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Erica's Travel Adventures

Lago Atitlan and Chichicastenango

GUATEMALA | Saturday, 2 February 2013 | Views [416] | Comments [1]

Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango


Thursday night before we left for the lake we went out for my friend Josey’s birthday.  Friday morning, we were exhausted and a few of us were struggling.  I spent 10 minutes looking for my camera that was already in my backpack (typical) and Dainia was pretty nauseous.  It was freezing and raining and not weather that any of us was expecting.  We got on the shuttle and I tried to sleep, but when the driver takes the turns at the same speed he takes the straights, it is sort of hard to stay in the same position.  I was not able to sleep.  Dainia got so sick that she threw up outside of the moving shuttle (luckily the windows were all shut except for her because it all went right back onto the back windows at which point John thought it was raining).  In hindsight she probably wasn’t hung over because a few of us were sick in the next few days, but it either way it was pretty awful.  Our driver was very nice about it and gave her some Dramamine for the rest of the ride, and one for the drive back.  We stopped to grab coffee and a snack on the way to the lake and then were dropped off at Hotel Garcia in the town of Panajachel. 

It was cold and gloomy when we got there, and I think everyone was pretty exhausted.  We dropped our stuff off in our rooms and went to grab lunch near the water.  We went towards what we assumed was the main strip of town (wrong) and looked for somewhere to eat.  A man who must have gotten commission for bringing people to restaurants spotted us from a mile away and dragged us towards various establishments.  It was slightly overwhelming having menus thrown in our faces, but after a quick walk around we decided on a place with a patio overlooking the water.  They had 30Q meals with fish, chicken, beef, or a vegetarian option so we figured we couldn’t go wrong.  As soon as we sat down, women came over trying to sell us scarves, hair wraps, bracelets, etc.  You name it, they wanted to sell it, and they were very persistent.  I felt very weird sitting with 7 other young adults in such a beautiful place while these women were desperate to make any sort of money.  The bracelets were literally 12 cents in American money.  I didn’t buy anything at first, but then 2 young girls came over to try, and so I bought some bracelets from those girls.  Throughout the whole meal there was a steady stream of salespeople.  

  Although the view was beautiful, the food was pretty nasty.  I don’t think anyone actually finished a meal.  It also started raining at the end of the meal so we paid quickly and left.  The view really was stunning though.  At first we thought we were going to go straight back to the hotel to take a nap, but we changed our minds collectively and ventured through some little outdoor shops.  Again, we were swarmed with people desperately trying to sell us anything we would buy.  It was really draining.  We were all a little disappointed because it seemed as though there was nothing to this little town until someone looked in a guidebook and realized we weren’t in the main area.

We walked through a few outdoor stands, and then a few of us decided we really were ready for a nap.  I slept for 3 hours!  I was in a room with Katie and Emily, and Emily actually slept for closer to 5 hours.  Sarah came into our room and dragged me and Katie out to actually check out the main market.  It had all of the typical things that are sold in the market in Antigua like bags, dolls, sweatshirts, blankets, decorative pieces, textiles, etc.  Katie bought a really beautiful hand-carved wooden chess set.  It was the Spanish vs. the Mayans and everything was very detailed.  The woman at the shop said it took her friend a month to make it.  Katie paid about $30 for it.  We walked around until we saw the sun was starting to set, and then we headed towards the water.  I took some amazing pictures of the sunset, but they can’t do the real thing justice.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  How ironic that one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen is filled with the ugliest poverty struggles I have ever witnessed. 

After the sunset, we sat down to get a drink and play cards.  A young boy there was trying very hard to sell us little stuffed animals, key chains etc.  He wouldn’t leave our table.  It occurred to me that he may get in trouble for not selling enough for the day or that maybe he doesn’t get to eat if he can’t make enough money.  I bought a couple of stuffed animals from him.  He looked so sad and desperate the whole time.  I felt awful. 

We figured we should wake Emily up before dinner, so Sarah, Katie, and I left to get her.  At the hotel we also picked up Eddie, another guy living at the volunteer hostel where Margot and Desi live, and two girls he was with so they came with us too.  Emily was awake and waiting for us.  We picked the others up from the bar and ventured back towards the main market to find a restaurant that might have better food than the one we had lunch at.  

