Lago de Atitlan - Part 1

Published: March 3rd 2011
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Lago de AtitlanLago de AtitlanLago de Atitlan

The view arriving from Santa Clara

San Pedro...
I was only supposed to stay there for 3 nights. But once again, it was proven to me that what's important is not what you have or where you are, but who you meet... So I kinda lost myself there for a while, but soon enough, it was time to go again.
But let's go back a few days:

I left Xela on Wednesday the 16th of February. According to my guidebook, there was a direct bus from Xela to San Pedro La Laguna at 10am. That sounded good to me. So I left the hostel at about 9am, allowing plenty of time to get to the Minerva Terminal. I hopped on the city bus (Q1.5) and was at the bus station at around 9.30. As I walked towards the buses, one of the little helpers shouting destinations asked me where I was going. When I said San Pedro, he said “there's no direct, you have to change at 148” and I wondered what the hell was 148... He threw me on the Guate bus which was about to leave and I thought “was there really no direct?” I'll never know...
When I asked the ticket man on the bus, he said “yes, 148, you need to stop at 148”, so I asked how long it would take (1 hour), would he warn me when we get there (yes, no problem) and what was 148 (148, it's 148, the stop), I wasn't really sure and asked a couple of people on the bus but nobody seemed to be familiar with 148... It was only when I saw the sign indicating kilometre 163 on the side of the road that I thought maybe I had to get off at km 148. A few minutes later, the ticket man waved at me and told me this was the stop. As I jumped off and saw the big painting on the wall saying something like “welcome to km 148”, the man said I could get a bus to San Pedro from there.
Soon, I was approached by another bloke who wanted me to get on the colectivo to Santa Clara, another village about half way from km 148 to
San PedroSan PedroSan Pedro

Santiago dock
San Pedro. I said thanks but no thanks as I wanted to go to San Pedro. “Oh, there is no direct, only one at 3pm, you have to go to Santa Clara and change there”. It was only 12.30 but I didn't believe him. Then another colectivo man said the same thing, so I asked some passengers who confirmed it was true. So I got on and paid my Q6 to Santa Clara (after Q20 on the first bus, I wasn't super chuffed as the guidebook said the direct bus was Q25). After roughly 45 minutes we arrived and I was told to go around the corner for the San Pedro colectivo. I was then sent to a pick-up but told we had to wait for more passengers to go. Eventually, after an hour's wait and only 2 more people interested, we set off, first to drive around Santa Clara twice to try and pick up more people (to no avail) and then on the road to San Pedro. When we arrived in San Pablo (half way from Santa Clara to San Pedro), the car stopped and I was advised to get off as he wouldn't go any further because there weren't enough people going... I was not impressed and even less so when I asked the driver how much he wanted and he said Q10. Unfortunately for him, I had asked someone else during the hour's wait in Santa Clara and had been advised it should only be Q5 to San Pablo. So I told him where to go and gave him Q4, saying that was all I was willing to pay seeing as he had told me he would take me to San Pedro and he was a liar. He shouted back that the price was Q5 (not Q10 then!) and I had to pay Q1 more. Meanwhile, the other 2 people who had been with me on the short journey had grabbed a tuk-tuk and asked if I wanted to share with them. So I hopped on and the tuk-tuk drove away while the pick-up driver was still shouting at me to pay another Q.
For Q10, the tuk-tuk took me to the centre of San Pedro. Unfortunately he didn't know where my hostel was (I'd been recommended a super cheap place by some girls back in Coban), so he dropped me off on the main street.
San PedroSan PedroSan Pedro

From the cemetary, the volcano doesn't look that big from there
There I spotted a sign for a hostel I knew was in my guidebook, so with no idea of how to get to the other place, I decided this one would do. When I got there, there was no member of staff to be seen, just one of the guests having his lunch in the courtyard. We started chatting and he turned out to be a French Canadian called Serge. He mentioned that he and his friends were thinking of climbing the San Pedro volcano the following day and I said I would be happy to tag along if they didn't mind. We talked until the owner got back and after a little haggling, I agreed with the lady that I would pay Q25 a night (instead of Q30) for 3 nights.

