all hippies, is in Costa Rica, and they start hitching, walking and bumming their way down from America about three months beforehand. So we’ve all collided here, on Lake Toba at about the same time: but I didn’t run, I faced my fear, all thise hippies, after all as they sing in the song:

“I’m a rainbow too”.

The fog descends as we pull alongside the old jetty. I have only a tiny glimpse of the pyramids before they become obscured by the mist, but I’m excited enough.

The locals climb up to the jetty, the older women throwing the babies and toddlers up to the scowling teenager and the boat boy, and then shuffle off. I notice they didn’t pay, but think nothing of it. I stand and try to move forward but the driver grabs the back of my daypack, pulling me backward, off balance.

“Denero” (“Money”) he yells at me.

“Un momento” (“One moment”) I say, steadying myself. I had asked around yesterday about the price of the boats – it was 2 quetzals for locals and 5 for foreigners. Fair deal I think and pull 5 quetzals from the purse around my neck and hand it to the boy. He throws it on the floor of the boat and spits on me.

“Vente quetzals” he yells at me “pagar por la otra gente” Twenty quetzals he is saying, you will pay for the other people. I am astonished and shaking my head, mouth open. I pull out another 5 quetzals and throw it at the boy. The scowling teenager is still on the pier, barring my exit from the boat, the driver and boat boy are advancing on me from the front and back of the boat, their Spanish so rapid, I no longer understand. I am frozen for a moment before I realize they are going to rob me. The boatman realizes I’m going to jump to the jetty almost as soon as I do, and steps back to flip the motor in reverse. I jump anyway and land, the front of my right foot on the landing and my arm wrapped around the pole jutting up, so most of my body weight is over the water where the boat was two seconds ago. The teenager comes toward me and with my free hand I release the knife from my belt and wave it at him. That’s enough for him. It’s all fun and games robbing foreigners, especially five foot short insignificant looking females, but when they pull a knife on you and you can see in their eyes they’ll use it. Well, it must have been a bit daunting, so he ran. He ran fast.

The boat boy has a hold of my backpack and is pulling me towards the boat into the water. I am not ready to heave myself upwards and risk ripping it – it holds all my rolls of film for the past 4 months of traveling, my camera and my precious diary.

Spanish is the most fascinating language in the world, they have a million names for facial expressions and emotions that we don’t have in English. I think I am able to feel more because I have more names for each expression now, but the best that I can explain of that moment, when I turned my head to catch his gaze, was nothing. It was the most hollow, skeletal, blank expression I have ever seen. Though this man-boy had a steel grip on my pack, there was no exertion, no animation in his face, nothing in his eyes. So I smiled.

I just smiled and raised my knife to swing it back like a pendulum. He must’ve read the ‘I don’t want to do this, but I will’ look in my eye, as I swing the knife down to cut his hand holding me, because at the last second he let go and fell back, still expressionless. I pull my weight forward to the pole and try and balance above the water. The boatman revved in reverse and in English now yells that I will never get back, he will tell all other boats not to bring me back, that I will be stuck here in San Marcos.

I swing up onto the jetty finally, take my daypack off and place it between my legs to check for rips. Everything’s ok and so am I. Though this was totally unexpected, I’ve dealt with worse situations and been more scarred. I stand shake off the bad feelings as best I can, and start walking, past Los Pyramidas, I’m no longer in the right state of mind for meditation at that moment.

I enter the plaza, which is at the centre of every Spanish influenced town, and take a seat on some steps to watch the local musicians on the other side of the plaza. I think that with the massive number of foreigners at this time that they may be busking. It’s the pan pipes that arrest me, the sound of wind on mountains.

I light up a cigarette and rest my back against the concrete step. A couple of hippies, loaded down with swags bearing everything they own, and a guitar, lumber toward me.

They sit beside me, only a short distance away and the dread-locked, bearded male asks if I could “Spare a cigarette”.

