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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Lago Atitlan - check out the vibes, man.

GUATEMALA | Friday, 3 April 2009 | Views [1922]

The incredible view from Lomas de Tzununá hotel, Lago Atitlan

The incredible view from Lomas de Tzununá hotel, Lago Atitlan

After surviving Pacaya, we booked a tourist microvan to Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan.  A thankfully uneventful journey, although I did marvel at the way that the Guatamalans appeared to be in the process of blasting away a good proportion of the highlands in order to improve the road.  And in true Central American style, they were doing it along its full length, all at the same time.

‘Pana’  is a bit of a non-descript tourist town, crowded with Mayan people selling textiles and pots, and with an horrendous green soviet-era tower block next to the lake.  Still, the lake is fantastic – a massive calm body of water surrounded by towering, green volcanoes.  Just before dusk a strong wind blew up, sending waves dancing across the surface, whilst sun rays speared the clouds.  We stayed a night and next morning got one of the regular water taxis along the lake to San Marcos, where we hoped to stay and chill out for a while.

The view from our room at La Paz
First impressions of San Marcos were of a very sleepy village with informal walkways alongside big gardens full of palms and ginger, nestling guest-houses and restaurants.  We managed to get a room in the lovely La Paz hostel – in a timber-framed, palm thatched cottage with an idyllic view out of the window.  The hostel provides good, cheap veggie meals and you can arrange massage sessions to get out those kinks in your shoulders from backpack-carrying.  Both of us immediately felt the need to do absolutely nothing for a few days.

In process of chillin’, we happened across a little Mayan man carrying an enormous bag of blankets via a strap around his forehead.  We told him we weren’t really interested in a blanket, but he charmingly hooked us by offering to do a trade for any spare medicines we had.  Therefore, in the peaceful shade of our cottage we got out our medipack and gave away half its contents, oh, together with two white T-shirts…. .  I was happy for the guy to have them, but that wasn’t really what he was after – he laid out his rather nice hand-woven wares and got us to choose what we liked – then offered us an astonishing price of Q2500 (£250!):- it was one-of-a-kind, and alpaca wool, with a herd brought from Ecuador.  He was such a nice man.  And we were so loath not to believe him.  We got him down to Q700.  I didn’t want to go above Q400, but somehow I did….  damn him, and his charmingly disarming Mayan ways!  So, we acquired the world’s most expensive woollen blanket.  Although I have to say that it is very nice, and is hand-made, and will last us a lifetime.  Oh, and it also came in handy as the nights there were really cold.  We just try and forget that guys in Xela later tried to sell us handmade blankets for Q200…

Lago Atitlan - note floating stones...

Having been purged of our Quetzals, we then needed to find a cash-machine in order to pay our hotel bill.  There isn’t one in San Marcos, so we got the water taxi over to San Pedro, the supposed party town of the lake – which is mostly nasty concrete buildings, English/Australian pubs and a thriving drugs and gringo-pulling scene.  Both cash machines were defunct, so we got another taxi over to Pana’, found a working machine, and then got yet another another taxi back to San Marcos.  Blimey.  Mental note – in future do not spend available cash on  overpriced blankets from seemingly kind-hearted salesmen.

We spent my birthday chilling out, although we did hire a double kayak in the afternoon and managed to negotiate it a few clicks down the coast without capsizing, smacking each other on the head or having an argument about who was steering – amazing!  The beach we stopped on was covered in white pumice stone – which floats, I found out…  An evening meal in the next-door restaurant newly bought by a gregarious guy from London finished off a good day.

Bougainvillea at La Paz

Rachel spent a couple of evenings meditating at the Pyramid centre next door the other way.  The meditation was fine, but the new-age ‘pick and mix’ past-life regression and flaky ‘loving messages for the world’ first bemused, and then enraged Rachel, much to my amusement.  We got the impression it was the reserve of middle-class people wanting to ‘find themselves’ in the ‘wilderness’, with lots of money, self-invented problems and needing to feel good about themselves without actually doing anything positive.  We especially liked the couples on the thirty-day fast and introspective, gorging themselves on stone-baked pizzas and Chilean Chardonnay at the restaurant next door.

We had a great walk along the coastline west to Jaibalito – along a steep path cut into the hillside.  We stopped to have a drink at a fantastic hotel (Casa Lomas Tzuzuna) perched on the steep slope, with gorgeous terrace views out across the whole lake.  As we sipped our lemonade, a volcano erupted, sending a large spume of dust up into the atmosphere.  Not bad.  We got the water taxi back the next day to have lunch and take some photos.  If anyone wants a different place for a honeymoon, this is it.

Quiche skirts

We finally left Lago Atitlan on a weavy microbus up to Chichicastenango in the highlands – home to the largest indigenous market in Guatemala.  The market really is something – streets packed with stalls selling a huge variety of brightly collared textiles and embroidery, and incredibly busy, mostly with Quiche women with there black skirts, bordered with a bright band of colour and incredibly bright tops.  As we wandered, we quickly had to get used to ignoring every other stall owner who wanted us to stop and barter with him or her.  We had a good look around and selected the stalls we wanted to buy from.  After some rather more successful wheeler-dealing than in Atitlan, we came away with a nice selection of bedspreads, table embroidery and even a bolt of hand-made cloth to re-upholster our couch with.  Now we just had to work out how to get it back home…

A great experience, including the copal offerings on the temple steps, the temple confradia in hat and stockings offering stall holders a blessing (which involved kissing a cross in return for a donation), and the pine-strewn courtyard café where we had a break from the hubbub.  We stayed the night in an un-obvious guesthouse with a roaring open-fire in our room, in preparation for the haul to Xela the next day.

Tags: chichicastenango, lago atitlan, panajachel, san marcos, san pedro

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Argh!  Well, maybe not pirates this time, but dig the colour-coordinated bandanas!

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