After that, I went for a walk around town. There was a clear divide between the “Americanised” strip along the lake front and the centre of the village, up the hill, with the local market and a much more traditional vibe to it. I spent the afternoon walking up and down the hill, trying to explore little hidden away corners to get a flavour of the real local life. I also went around a few hotels to check their prices. In the end, I found another hotel right in the centre of things for Q20, It seemed very similar to mine in what it had to offer, so I decided I would move there the following day. After my jaunt, I returned to the hotel, hoping to bump into Serge to organise the volcano climb the next day (generally a 6am start), but unfortunately, he was nowhere to be seen. As I wanted to move to the other hotel, I wasn't too disappointed as it gave me plenty of time to sort myself out the next day. I had a quiet evening and with the lack of internet connection, I could only do some blog typing but no posting.
The next morning I got up, packed and left at 9am, after paying my Q30 (obviously the discount for 3 nights no longer applied), but having agreed 3 nights at Casa Emmanuel for Q50 instead of Q60, so I was feeling optimistic for the rest of the day. I went to drop my bags and was introduced to David, a long stay at the hotel. I stopped to have what turned out to be quite a long chat and to discover that he had been travelling for 18 months and spent the last 2 months in San Pedro. He had basically one day decided that he didn't want to fit in the mould society wanted him to fit in and sold everything he owned and went away. His typical answers included: “where are you from? - The world” and “how long are you travelling for? - My lifetime.” A bit hippy on the sides but a very interesting chap nonetheless.
After spending most of the morning dossing around, I decided that I might as well write off the day and did not much more in the afternoon. On my way back from the top of the hill (the village centre), I bumped into Serge and his 2 friends: Bethany and Ryan. They hadn't climbed the volcano yet but were talking about going the following day. Unfortunately, I had already bought my ticket (Q100 for entrance and guide) and as they wanted to attempt it without guide, we wouldn't be doing it together. Still, we had a really nice chat and agreed to meet up for a drink in the evening.
I arrived at Humus Ya (the bar in question) at the agreed time (which I can't remember because it happened over a week ago) and the others were already there, Serge, guitar in hand and singing, while Ryan was looking to borrow another one from the bar (which he did in the end). This turned out to be almost an impromptu gig, with everyone in the place moving closer to listen and clapping between songs and the “band” taking requests from the audience! I had a great evening (despite spending Q45 on beer-definitely not in the budget) but a reasonably early night due to the 6am start of the volcano hike.
The next morning when I woke up at 5.15am, I was glad to have called it a night early as I was feeling rubbish and definitely not ready for what was supposed to be a 3 hours hike up to San Pedro. But I dragged myself out of bed and made it to the Big Foot office (the people I had booked with) for 5.50. At about 6.10, this young guy (he must have been about 17) arrived and informed me he was Mario, my guide and that I was the only customer booked. So we set off towards the National Park where San Pedro is located. I was a bit disappointed to be the only one, partly for the lack of company, but also because it meant I would be setting the pace, with nobody to push me forward or give me extra rest bites (I'm sure most people would be happier this way but because I'm not sure whether I'm fast or slow, I was hoping to get a better idea on the hike). After a hard 45 minutes up the steep hill, we finally got to the entrance of the park where I had a bit of a breather (it wasn't the first one!). It was only 7am and I was knackered already. As we carried on into the park, I asked the guide if this was an easy climb or not, to which he replied he thought it was easy. He also told me that the village was at 1500m and the summit at 3020m, but that didn't really mean much to me in terms of difficulty. The hike was a mixture of shaded and sunny paths and quite a lot of steps. I took lots of little breaks to catch my breath, all along feeling like I was doing rubbish and Mario was just bored of waiting for me (even though he kept saying it was no problem). As we approached a view point, he explained that from there to the top, we would be in the forest and would not see any more of the lake below until we got to the top. He also thought it would be a good idea to tell me that we were just finishing the easy part of the hike and the rest was a little steeper. As I asked what time it was (just before 8am) and was told it would be about another 2 hours to the top, I wondered if he'd have to carry me to the end...
After a few minutes, we set off again, for what turned out to be possibly the hardest hike ever! OK, maybe that's not saying much because I never do any hiking... I'm sure it wasn't that hard but I was struggling and just kept telling myself that time didn't matter and I would get to the top even if it took 6 hours! To try and focus, I started counting my steps, only allowing myself to stop every 100 or 150 steps (that's a lot of stops but I really couldn't manage with less). Eventually, after what felt like eternity, he announced we were only about 15 more minutes from the summit. By that point I felt like I had nothing left in me and I'm pretty sure it took me half an hour to do it. But eventually, we reached our destination, and as I looked at the view, I thought “Yeah, that was definitely worth the effort.” We had arrived to the other side of the mountain and were looking down on Santiago, another village bordering the lake, which I hadn't seen yet. As Mario told me it was almost 10 am. I wondered if the 3 hours estimated hiking time was from downtown or from the entrance of the park (the first meaning I was pathetically slow, the second that I was just about normal). That's roughly the time when a group of 3 arrived to join us, announcing they had set off at 8am... I didn't really mind anymore, because I was just all proud of myself for getting there