“Sure” I say and hand him one. Some hippies smell of patchouli, that lovely essence of nature. This couple smells of laziness – that pungent aroma of stale marijuana and smoke – of too lazy to wash. Lucky for me, I smoke cigarettes between showers and my olfactory sense is a little inhibited.

The small wiry female, who also has a lovely sun bleached birds nest for hair and so much jewellery that the tinkle and clang of her crystals and metal almost drown out the sound of the pipes from the other side of the plaza. She lets out a little cough, then another little cough.

I look at her and she is staring at my cigarette. My powerful instinct for deduction reasons that she would like me to offer her a cigarette too. Did I say earlier how much I hate hippies?

I have only two left. I am facing a twenty kilometre walk back to my hostel, around the lake (if there is a road), it’s 3pm and I’m without much money myself. If I can’t get a boat back I’m in a really bad postion, peniless, smokeless and a long walk ahead. The shock is also dissipating and I’m feeling anger brewing that those boat guys did not mind physically hurting me to get twenty quetzals – about $8 Australian. I’m angry that they threatened me. That they spat on me. What is this world coming too?

But I offer her my second last cigarette. She doesn’t even thank me.

“You’re not American” she alludes. I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question.

“No, I’m not” I add, just in case it’s the later.

They start with the normal questioning, “Where are you from?” And I tell them. They must be those special counselor hippies, here to fix the world, because they note that I’m answering very bluntly and short.

I try to explain “Look, I’ve just had a bad experience and I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment, so I’m just trying to relax and think through my options.”

“Tell us about it, maybe we can help” offers the female feral kid.

So I do. I relay the whole experience, including the options I have of getting back, hoping for a boat or walking.
Initially there’s no reaction. We sit silently, maybe there’s too few brain cells left for them to deduce that I’ve finished speaking, maybe they just weren’t listening. But I see the fists clenched against the knees of the male feral, and he bursts out, “You Babylonians, you’re all so concerned about your material possessions, you should’ve just shaken the pack off and let them have it, or paid the twenty quetzals, everything is what you own, you are just sooo attached to it, you just want to keep and own everything, Babylonians!” He yells this at me, threateningly.

Hell, I hadn’t been ready for the boat incident, but I definitely wasn’t ready for this. Some hippy with more stuff than I take with me on a years travel lecturing me about being a Babylonian. I’m inspired to say something about buying your own cigarettes but I bite my tongue.

“Are you heading to Costa Rica?” I ask instead, and the vacant expression softens, the
crazy hippy who’s just yelled at me, switches personalities.

“Yes” he says calmly,

“to the rainbow?” I push.

“Yes, yes” he says “Are you a rainbow?” he asks as he leans in for the customary double kiss on the cheeks of meeting other rainbows.

He is profusely sorry for screaming at me, he didn’t realise, with my washed hair, that I was โ€œone of themโ€. I am totally accepted now, I am one with them. He knows as I do that you must be a rainbow to know about the rainbow. We chatter on about the upcoming festival.

The rumble of an old car coming up the track triggers action, the girl hippy runs out into the road that cuts across our side of the plaza and tries to wave it down, but it is loaded up with people and produce and keeps on going. She comes to sit again, closer to me now, and I thank god the wind has changed direction and they are now down wind. I think I must’ve said something about not actually going to the rainbow because this dirty, smelly man launches back into his rant.

“I knew it! I knew you were a Babylonian!” It may also have been that he reached to take the last cigarette from my pack but I beat him to it and lit it up myself. “So close to a rainbow and you don’t even care if you miss it, it should be your life, you should learn to let go of this material world, BABYLONIAN!” he booms at me. “Eight dollars you couldn’t even give eight dollars to a struggling boatman.”

I want to say something about the hippies that have undermined these small local communities, with their drug-dealing and jewellery making, but I don’t.
I want to say something about how much stuff they have, twice as much as me.
I want to say that it’s idiots like them paying eight dollars for a 50 cent boat ride that put me in the situation I was just in.
I want to say a lot of things but we are interrupted by another rickety sedan. She has run out again and flagged him down.

