Published: January 20th 2013January 20th 2013
Not to start off this blog post bragging - but with 20(ish) countries under our belt, Sara and I might be getting a hang of this traveling thing. Within 24 hours in Guatemala, we'd made it to our destination - a sweet hippie-infested town called San Pedro la Laguna on the beautiful Lake Atitlan, signed Sara up for her first week of spanish classes, and secured ourselves an amazing apartment with wifi, a kitchen, warm water shower AND a balcony with a hammock in view of the lake.
How did we get here? Well...
[Before I start - I apologize for the photos being out of alignment with the blog, thats just how this site works.]
Sara's sister Fay dropped us off at LGA airport at 4am for our 6am flight - it was terrible timing and made us swear 'we are never again taking the cheapest flight we can find' (for the third time, at least). The flight to Atlanta was fine but our next flight was delayed because the pilot's father passed away and they had to call in another pilot (from his day off, I imagine). About 2 hours late, we were in the air
and just 3 hours or so away from Guatemala City.
The airport in Guatemala City was smaller and less organized than I thought it would be. This is a good time to admin that I know very little about Guatemala City or Guatemala as a whole. Sara knows a bit more as she did a lot of the planning and reading. A few days before we left, I did pull up the Central American section of the BBC World News to get an idea of what was going on in the region and the headlines were not encouraging. For my mom and any other generally-worrisome friends or family members of ours - do not try this at home to see what I am talking about. Without going into details, the news out of Guatemala is not happy news. The impression Sara and I both got of Guatemala City specifically was: get in and get out, don't take city busses, don't go out at night, don't go out in some places during the day. We took this advice to heart and opted to even avoid going from the airport to the bus station to get a bus out of the
city, choosing instead to take a slightly more expensive tourist-focused shuttle directly from the airport out of the city.
We had emailed about a shuttle appr 8 hours before our flight and didn't hear back - so we were not surprised to find that it wasn't there. We waved off the first 10 people to approach us with offers of shuttles - not for any reason other than the fact they approached us and this both made us wary and slightly annoyed. For anyone who has every travelled in a developing nation such as Guatemala will know exactly what I mean here. Its impossible to think when being bombarded like this and it doesn't inspire any confidence in their services either. After persuading everyone that we did not want what they were selling, we then realized we weren't sure how else to find a good shuttle. We spotted a guy who had been on our plane and went over to ask where he was headed. He was headed to Antiqua (like us) and was waiting for a shuttle that he had ordered in advance (unlike us). We decided to wait with him and see if the shuttle had room
for us - which it did. We paid $10USD, which was well before our first offer out of the airport $35 but still much more expensive than the non-tourist busses from the bus station. This was a fine compromise for us as we just wanted to get out of GC safely and easily.
Our new friend, Josh, is from Ashville, NC and coordinates Outward Bounds trips - which is pretty cool. He also has a similar destination to us - he intends to get to San Pedro La Laguna to start Spanish classes on Monday. The ride was a mix: passing through GC was unnerving as we saw many men with guns - although I belive they were all (or mostly) police or security. Once out of the city the ride was prettier and finally got to see some of the beautiful mountainous landscape.
Antiqua is a really beautiful town - old, narrow cobble-stone roads and brightly painted yellow and red buildings. Despite its classically colonial architure still being in tact - Antiqua is actually quite modernized in many ways: high end stores, American food chains and exetremely inflated prices. We hadn't intended on spending time here at
all but our flight was delayed so much that we decided to spend the night instead of trying to do too much in one day and possibly getting stuck somewhere as it gets dark. After finding the hostel listed in Lonely Planet to be full, we wandered the streets for just a few minutes and discovered a great little hotel with an open-air ally-style courtyard filled with hanging plants. The room was nice enough and it was reasonably priced - more than we wanted to spend in general but a good price for Antiqua. We put our stuff down and went in search of food - proudly passing the American-focused menus tauting pizza and pasta. We found a place serving Guatemalan food, the menu had these dishes: 'chicken', 'beef', 'fish', 'vegetarian'. We ordered the vegetarian - it was rice, potatoes, a stir-fry type thing, and corn-based tortillas. It was cheap and really good.
