Guatemala, VW Camper Vans and a Return To School
San Pedro La Laguna Travel Blog› entry 3 of 5 › view all entries
We left San Cristobal and Mexico early one morning about a month ago and headed to Guatemala and specifically a town called Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The trip took slightly longer than expected and lasted slightly longer than planned. At one point the driver added a few extra seconds to the duration by deliberately swerving off course to run over one of the many loose chickens on the side of the road. This was quite a barbaric act but somewhat unsurprising in a place where animal cruelty is fairly widespread and we have seen people attack stray dogs with sticks. The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful but we had to stop on a number of occasions due to landslides blocking the road.
We arrived in Panajachel and stayed in a nice hotel but after a couple of days we decided that the town wasn't really what we had expected so we took a boat over the lake to the smaller town of San Pedro, where we stayed for a few weeks. This town is really nice and seems to only have a couple of proper roads, to get to most of the bars or rerstaurants you have to follow a series of winding dirt tracks. San Pedro sits on the side of the stunning lake atitlan which covers 128 square kilometres and is surrounded by mountains and volcanos. The lake is nearly always perfectly still and there are rarely more than a couple of boats on it not including the small wooden canoes that the local fisherman use to fish for black bass. On a few occasions I hired a canoe and paddled out to the centre of the lake and simply sat and absorbed the beauty and tranquility that surrounded me.
We had planned to do a Spanish school in Antigua but as it was half the price in San Pedro and we really liked the place so we enrolled at la escuella cooperativa for two weeks of one on one tuition for four hours a day.
One night we visited the local thermal baths where we sat in a big stone bathtub full of hot water that had been heated through the day by the sun. These baths are outside and we went late in the evening so we could only see a few feet in the light generated by a few candles on the edge. It was a pleasant experience but God knows what kind of creepy crawly things were attracted by the heat and joined us. Most days we spent in San Pedro we purchased a nice big slab of the greatest chocolate cake ever off a local woman who carried it around in a huge plastic tub. In the end this was a factor in our departure as we felt that staying any longer would mean purchasing new clothes with extended waistlines. For our last night we went to a bizarre thanks giving dinner with a Scottish girl called Sonya who we had met at the school. It was nice to have some roast turkey and all the trimmings although the hosts offer of "All you can eat." turned out to mean "You get one plate of food and no seconds." We followed the meal and strong punch with a few beers around a campfire in a bar where two Americans got out a guitar and harmonica and started playing the blues. They weren't half bad either.
The next morning we got up at 6am to meet some friends who were giving us a lift to Antigua in a 35 year old VW camper van, which was on its last legs. When the van arrived it already had four people in it and the driver was the only one of them that had been to bed. The pungant smell of the night befores beer and liquor wasn't helping our already sore heads. The van broke down for the first time trying to get up a near vertical slope halfway up a mountain, so we wedged a stone behind a back tire and myself, an Irishman called Rory, and the drunkest Canadian I have ever met called Francois started pushing whilst the driver put as much pressure on the accelerator as possible. The third time this happened the driver could not afford to stop to let us in as we would never get going again so I had to run as fast as I could along side the van for about 100 metres until I was able to throw myself inside whilst still on the move. Although the scenery around us was some of the most beautiful we have ever witnessed we certainly were feeling the affects of the night befores food and drink and from what we have heard Francois started feeling the affects too later that day.
We arrived in Antigua around midday and found it to be very similar to San Cristobal although it seems richer and unfortunately there is a sense of less local culture and customs. We are staying in a hostel called the Black Cat where you get a nice free breakfast, which is good. We started talking to one of the guys that works here and it turns out that he went to the same primary school as Angie in Giffnock and was probably in the year above her sister Debbie in high school. This, coupled with my meeting, in San Pedro, with a friend from my halls at uni shows that it is indeed a small world.
Yesterday we climbed the active volcano Pacaya. We saw an amazing sunset with the fading sun barely visible through the plumes of smoke billowing out of various parts of the volcano. In the last remnants of the days lights we made our way up along a hardened river of lava, with our feet burning the whole time, due to the tremendous heat coming through the rocks. We eventually reached some bright red flowing lava, which was truly one of the most incredible and beautiful things I have ever seen and we both feel very honoured to have been close enough to it to poke a stick in which immediately sparked into flame. Sadly, on the unbelievably dangerous, dark but still wonderful way down the volcano, we were followed by a big American girl, who spoke at a ridiculous volume (not uncommon in Americans) relentlessly for ninety minutes. This yet again reminded me of the truth in the age old notion that there is 'no pleasure without pain!'