Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guatemala Trip Part 3

To Antigua!
Our 9-hour bus ride wasn't so bad, I suppose.  We got into Guatemala City in the early evening on Monday, and of course all the bus stations are in the sketchiest part of town.  But really, is there anything but a sketchy part of town in Guat City?  No.  We had arranged to catch another bus to take us another hour out to Antigua, but it wasn't anywhere to be found.  I guess we didn't understand that even though we had a "ticket," we were really just waiting for a man in a taxi to come pick us up.  Finally the lady at the ticket counter at the bus station got on the phone for us, just as a little man ran into the station holding a cardboard sign with my name on it.  Sweet!  He was 2 hours late and apologized profusely; even though we were starving we didn't really care too much.  
Antigua is a beautiful colonial city, quite different from the rest of the country.  Tim and I looked up a restaurant in our guidebook that sounded good, turned out they had a hotel too, with rooms open.  It was 10pm, we were ready to crash and it was good enough for us.  We spent Tuesday morning wandering around the city, and since we couldn't make the volcano hike we decided to book tickets up to Lake Atitlan for that same afternoon, since it's one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.  Or so they say.  I grabbed lunch at Pollo Campero, ran back to the hotel to grab our bags, and our shuttle picked us up for the ride to Panajachel.  

The ride up to Atitlan is probably the scariest vehicle experience I've ever had.  We were smushed into a 15 passenger van with several Europeans, twisting and turning through 180 turns that were steep as anything, often curving and rising at the same time.  Our van driver had 2 friends in the front that he kep laughing with, taking his eyes off the road.  Um, not good techniques buddy!  However, I seemed to trust him more than I would trust myself driving on that road.  I kept reminding myself that our driver had been up and down hundreds of times....he's got experience, right?  I could only hope that el Lago would be as beautiful and cool as promised, cause 3 hours on that trip for nothing......I wouldn't exactly be a happy camper.
Finally, we made it!  We unloaded in Panajachel, the main town around the lake.  As soon as we stepped out we were bombarded with children asking us where we were headed - San Pedro? San Marcos?  Come with us, we'll get you a boat to another town on the lake.  Tourism run by 10-year-olds is nothing out of the norm.  
Pana is the main hub around the lake and by far, the town with the most tourist junk.  Vendors set up all along the main streets, people hassling you to buy stuff.  We let a guy take us to a hotel that had a "really good deal" and "free internet" which means they hang a wireless router in the hallway and if you happen to have a laptop, you can use the signal.  Whatever, it was cheap and had TV and we paid for 2 nights.  
Since there's really nothing to do in Pana, we wandered around looking for dinner, which we found at an incredible little restaurant run by a Malaysian woman who speaks about 6 languages.  Delicious curry, fresh veggies, accompanied by street children who finally convinced Tim to buy an orange stuffed elephant.  The TV proved very handy that night as we were both drawn into the trainwreck that is truly the worst show ever shown on television.  But we couldn't stop praying that another episode would come on as soon as one ended.  

Tuesday morning we headed out to San Pedro, a little town on the opposite side of the lake.  Our Swedish friends who we met in Belize ended up spending 2 weeks in San Pedro because they loved it so much, so we were excited to get over there.  It's a little hippy town, full of yoga studios and Spanish language schools.  Our boat driver that morning was probably 14 years old, and kept closing his eyes and seemingly nodding off on the drive.  Hmm... Comforting.  But I got great pics of the lake!  

There's not a lot to do in San Pedro, since it's pretty small.  We stopped for a beverage, bought some pastries from the women on the street and meandered down to lunch at a hippie cafe for a leisurely lunch.  On the way we passed a man who asked us if we wanted to ride horses.  Which we kind of did, but kind of didn't, so we half-heartedly promised to find him later.  
After lunch we wandered down to the water , looking for a swimming hole.  Except the beaches aren't really great and many of the townspeople were taking their weekly baths and washing their clothes.  We sat and read for a bit, but got itchy to get somewhere and do something.  How on earth did our Swedish friends spend 2 weeks there?  More patience than me, I guess.  
We hopped on the 4pm lancha back to Panajachel, once again to brave the street vendors hassling you every 5 minutes to buy something, beautiful gifts for my mother, etc.   At least happy hour at Pana Rock (where bad music goes to retire) had cheap, super fresh limeades.  We found a travel agency to book a shuttle for Thursday morning to take us to the famous market at Chichicastenango and wondered what to do on our last day in Pana.

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