Guatemala, VW Camper Vans and a Return To School

San Pedro La Laguna Travel Blog

 › entry 3 of 5 › view all entries
Ruben At My School

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.

View From A Broken Down Camper Van

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.

Lava
The lake was so still that when, on a rare occasion, a boat did pass, I was able to catch up with the small waves that were created and allow then to carry my canoe along as if I was surfing. Once, I jumped out into the clear water but the sight of my canoe drifting in the other direction soon had me frantically trying to get back into it. This was much to the amusement of Angela, who had surpressed her fear of all water and joined me on the lake. In San Pedro we stayed in a hotel in a double bedroom with a private bathroom and a spectactular view over the town, the lake and the mountains. This kind of luxury does not come cheap of course and we found it difficult to part with one pound fifty each a night!!!

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.

View From A Volcano
Our lessons were in little thatched huts over looking the lake. My teacher was a guy my age called Ruben and we got on really well, mainly because of our mutual love for football, although he prefered to play basketball, to my amusement as he was about four feet tall. Angie had an older teacher called Antonio who was also a good teacher. They got on well but I think that the fact that he was male and a fair bit older made it harder for them to bond. That said, Angie started the course with a better understanding of Spanish than me and she also finished the course with a better understanding even though (most people won't believe this as I managed to fail a PE degree of all things on the first attempt.) I was doing extra homework than I was being set!!!! Bleddyn and Hursty will probably remember my work ethic from Uni assignments, I was even sober this time. I found it hard to learn some of the Spanish due to my lack of knowledge of my own language. My teacher would often say  in Spanish that certain rules only apllied when the adjective came before the verb and I would sit, smile and nod but at the same time be thinking "What in hell, is an adjective?" To be honest I still don't know. 

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!'

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Ruben At My School
Ruben At My School
View From A Broken Down Camper Van
View From A Broken Down Camper Van
Lava
Lava
View From A Volcano
View From A Volcano