I was sitting on the porch of a hostel telling a story to some backpackers from the US, in Recife, Brazil. I was explaining to them about a German friend of mine that lives in Guatemala, and how he lives in a remote village with a pure indigenous Mayan population. Out of the blue, a girl sitting at a table behind us interrupted me. “Excuse me…. you know Hans?” I froze for a moment, and then turned around, “do you know Hans?” I asked without answering her. I was in disbelief, this girl knew of my German friend in Guatemala. This comes as a complete shock, Hans is a hermit, he is not a popular guy, and he only speaks when it is necessary. He is not an ostentatious type of person. Not to mention, he lives in a rural village with a population of about 200, which is only accessible by boat. We both stood up and started laughing and smiled at each other. “Small world,” I said to her.
I was so shocked at the coincidence that I unintentionally and abruptly ended my conversation with the other Americans, and I sat down with her at her table. She told me that she was from Florida, but had lived in Guatemala for three years in the past. She said that Hans had helped her when she was lost in the Mountains on a motorcycle somewhere between Lake Atitlan and Antigua. I had a similar story, I had met Hans when I was in Mexico, crossing into Guatemala, some money changers had ripped me off, Hans chased one of them down and got some of my money back. He had helped both of us out when we were in a pinch.
Hans is about 50 years old, 6 feet 3 inches tall, and has a long red beard. He is an electrician by trade. The last I knew, he spends 3 months out the year working in Germany, and the remaining 9 months of the year in Jaibalito, Guatemala.
After Hans helped me to get my money back from the changers in Mexico, he invited me to go to see his home on Lake Atitlan. This was back in 2003, and I was on a self-paced backpacking trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, to the Panama Canal. (All by a series of buses.) I agreed and went with him. He explained that he was in Mexico because he didn’t have a residence visa for Guatemala, so he needed to cross the border every 90 days for 72 hours to avoid breaking the immigration laws.
Upon arrival at Hans’ home, I was in dismay at the rustic and pristine area he lived in. He appeared to be the only foreigner in this indigenous lakeside village. He had built his home by hand, using mortar and large field stones that he and locals had gathered. Flowers, fruit trees, and plants surrounded his home. It was such a secluded paradise. Hans was welcomed into this village with open arms by the Mayan people, because of his demeanor. He rarely speaks, but his actions are pure and he works hard and with his hands. He even spoke the indigenous dialect known as Kaqchikel.
One night Hans, a friend of his from Norway, and I were sitting outside of his home chatting when we heard what sounded like screaming and a mob of people approaching his home. Through the trees I could see lights and wondered if the locals were invading us. Hans stood up and grabbed his flashlight. The bell at the gate started ringing, so all three of us went down to see what was happening. It looked like half of the village was standing in front of the stone wall in front of his home. Two men were yelling at each other and, three men stayed between them to keep them separate. They were speaking in Kaqchikel. One man seemed like the moderator, he spoke to Hans, and then Hans spoke to each of the men that looked upset. They then both spoke to Hans and he listened intently. After which Hans spoke again. Everybody seemed to calm down and eventually the two men shook hands and everybody left.
It turned out that one of the men had heard that the other man had slept with his wife, so he went to this mans house and stole some of the mans property in return. They both had been arguing in the street and the little village was in an uproar. The man who was a moderator suggested that they go to Hans to have him sort out the problem. Hans listened and gave his input, he told the man to give back the stolen property, and he said that he needed to have proof before accusing somebody of sleeping with his wife. The other guy clearly denied touching this mans wife.
Hans is very educated, patient, and a highly capable guy when it comes to working with his hands. I think that when he moved to this remote village he began doing favors and teaching people some of his skills. He employs local woman and children to tend to his crops and his home. His values have rubbed off on some of the young folks that work for him. He is very well-respected. Two villages away by boat, there is a city called Panajachel, when you go there looking for a water taxi, you tell them you want to go to Jaibalito, sometimes the driver will joke and say, you mean HANSbalito. He has nearly become the honorary mayor of this tiny village.
From the time I first met Hans, I have gone back to visit him three times. Once I even brought my mother when we were on vacation. If you look at him, he appears strange because of his beard and quiet demeanor, but if you are around him for long enough you cant help but admire this guy. I secretly wished my Mom would have taken a liking to him. She did, but not in a romantic way, which is understandable and wishful thinking.
(Back to Brazil) The girl and I, at the hostel, sat for about two hours telling our stories about Hans and our admiration for his way of life. We were so shocked, because he was somebody that had influenced both of our lives, so we felt a strong connection. About every ten minutes one of us would say. “Gosh, I cannot believe you know Hans,” followed by a huge smile on both of our faces. After our conversation, we exchanged emails and promised that whoever makes it to Guatemala next would pass our greetings along to Hans from the other. It really is a small world.