We found a brightly lit, outdoor restaurant with live music playing.  It was clearly used to tourists and had a large selection of food.  I ordered nachos and was very excited for them, after not eating a very big lunch.  While waiting for our food (food takes a really long time at restaurants in Guatemala), various conversations came up.  Kim Kardashian came up somehow and one of the girls with Eddie that we all just met said that she has a lot of respect for the Kardashians because they are very good business people.  Strike one.  I figured it wasn’t worth my breath explaining to her that anyone who comes from that much money can more easily start a successful business than those without resources.  I also didn’t bother mentioning that there is more to life than one’s ability to start a business (although Katie did have a few, tactful things to say).  Then someone brought up that during lunch so many women tried to sell us things and this same girl said how rude it was of these women to bother us.  Strike two.  And actually, there was no strike three because her comment was so ignorant that she forfeited it.  I realized all of a sudden how embarrassing it must be for these people to stand there begging foreigners to buy their products as we eat our expensive meals.  And how nobody could possibly enjoy that.  And this girl called their culture rude.  Who knew survival could be misconstrued as rude.  Needless to say, I ate my nachos without saying much to my new little friend and was not very upset when I said goodnight to her.  After dinner we went back to the hotel to relax and go to bed because even after our naps we were still tired enough for an early night.

Saturday morning we woke up to a sunny, warm day.  I was very excited because it was my birthday, and the weather was beautiful!  We went to a cute little restaurant for breakfast (I ate some delicious pancakes) and then went to find a boat to take us to some other cities on the lake.  The lucky winner was a 21-year-old name Samuel.  He agreed to take us to Santa Catarina, Santa Cruz, San Marcos, and San Pedro for 50Q each.  They are all very small cities so we didn’t spend very long in any of them.  Our first stop was Santa Catarina, and we were only there for 45 minutes.  It is known for its indigenous population, and we got to watch women working on textiles and making blankets and scarves and various things.  They were all very friendly and didn’t mind if we watched or took pictures.  I bought a few cards with small textile patterns on them from some little girls in the market area.  There happened to be a motorbike race of some sort going on so we had to be careful walking in the streets, which was slightly alarming in narrow roads.  There was a man selling fresh coconuts, and we watched him cut them with a machete.  He said he hadn’t cut himself in 6 years and even then it was because the coconut was very small.  It was impressive to watch. 

Our next stop was Santa Cruz.  We heard that up the hill was a church.  I’m not sure what we expected, but our tourist brains flicked on and we headed up.  The hill was actually the side of a mountain.  I don’t know how long it took us to get up, but it was completely straight up the whole time for what felt like forever.  At the top, we saw the church.  It was simple, white, and nothing out of the ordinary.  I reassured myself that the exercise was good for me anyways, even if the church wasn’t extraordinary.  And the views of the lake were outstanding with the volcanoes in the background.  The water looked so crisp, and the clouds piled on top of the volcanoes really looked fake, they were so perfect.  By the time we reached the bottom of the “hill” we had just enough time to go to the bathroom and head back to the boat for our next excursion.

The third stop of the day was to San Marcos so that those who wanted to swim in the lake.  I didn’t bring my swimsuit so I didn’t go, which was fine anyways because the only way to get into the water was a 25 foot jump and I couldn’t be bothered to do it.  Only a few of us swam while the rest of us sat on the deck and relaxed.  I got an amazing phone call from Oshi, Dani, and Ari Farchi, singing a traditional happy birthday song in Spanish and wishing me a happy birthday.  I was so excited to hear their voices!  I miss them so much!  Desi, Emily, and I got bored sitting on the dock so we went to explore a little bit.  We did another unnecessary hike to nowhere and then ventured into the town area.  We didn’t get very far, but Oshi told me that San Marco is the holistic town at Lake Atitlan.  We saw a lot of advertisements for yoga classes. 

