We bid farewell to Adam and Rach (not for the last time), jumped on our shuttle and headed for Lago Atitlán. It was, what we thought, an easy 2-3 hour drive. We had had torrential rain all night and on the way, we went through what seemed like a mountainous crossing and every hundred metres there was a significant car accident; at one point I am pretty sure a car had gone off the edge, judging by the people and their reactions on the side of the road.
There must have been at least 30 accidents in a 30/40km strip. It was extremely sad, but didn’t seem to have any effect on other drivers, who still sped around the hairpin turns with no barrier to keep them safe if they lost control. Our bus driver, luckily and for probably the first time this trip, was relatively sane and drove with actual caution.
Not soon enough, we arrived in Panajachel, the main town on the lake. We decided to stay here on Kiwi Mark’s recommendation. The weekend we were staying also fell on Semana Santa (Holy Week) and it was party time for Guatemaltecas, Pana was the place to be.
We arrived at Dream Boat, the Hostal Mark had set us up with, and were greeted with a long missed “ G’day mate, you Jess are ya?” Ah, the Aussie accent. So smooth, so subtle, so… something.
The guys who built and run dream boat are a couple of true blue Aussies, and a bunch of fun. They had been in Guatemala for a year and Dream Boat had been open for 8 or so months. It was a brilliant hostel, really clean, only 2 bunks per dorm and had a really nice set up for all the guests.
We made ourselves comfortable and caught up on some much needed relaxing/blogging/photo time before heading out to have a looksee at the lake and grab some food. Panajachel, it turned out, was a small place, the streets lined with markets and stalls (possibly erected for the Semana Santa and festival crowds but probably always there) and, pretty much, not another tourist in sight. Everyone that was here seemed to be guatematecas, which we loved.
Pana is the most built up of the towns surrounding Lago Atitlán. On the shore of Pana you can look out over the lake and grasp a view of the three surrounding volcanos, it really is a sight not to be missed.
That night we had a couple drinks with the boys, their philosophy in the hostel is to get everyone drunk at their bar, then take everyone out clubbing at 10/10.30 so everyone else in the hostel could sleep. It was brilliant! By 10pm, everyone had left and the hostel was as quiet as they came.
The next day we jumped on a boat and headed out to a few of the local villages surrounding the lake.
View From San Marcos Dock @ San Marcos La Laguna
First stop was San Marcos La Laguna, which is known to locals and tourists alike as the prettiest of the lakeside villages. San Marcos is also the hippy village, where “spiritual beings” (for lack of a nicer term) migrate here with the beliefs that San Marcos holds a spiritual energy, and therefore is the best place to learn/practice/teach things like yoga, holistic therapies, reiki, massage and all the rest of that sort of stuff. When I say that people migrate there, I don’t mean Guatemaltecas, it’s pretty much just internationals. So you can probably start to paint a picture of the harem pants with the crotch dropping to their ankles, the soft cloud of weed smoke hugging the street corners, and the insane people playing the same three chords on their guitar/tamborine/peruvian flute whilst repeatedly singing “yeaaaah, yeah yeah yeaaaah”. It was terrible but luckily it was indeed very pretty.
La Alfombra @ San Marcos La Laguna
Taking A Break @ San Marcos La Laguna
As we strolled through the one street village, the locals where creating “La Alfombra” leading through the main street to the church. Alfombra’s are religious givings in the form of carpets. They are about 2-3 meters wide and families create these beautifully coloured alfombra’s out of brightly coloured sawdust, flowers, fruits, candy and pine needles, throughout the village. Then, the villagers walk on the carpets (effectively destroying them) carrying floats representing Semana Santa.
Once we had stopped to take a few photos and stuck our head into the church, we headed back down a path where we stumbled across “the yoga forest” and a hostel that was overtaken by “hippies”. They are not real hippies, they are “new wave” hippies where it seems that what you wear seems equally important to the drugs you take and how spiritual you are. We made a beeline for the boats and decides to head somewhere a bit more sane.
Our second stop was San Juan La Laguna. This village was much bigger than San Marcos and a bit more “modern”. San Juan is special as the locals have created their own tourism draw by showcasing their local traditions such as weaving and art.
Here we followed a massive alfombra being created, encasing the village centre. It was incredible and enormous. It seemed as though the whole village had closed down, and everyone, of all ages, were all out on the street creating the alfombra. Families of all shapes and sizes, including some tourists that had created connections with these families through homestay’s etc were all having the best time together. It was a beautiful experience to see the passion and joy the villagers got from this creation for their religion, but also the art that some of these people were creating out of saw dust was just stunning.