David and some guy called John
and pushing myself really hard.
After a little while to take it all in and snap away at the landscape, we decided it was time to make our way down. There had been very little conversation with Mario on the way up (as I was too busy being out of breath – oh yes, by the way, not the slightest hint of muscle ache, it was just my lungs that couldn't cope), but on the way down we started chatting a bit. And then he asked me where in England I lived and when I said Manchester, I saw a big smile on his face as he said “oh! Like Manchester United!” That was the conversation set for the 2 hours decent, discussing amongst other things the English league (Mario was a United fan so we didn't have much to argue about), the Champions league, how important football was in different countries, hooligans, the money involved and why the Guatemala league was rubbish. By noon, we were back at the entrance and had caught up another group who had left the top about 20 minutes before us (so I was happier with my descending pace!).
I then headed back to
More musicMore musicMore music

Ryan & Serge
the village and as I got back to the main strip, I saw Bethany and Ryan having a look at the souvenir stalls. They clearly hadn't gone up the volcano that same morning, probably because the previous night's party had lasted a little too late. After hearing my account of the adventure and chatting for a while, we agreed to meet up later at Zoola, the hostel where they were staying and had a pool. I went back to my hostel for a shower, lunch and rest and then went to meet up with them. We spent a few hours together at Zoola's pool bar and then walking around town and getting some more food (I deserved it after the morning's efforts!). As the afternoon drew to a close, I headed back to my place, having agreed we'd meet back up in the evening. As I approached Casa Emmanuel, I spotted Serge, sat on the side of the road, playing his guitar to some other people. I sat down with them and someone handed me a carton of wine. We all had a nice chat and I told Serge about the evening's plan to return to Zoola. He was wishing
Lago de AtitlanLago de AtitlanLago de Atitlan

view from half way to the top of the volcano
for another guitar so that he and Ryan could play together again, so I suggested I could ask David from my hostel as he had a guitar too. That was all agreed and arranged and cheap beer was bought from the shop to avoid paying pub prices again. That was my evening sorted...
We all met up around 8.30, when music playing along with good, bad and indifferent singing occurred. We partied into the night, with events including another Ryan arriving into town (another one from the same group as Bethany, Ryan and Serge), cocktail drinking, chatting to strangers, watching drunken people going into the cold swimming pool and generally having a jolly good time. By midnight, it was my bedtime (I'd had a long day) and I left as the party was in full swing.
The next morning, I was going on the boat across the lake to Santiago (the town I had seen from the volcano). This was described by my guidebook as the lakeside village hanging on to the traditional lifestyle most, so I was excited to see that...

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Lago de AtitlanLago de Atitlan
Lago de Atitlan

view from the top of the volcano
Party timeParty time
Party time

with Bethany and David

3rd March 2011
Lago de Atitlan

c'est sublime! ca donne envie. meme le village a vraiment mignon. ca donne envie. je comprends pourquoi tu y es restee une semaine

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