We went back to the hostel and before going back to the room, we ordered a shuttle to San Pedro to leave in the morning (the woman working there had offered it to us before). We paid Q85 (a little more than $10USD), which is a
lot but it matched up with the guidebook so we said okay. Went back to the room and stayed in for the rest of the evening, catching up on sleep and reading the guide book (guess who caught up on what?). Soon we had a knock at the door, it was the woman who was working there - she said that she had called to order the shuttle and it was more expensive than she told us - Q95 per person (10 more than she said). On one hand, this didn't seem true. On the other than, it was less than $2USD. On that first hand, we could probably find other ones for Q80 or maybe less. On that second hand again, we'd have to probably argue with her to get our money back and then leave really early to find another shuttle, since they seem to leave early in the morning. So I took the bait and paid the extra money. Fast forward to tomorrow morning - Sara notices a sign on a travel agency: Q60 for the same shuttle. We (I) got played.
The next day we caught the early shuttle - filled with Americans, Australians and
Israelis - bound for San Pedro. The ride was bumpy but beautiful - we saw lots of agriculture along the way and had amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The Israelis have a short conversation in hebrew about Sara and me - guessing the nature of our relationship - and I waited a few minutes before answering their questions, in hebrew. Its hard to catch an Israeli off guard but its rewarding when it happens.
Three hours later, we arrived in San Pedro and it was probably even better than we imaged. Its definitely tourist-focused, but not in a high-end McDonalds sort of a way. More like in a dreadlocks juggling barefoot in the street sort of a way (i.e. the best sort of way). The top language in the streets is still Spanish, with Hnglish in a close second - followed is a tie between Hebrew and Maya. Between the buildings, you can see the beautiful blue/green of the lake with the mountains and other small mountain towns in the background. The streets are lined with shops selling handmade tourist gifts, restaurants, foreign-looking hippies selling jewelry and more. We were again approached with offers of hostels
but mostly just said 'no gracias'.
Sara's goal was to head towards the school she wanted to study at - both to sign up for classes and ask about finding a place to stay. We didnt have a map of San Pedro because it was so small that Lonely Planet deemed it unworthy of getting a whole map, so we wandered. We happen to be highly skilled in the art of wandering and found a sign for the school pretty easily. That sign pointed us towards another sign - which pointed us towards an intersection with no more sign and no school. We took a wild guess and found out way to another sign - and so on and so on and eventually made our way up a windy, messy staircase cut out of stone to the school's office.
We spoke to the director, who was very nice - although surprising spoke no english - and signed Sara up for an afternoon of one-on-one classes, 3 hours per day, for one week. While we have plans to stay here longer, we didn't want to bite off too much at once. We asked about a place to stay and
he said they have one apartment at the school and he had to check, but after a phone call could confirm it was available. He took us to see it and it was... is... beautiful. Full kitchen including a fridge, kitchen table, queen sized bed, desk, closet, private bathroom, shower with warm water, balcony with a view of the lake and a hammock - and wifi, which is essential to my being able to work from here. The price is $90USD per week - which is a pretty good deal. I mean, for the US, its a very good deal - for San Pedro its on the high side of the cheap hostels but none of them are this nice.
The room had to be cleaned, so we stashed our bags in the office and went out to do some more wandering. We found a cheap place that had vegetarian tacos and Sara went across the street to get a fresh juice drink: melon and ginger. The ginger was strong but that was point - to help Sara kick this cold she has and help me keep it away.
After a couple hours, we returned to our room
to freshen up. The shower is actually okay - the trick (which we now remember from Peru also) is that you can't have full pressure and hot water, you have to choose or compromise - luke warm water at half pressure is the sweet spot. After resting a bit we decided we wanted to take advantage of our new kitchen and we went out to a nearby shop to pick up ingredients for a simple meal: guacamole w/ pasta, beans, cheese and a partially homemade sauce. Our Latin-influenced home cooked meal was delicious.
That leaves me here, typing away on my computer, next to Sara fast asleep. I can hear the drum circle drifting toward our window from town - tempting but not loud enough to wake Sara :), so we'll have to follow the beating of the drums another night.
Thanks for reading - apologies for the low number of pictures, Im having trouble with my camera. Its not broken exactly but it wasn't working and I only figured out the problem tonight. Hopefully I'll have it fixed soon enough.
Mark & Sara (Im sure she's dreaming about blogging right now..)