Finally, we made it to San Pedro where we were sleeping for the night.  We went to find a hostel that could accommodate 9 travelers.  The first one we went to could only take 4 or 5 so we went to another that assured us it could fit us all no problem.  In one room, Desi and I shared a bed (to be fair, it was a double) and Dainia slept in the other bed.  Eddy and John shared a double bed upstairs (the romance jokes were endless-I like traveling with foreigners who are more open minded and good natured about all kinds of relationships), and Sarah, Katie, and Margot shared another room.  Emily was first going to share a room with 2 random guys, but then she asked if she could just drag a mattress into our room.  After discovering there was no other mattress, the hostel gave Emily her very own tent to sleep in.  Don’t worry, we all paid full price (a whopping $6).  Once that was settled, we grabbed a very late lunch and went off to explore San Pedro.  We all broke off into smaller groups, which was nice for a couple of hours.  Sarah and I went for a nice walk, and then she went to grab a drink by the water.  I kept walking to look for Katie and Desi who went to lay out on the other end of the lake.  On the way I ran into John so we walked together, found Desi and Katie, and went back to the hostel.  We all met up there, watched another stunning sunset, and played some card games.  Then we had a late dinner at a restaurant across the street from the hostel.

After dinner Margot and I attempted to find a place to get ice cream, without success.  Then we ran into the other and everyone got mixed up again, and I ended up on another ice cream hunt with Desi.  We finally settled for pre packaged ice cream cones (still delicious).  We sat outside the store to eat, and we were next to a stray, very friendly black Labrador.  There are so many stray dogs here, and I hate seeing them.  This one came right over to us, but it didn’t beg (I think he must get quite a few scraps from the local restaurants).  Desi went back into the store to buy dog food and the poor thing ate it so fast.  We gave it a little more, but we walked away while he was eating so that he wouldn’t follow us.  I couldn’t justify having a huge birthday celebration while people and animals were starving around me, and I was glad we didn’t do anything extravagant.  I wish there was a way to help all of the stray animals, but I’m glad at least Desi bought food for that dog.  We called it a night after the ice cream and went back to the hostel. 

Sunday morning we woke up early to catch the shuttle to Chichicastenango, the massive market.  It was a 2-hour drive, and I thought Desi and I were going to have a whole row to ourselves, but at the last minute a girl and her boyfriend climbed in.  The girl couldn’t be away from her boyfriend for 2 hours (I’m not sure, but I think she probably would have melted) and begged him to move from the front of the van to sit next to her.  Then she told him he was ridiculous for complaining about being squished.  I wanted to throw up on her, but I didn’t.  Anyways, it was pretty hot with the 4 of us back there not near a window so I was very excited when we finally pulled up to the market.  It was the same as the Antigua market but on steroids.  There were so many bright colors, so many people, and I brought so much money (so prepared).  I was in heaven.  I bought a lot of random items.  Amongst them was a pair of jade earrings and a blanket for myself.  Other various purchases may or may not have been for other people.  I could have kept walking around but after 2 hours we stopped to grab lunch.  There was a young boy sitting in the restaurant trying to sell flutes and at the end of our meal, some of the girls had a lot of leftover tortillas.  Emily asked the boy if he wanted them and he eagerly took them with a massive smile on his face as if his teacher had just told him he gets to be line leader for the day.  I hope that’s not the first or last time he gets extra tortillas.      

After lunch we headed back to the parking lot to grab our bags from the shuttle because we were switching drivers.  We were a few minutes early so we ended up waiting outside and were approached by some girls around 10 years old selling trinkets.  I’m a sucker for the kids, and I bought a couple of things.  So did just about everyone else.  One of the girls was hilarious and came up to all of us and introduced herself and threw confetti on us.  It was great to see them all laughing and having a good time together even while they worked.  The shuttle back was short and sweet.  I slept for half of it.  We got back to Antigua around 4:00 Sunday afternoon.  I took a wonderful, well-deserved shower, relaxed, and went to sleep.  This was definitely one of my favorite places so far! 



Great story. I will be moving to Atitlan for 6 months in April. Will live in a house accessible only by boat, opposite Santiago, but will also have option to sometimes stay in San Pedro. Very excited. Thanks for your story.

  Maria Apr 7, 2013 7:02 PM

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