Family Fun Making Alfombras @ San Juan La Laguna
Colourful Alfombra @ San Juan La Laguna
We managed to jump on the second to last boat, which ended up about 30 people over capacity, so I mean, that was fun and terrifying. Probably the best part about this boat trip was the variety of characters that got on the boat from San Marcos. One girl had forgotten her trousers, but had not forgotten to take a sufficient amount of drugs. She was so high, her eyes so wide and everything funny, then deadly serious. It was hard to watch, or hard to look away, I’m not really sure. She spent a while tying an imaginary bow above the person in front of her’s head. All the locals were laughing at her.
Colourful Sawdust @ San Juan La Laguna
The next day we headed to San Pedro La Laguna. This village is at the base of a volcano of the same name. Unfortunately due to bandits, the local volcano and neighbouring mountain “Indians nose” cannot be climbed without an escort. San Pedro is a popular village for tourists to stop and learn Spanish at one of the many local spanish schools, like our Aussie/Kiwi friends that we had met a couple weeks previous at the wine bar in San Cristobal, Bec and Adam. We checked out the town, which took all of 30 minutes before meeting up with Bec and Adam for a catch up drink. We picked a little bar and funny enough, ran smack bang into Mark, our friend who owns Kasa Kiwi, where we had just come from a couple days previous. In all of Guatemala and Belize, this was the 4th time we had stumbled across each other. San Pedro is also well known for its classes in fire twirling, painting and African drumming, again attracting a very particular type of traveller.
That night we wandered out to check out the local parade, where we were asked by a young local if we minded answering a few questions for her. She was an English student and extremely shy. We agreed as it was part of a project she had to complete and followed her into a little tienda. Her friend recorded us on a phone while she very quietly and nervously asked us, in English, some well rehearsed questions. As we answered, she managed to nail “oh yes, oh ok, that’s good”, we had the impression she had no idea what we were saying 99% of the time, and she just wanted to get through the questions.
During our interviews, we managed to miss the saddest parade in the world. All of the parades are very serious and sombre. We grabbed some dinner and headed back for a few drinks with Mark and the boys before they headed out to a concert.
Jumping The Alfombra @ San Juan La Laguna
A young German girl stumbled up the stairs and she looked as though she had had the day from hell. She had no reservation, no plan, no idea. The boys were completely booked out, so we offered one of our bunk beds to her. She was extremely greatfull and we had a bit of a chat with her. Turned out she was the most unorganised person we had come across yet. She had woken up that morning in San Cristobal and just followed someone from the same hostel onto the bus he was getting on. This was the same bus we had taken a few days prior, and trust me, it requires planning when you attempt to jump on a 12/13 hour bus with a border crossing. About an hour later she came wet and shivering into the room, “ I thought you said there was hot water” almost accusing me for the fact she had washed her hair and had a half an hour long shower in freezing cold water, instead of asking someone if there was a problem, or better yet, how to use the showers. There was hot water, but in Guatemala you have to learn how to use the tap, as it is a bit of a trick. Still, after being told the showers are hot, and continuing for as long as she did, I told her she had no one to blame but herself. Unfortunately she decided to head where we were heading the next day, Antigua, and do exactly as we were, go to spanish school. We decided to stop speaking before she asked/decided to join us for the rest of the year as well.
Getting Creative @ San Juan La Laguna
Art With Beans @ San Juan La Laguna
The next morning we woke up, luckily our shuttle was booked out, so crazy German girl stayed out for a few hours. We managed to wake up one staff member (at 9am), who settled our bill for us. We heard some stories about how another hostel manager had been arrested, how one of the girls got cheap drugs, how one girl was on stage because she kept flashing people… these were all staff of the hostel, typical party Aussies!
We jumped in our very late shuttle (Guatemalan time) and headed for Antigua. We are super excited by this point to stop for three weeks and learn Spanish! Never thought I would say that I was excited to start school, but here we are, giddy with excitement!
Lago de Atitlan is a completely stunning place to be, to the point we loosely made plans to come back if we had time during our weekends off from school in the coming month. It’s hard to remember being in such a stunningly scenic place.
Laters Atitlan, we are going back to school!
La Alfombra Outside San Pedro’s Main Church @ San Pedro La Laguna