After the 9 hour shuttle bus from Lanquin to Antigua, Ally and I had to go and find a hotel to stay in for the night, we stumbled across this place which also had adverts for shuttles to Lago de Atitlan, where we wanted to be the next morning!
We booked in and recieved our key and soon headed for a nice relaxing meal out and to explore a little of Antigua. We headed out at about 7 ish, after our hotel room key broke and wasn’t working in the lock to our room. I had a major panic attack about wanting our stuff back and asking Ally to break down the doors, however, he being his usual calm self said it might be better to speak to the receptionist and see what he could do. Of course, it was the same incompetent receptionist who we spoke to earlier who actually gave us the key in the first place. So after a little bit of ‘talky talky’ he soon headed out back to go and get one of his mates who promptly came and helped him find the right key to our room and giving me sweet satisfaction of getting my bags back :D Anywho ... Ally and I had both been craving an indian for the past couple of weeks so we headed to a recommended restaurant from the Lonely Planet guide and enjoyed a very nice meal before heading out to the central square for dessert.
We woke the next morning at about 5am to board the bus to Lago de Atitlan, which took all of about 2.5 - 3 hours, so we arrived at the lake soon after sunrise and managed to see some amazing views just on the way down the mountain into our first stop on the lake, the town of Panajachel. We soon found a hostel and managed to bargain the price down before we headed down to the dock to see if we could grab a ‘tipico’ for breakfast. We were amazed by the view in front of us as we were sitting eating our refired beans, eggs, avocado, plantains and tortillas. Just looking out over this gorgeous lake with 3 volcanoes in the distance, however the view was slightly ruined by quite a large number of children coming up to us and thrusting purses and bracelets into our faces and asking us for a ridiculous amount of money for what we were actually buying, however after some fierce bartering and quite a long time, we did purchase some very nice bracelets as we had planned to get one bracelet for every location that we visited. Pretty much every morning was spent like this and throughout the days we did a variety of different things, like visiting a wildlife reserve near to the town, doing lots of market shopping and buying some of the best things I have ever seen, getting an AMAZING massage (was much needed, don’t blame me!), going to one of the biggest friday markets in my life (really a market for locals where they come and buy all of their fruit, veg and meat for the week at discount prices, some really amazing stuff, I even saw tripe and brains on one stall) and we even managed to fit in a wonderful boat tour of the lake, where we basically approached one guy on the dock and said can we do the boat tour, and he took us round the lake and let us spend about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours at a few different towns on the Lake, including San Marcos La Laguna, San Juan La Laguna (where I managed to make a mortal enemy in the form of an elderly woman who refused to give me the price I wanted for some bags until I pretty much begged her ... She gave me the biggest evils I have ever seen as I was walking out of the shop), San Pedro La Laguna (more about here to come later ...) and finally Santiago de Atitlan, where we stumbled onto the dock to be greeted with the biggest gathering of people I have ever seen in my life, literally it took me and Ally about 20 minutes to walk 100m. Apparently there was a huge church service/festival where thousands of people gather at this town on the lake (even people from as far out as El Salvador come to visit), therefore Ally and I didn’t get to do much apart from find somewhere to have some lunch and a little bit more shopping near the quieter end of the dock. This tour was fantastic as I believed we had just the right amount of time in each little town before either one of us got insanely bored and wanted to go back, plus it was great to see the Lake in so many different ways as we winged it around the outside of the lake.
During out stay in Pana, Ally and I tried some truly amazing food, ranging from traditional Guatemalan cuisine to this amazing vietnamese restaurant, where we both sat cross legged on this raised stage like thing covered in cushions and blankets and the odd table where we managed to share a gorgeous curry and soup, was truly ‘out-of-this-world’ good. I have to say, now looking back on my time spent traveling, I do believe that Panajachel was one of my absolute favourite places and could have spent a lot longer there, just enjoying the lake, the atmosphere and the market stalls (seriously, Ally had to drag me away more than once, I mean physically drag me away ...)
