Living the Lake Life

San Pedro La Laguna Travel Blog

 › entry 12 of 36 › view all entries

Living the Lake Life

The nicest places hide the ugliest faces; at least straight-shooting shit towns can be commended for honesty. Antigua is regarded as Guatemala's jewel, a safe haven for tourists, an upper class enclave sheltered from poverty by looming volcanos. It is, in fact, a rich and rewarding city. By day. Night, however, introduces sinister elements, exaggerated or not by a litany of accounts of armed robberies and shootings targeting tourists and Guatemaltecos alike. The vibrant colors, crowded calles and avenues are muted at dusk, disparate realities that each forswear the other illusory.

Of all the places I've been, nowhere has an after-hours excursion felt so risky. For first impression's sake, it doesn't help that I was abused and intimidated in Spanish by a drunk thirty-plus thug and his crew of midget teenage minions. It is exceedingly uncomfortable when you're the only non-Spanish speaker in a bar after 1am, the streets are deserted and you have blocks to walk to your hostel, and the only word you understand from the rapidfire procession is "narcotráfico." Each repetition of narcotráfico, which is at least once per breath for the speaker, is followed by crazed stares in your direction and the type of chest-puffing that usually indicates an an alien is busy hatching behind the rib cage. Especially when you're accompanying the one female in the bar -- who is quite attractive at that -- the lone circumstance that has drawn the ire of the ponytail and wife-beater sporting wannabe-kingpin having a conversation through your very solid body, a fact proven when he rather forcefully drops a slice of lime into your chest. When you turn in bewilderment because someone mistook your chest for a Corona bottle and meet a stare befitting the next MTV Reality Competition, Ultimate Mad-Dogging, it's truly comically childish. Or so it is in retrospect, less so in the moment you're drinking just to dull the pain of the inevitable beating.

Poala and I emerged unscathed, hardened for battle with active Volcán de Pacaya, frequented everyday by hordes of hikers who, hungered by the steep, demanding ascent, hope for another's misstep, which, in the presence of lava rivers, amounts to an impromptu barbecue. Lava is awesome. It oozes and glows and flows and radiates heat to roast marshmallows and melt rubber soles, or, given a misstep, takes souls. The climb itself -- loose, rocky footing a broken ankle waiting to happen -- was a cakewalk compared to navigating my treacherous hostel room at Antigua's Black Cat. Simply reaching the ladder to my bunk involved more maneuvers than most Olympic gymnasts have in their repertoires, prancing and dancing around and atop bags and bundles stacked and splayed over the rare floor tile not already covered by beds.

The morning after climbing the volcano and conquering the unlit journey into my bunkbed --also after realizing delicious, inexpensive eats by food cart arrive in Antigua only during holidays -- I bused to backpacker favorite Lago de Atitlán, taking a lancha from Panajachel to San Pedro La Laguna. Atitlán is a massive lake in Guatemala's western highlands -- San Pedro sits at over 1600m -- picturesque towns sprinkled about its shores, all encompassed by pristine green peaks and climbing volcanoes, often cloud-enveloped, the dramatic landscape studded as if with prehistoric terrestrial welts from Pterodactyl-sized mosquitos tasked with exaggerating the earth.

San Pedro is an interesting blend of Maya and drug cultures, with more hippies than I'd prefer. Hippies who run restaurants touting renditions of the favorite international food, proving universally bland, but simple appearance on a menu sufficient to convince stoned munchies, thus the proliferation of shit restaurants stealing tourists' dollars from local establishments. I'm pround to report I support the Q$6 Papuseria, which qualifies as international cuisine by a single border, but is authentically executed. Likewise, I support the Bready Bunch, a pair of smiling kids accosting all whiteys with baskets brimming with mini-loaves of fresh-baked pan: de coco, banano, zanahoria y manzana, of which the fruit-chunk-filled manzana reigns supreme.

Since arriving in Antigua, though, I've adhered to a steady 50% bread diet, which is threatening a mid-intestinal traffic jam, not to mention a previously unimaginable indifference to pan. I plan to refrain from loaves for a few days, which should be easier after moving in with a host family today, beginning at least a week of Spanish language instruction (Corazón Maya Escuela) tomorrow morning. Even though the daily meals will invariably feature tortillas, I'd have to eat foot-high stacks with each meal to even compete the pounds of pan I've been downing daily. My banana fix will meanwhile be satisfied by Q$1.50 chocobananos: frozen bananas covered in millimeters of chocolate and affixed with bits of nuts, a healthier, cheaper, regularity-encouraging alternative.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!