On to Antigua for the first time and Lake Attilan

Published: November 4th 2011
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Today was just a travelling day, we set off at 7.15 am by boat to Fronteras where we caught the bus to Guatemala City which took about 6 hours. We had a 15 minute stop where we were able to get sandwiches etc and use the loo. The scenery is stunning, heavily forested hills, green fields and palm trees. It got increasingly more hilly as we went up into the highlands. The on bus entertainment was a dvd – The Marine, all in Spanish, you didn’t need to understand the language to follow the plot though!

Guatemala City – The Murder Capital of the World is a huge sprawling place with lots of slums, there are a few more modern areas with armed guards everywhere. We then waited at the bus station for the next bus to Antigua. Once we got out of the city the scenery was stunning again.

Antigua is a quaint old colonial town with cobbled streets that are too narrow for buses to go down, there are little churches dotted about everywhere and again the houses are painted in different colours. All the shops, bars and hotels are hidden away behind doorways as the streets are all terraced. The town is surrounded by high hills and dominated by a volcano – Pacaya which erupted 2 years ago so now although classed as active it isn’t smoking and there is not have any lava flowing now which is a shame (for us). We haven’t had a chance to explore properly yet as we arrived at 5 pm.

We are staying at the Casa en Familia which is a curious little maze of a place, lots of rooms and small courtyards with a roof terrace. It looks like it has been furnished with the family’s own furniture and is stuffed full of knickknacks and ornaments. There are plants and artificial flowers everywhere, with strange little corridors and stairways leading off in different directions. So quite a unique place.

27th Oct ‘11
Ok so our room is right next to the kitchen so guess who got woken up early! We set off by minibus to Chicikastenanga market which took about 3 hours. We then all had to go for lunch which is becoming an absolute pain as we all have to order then wait and wait as there are 17 of us, it took them about
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Chici market
30 minutes to let Howard know they had run out of chocolate so he didn’t get a drink, they forgot to make my meal which meant everyone had finished by the time mine did arrive, so I had to eat at top speed with an audience – which I hate!! Then we had to wait for everyone to pay separately aaaarrrrgggghhhh organised trips, I am starting to hate it! We then only had 1 hour in the market, which actually wasn’t a bad thing as we were harassed big time but as Howard is really good at saying no and looking fierce it wasn’t too much of a problem.
We got back to the bus early and some of the others arrived laden down with goodies. How 2 of the aussie girls are ever going to be let on a plane with all their stuff I do not know. They joined the trip with huge rucksacks, big day packs, handbags and carriers and now have huge bin bags full of blankets!!

Today is the start of the homestays which Howard and I opted out of, so we carried on to San Jorge pronounced horhay, where they are all staying and got there about 6pm so it was already dark. We then had to jump in the back of a pickup truck with 18 other locals and then hurtled down the mountainside, screeching round corners and bouncing about down to the lakeside. We then just followed the crowd down to the boats and got in one to cross to Panajachel where we are staying. By now its cold, dark and the lake is very very choppy. The boat then sped off bouncing across the lake and as I was sat next to the side I got totally drenched. When we arrived we had no idea of the way into the village and they did not have many lights, so we stumbled up a cobbled street and found a tuk tuk. We had provisionally booked a room at a hotel so we were relieved when we got thee and they had kept it for us – me panicking as usual as it is still low season so we were offered 3 rooms to choose from. So now we are staying at the Hotel El Sol – the only Japanese hotel in the area! It’s customers are all young Japanese backpackers and
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San Pedro
us! Still the place is very clean and everyone is sweet and friendly. Not fancying shushi for tea we then got another tuk tuk back into town and made the mistake of eating at one of the first places we came to, it was nice enough but when we walked further down we discovered the same food at half the price – ah well you live and learn!

When we got back to the hotel we tried the wifi which only worked on the lower floors or outside so after a while I left Howard to it and went up to bed. I opened the bathroom door and a bloody big cockroach sat there looking at me! I managed to grab the insect repellent and give it a good squirt to force it back into the bathroom then jumped on a chair where Howard found me about 10 minutes later, he reckoned it was only a beetle but im not so sure, whatever it was I wasn’t going to bed knowing it was still loose! So heart failure for me and guard/squashing duty for Howard. I did not sleep well that night!

28th Oct ‘11
We hooked up with some of our group to do a lake trip visiting 3 other villages around the lake – which is vast and ringed with volcanoes so really beautiful. Most of the people doing the homestays said they were really enjoying it, while some weren’t so enthusiastic and looked really tired – uncomfy beds and roosters crowing at all hours of the night seemed to be the main problems. Oh well they only have 1 more night to do.
The first village we went to was San Marco alternatively known as the ‘hippy’ village, so called as lots of foreingers now live there or go and stay there for several months as the place is renown for its positive energy. We were all herded along to one of the healing centres where they were all making stupid comments – oooh lets all say om etc. I thought it was appauling that we could all just traipse in and then not show any respect. I bought a pot of after bite made from natural herbs and it has been really effective. We then walked up to the village square where a school prize presentation was taking place, we then went back to
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the boat and it all seemed pretty pointless.
The village of San Pedro which we visited next was pretty interesting, even though it was all uphill and cobbled streets. We wandered up the streets and were taken into a café for coffee – Guatemala is famous for its coffee apparently. Then we visited the catholic church which was a complete contrast inside to the poverty outside. Ronnie the tour leader and 3 of the other girls all bought t shirts which said Guats Up? And Guatever – which is Ronnie’s latest saying – amusing the first time you hear it…..
Then it was onto Santiago a much bigger village/town again built up the side of the hill and speed walking over very uneven cobbles is not easy I can tell you! Into a restaurant for lunch, which fortunately was much better organised and not so expensive this time, then herded into the weavers’ co-operative to learn how they make natural dyes. This was rather overshadowed when the 2 aussie brothers were ‘invited’ to dress up in traditional Guatemalan clothes. We then got tuk tuks up the windy streets to where the God Maximon is housed at the moment. This is a drinking, smoking womanising god who can only stay in one place for a year and has to be guarded by men incase he goes out and corrupts the local women!! We went up a tiny little alleyway and into a small wooden shack which was dark and smoky with the idol there decorated with ties and offerings of beer and cigarettes as is the tradition. The council elders were sat around a table behind Maximon and all looked stoned or half cut! We had just stepped out of the shack when suddenly a band started playing and we were all deafened by the speakers we just happened to be standing by. All in all a rather disconcerting experience.
The tuk tuks had been asked to wait for us as we were then going to have a small tour round and up to the viewpoint and then back down to the boat. However everyone except Howard and I changed there minds and decided to walk down, the drivers were understandably upset by this. Anyway we did ours and had great views right over the town and the lake, even the volcano tops were visible so we reckoned it was well worth the £1.20 we paid! Just the journey itself was excellent, winding through all the tiny little back streets.
The trip ended back at Panajachel where the others only got 30 minutes as they had to be back at their homestays. We on the other hand had a chance to have a really good look round and check out all the stalls which had been closed when we arrived the previous night. We did some hard haggling for a lovely blanket – Howard had flatly refused to carry a rug home this time! We eventually managed to agree a price as we were half up the road and then the guy demanded more money, when we refused he got very offended, we then tried to give him the blanket back and he stormed off shouting out something in Guatemalan – but I can probably guess what it was! We decided we had probably get away up the road quick before he rounded his buddies up to come after us. It was horrible and so un necessary, as we had agreed a price to do the deal and then suddenly he wants half as much again, why agree in the first place?!
We are now safely back in our tranquil Japanese haven! With no bugs so far….


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