“A donde var?” (“to where do you go?”) asks the driver. I wait for the hippies to answer, but they are dumbfounded. “Do you speak English?” they ask him. The driver shakes his head and roars off. I want to say something about that too, that they are traveling here unable to speak a word of Spanish, so I do.

“You don’t even speak Spanish?” I ask them.

“Of course not”, they answer “they should speak English, it’s the number one language in the world.”

That is just about as much as I can take. I am a traveller, I learn about cultures and languages, I love the differences in this world and I can’t believe these two unwashed, disease carrying drug users, who talk all the time and do nothing are lecturing me about being a Babylonian.

I crush out my cigarette in the film canister I collect the butts in (Note. I am environmentally aware, I am not a hippy) and stand, swinging my pack on, but my escape is impeded by another car. There is only one person in this vehicle and the whole back of the Ute is empty. The hippies could be in luck.

“A donde var?” the driver leans out and asks, the two ferals look at me imploringly.

“Ellos von eres sud.” They are going south, I tell the driver.

“Ellos no comprendez espanol?” They don’t speak Spanish? he asks me.

“Si, porque ellas nunca intiendez nada” Yes, because they don’t understand anything, I answer.

Like I said, Spanish has words for expressions that we don’t have, which means as well that they are very instinctive at reading expressions and tone. I think in that moment that driver read every emotion pulsing through my face. Frustration, despair, confusion, anger, shock and a thin veil of tolerance.

“Vamos” he says, “let’s go”, and I tell the hippies they have a ride.

They start picking up their heavy swags and heaving them into the pickup, placing the guitar on last and with care. The male walks around the front to jump in the cab and the female is trying to climb in the back – her long flowing skirt making it difficult.

The driver picks the exact right moment to pull away.

The girl has fallen backwards into the dust, legs in the air and underwear showing. The passenger door swings closed by itself as he accelerates. The hippy fella is obviously kicking those remaining brain cells into gear, but his body hasn’t registered, he looks like a mime artist pantomiming opening a car door. The car just isn’t there anymore.

Then they finally start chasing the disappearing car. The fog has finally lifted and the suns rays shining bright seem to follow behind them, up the hill.

I can’t help it, I yell after them “You Babylonians, so concerned about your material possessions”. As the Ute disappears with everything they own. It’s not just me who’s laughing, the buskers have laid down their instruments and there’s some hearty chuckles roaring across the plaza. They must’ve got the gist of our conversation over the last half hour and one of them has tears in his eyes he’s laughing so hard.

I flick them a five quetzal coin in their hat. The one with the biggest moustache, the pipe player, bends down and picks it up, reaching for my hand he places it back in mine. Covering it between his two hands in the universal gesture of giving, his large tummy, still quaking with laughter and says “thank you” to me. I obviously provided them with some entertainment too.

So I wander down to the pyramids and meditate in the gardens for an hour. When I reach the jetty a yellow all-stops taxi boat is approaching and I jump in, no problem, no questions. We stop off at two villages on the way to Panajachel, local hut villages, no tourist, no hippies. I have recaptured the same bright mood I had earlier, when I had entered the first boat. The sunset paints new and brighter pictures across the sky. A toucan breaks from the canopy, so funny looking and yet so graceful. The boatman asks only two quetzals from me, like i’m a local. I smile and hand it over, I jump out of the boat and slosh through the knee deep water to the shore, turn, smile and wave goodbye.

I’d rather be a Babylonian than a Hippy-crit any day.

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Hippy-crits, 9.6 out of 10 based on 5 ratings

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4 Responses to “Hippy-crits”

  1. Calum says:

    I really enjoyed that story. Keep them up and ill keep reading ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Teresa Shkvarchuk says:

    Such an entertaining read, and the ending definitely made me chuckle! Great meeting you on the Refugio Frey hike. You’ve got a new follower, so keep up the writing.

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  3. Bryan Eckerson says:

    Bahahhahahahahahaha! Fantastic!

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  4. Bryan Eckerson says:

    I meant 5 stars! Bloody touch screens. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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