After Panajachel, Ally and I headed across the lake to San Pedro, ‘Gringo’ capitol of Guatemala, seriously this place is run by Americans and Canadians, pretty much every bar or restaurant is run by one of them. Ally and I only planned on spending just the one night here as we wanted to do this hike up a local mountain called Indians Nose (a mountain shaped like a well ... Indians Nose ... pretty self explanatory really). So when we arrived at San Pedro we checked into this hostel called Yo Mama’s (yeah ... really!) and headed out to book this hike for 3am the next morning. Therefore, we had the rest of the day to kill, so we headed to this bar called ‘El Barrio’ and took advantage of their ‘Saturday All-you-can-eat Brunch’ for only 40 Quetzals (about £3.30), I think me and Ally spent about 1.5 hours there, maybe even 2 hours, as we had course after break after course after cup of coffee after course of fruit after cup of tea, enjoying a very relaxing setting and good company. Here we also learnt about this place called Los Thermales, this family jun joint where they offer natural hot tubs within view of the lake for a very cheap flat rate, and you can use them for as long as you want, so we booked in to use these pools later in the day close to sunset and went off to find our next stop of the day. Ally went ahead to this place called La Piscina (a bar located right next to a pool) whilst I rooted out the best and cheapest massages around (of which there were many). After a very relaxing hour and a half I joined Ally at La Piscina and we chilled out there for a while, sitting in the sun with a ‘cuba libre’ in hand. The time soon passed by and our appointment with a hot tub was fast approaching, so we headed back to Yo Mama’s to get changed and headed out for one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had. These really hot natural pools, right next to the lake, watching the sun set and just being in pure bliss (after nearly 5 months of cold showers, you can imagine how nice it was to finally find some hot water to bathe in!) After we managed to literally drag ourselves out of the pools, we headed to Café La Puerta for something to eat and finally got back to bed to enjoy a nights sleep before heading out on our hike the next morning!
When we awoke at half two, we headed to the agreed meeting place where we were expecting our guide to turn up at three so we settled in and waited ... and waited ... and waited ... and waited until finally at 4 AM (!!), an hour later than agreed, someone turned up, asking whether we had booked a tour, of course we said yes and he showed us the ticket he had, sadly it wasn’t us he was looking for, and soon the guy and gal he was waiting for turned up, so we asked if we could tag along with them as we really wanted to go and see the view from the mountain top. However, this guide said that we had to pay him as well, as he worked for a different company so would not get any of the money we had originally payed. Stupidly we said the actual amount that we did pay, rather than saying a cheaper number so we had to couch up again. However we were soon on a bus up to near the top of the mountain in time for sunrise above the lake. This was amazing, watching the sun poke out from between two of the three volcanoes and bathing the lake in its light was just priceless and one of the views I will never forget.
Soon after walking back to the whole way to the village we where staying in, we headed to ‘Big Foot’ the agency we had organized to do the trip with to see if we could get out money back, however to our horror it was closed and we wanted to be on our way to Xela today. So we hunted around for another travel company to see if they had the number of anyone who worked at Big Foot to see if they could come and meet us. Sadly they called and called but no-one ever turned up and they also said that as it was sunday, no busses would be traveling anyway, so it looked like me and Ally were here for one more night! The rest of the day was spent chilling out, walking round town, going to La Piscina once more to go to their famous sunday BBQ for lunch (and in fact dinner as the portions where so huge we both couldn’t eat it all and asked to take it with us (which everyone does)) and when night came around, we went to a place called Buddha Bar to chill out watching one of their free films, tonight Pulp Fiction (YES!!) Such a great film and was made even better watching it in such a great location.
The next morning we headed to Big Foot once more and they were so sorry that we had been messed about so much that they were more than happy to give us our money back and couldn’t apologize enough, they said that the reason our guide didn’t turn up was that he had probably been drinking the night before and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, and that now he will probably be fired for his stupidity!
Soon after we each had our money back in our hand we headed to the bus stop to catch the 11am bus to Quetzaltenango, just to finish I will say that this was one of the most horrible bus rides I had ever been on, I cannot tell you how many times I flew off my seat as we went over a particularly big bump on the very bumpy road!
Till next time ...