Hippies and drugs in L.A. ...Lake Atitlan that is

Published: February 3rd 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

It’s so hard to believe we’re already getting ready to pick a Spanish school. It seems like just yesterday Nate was eating bugs and Jessie was hanging on for dear life on a motorbike trip. We’ve met many people who tell us, “Wow! Two years? That’s a really long time.” We used to be like that. We used to think to ourselves, “How can people spend three years traveling and sometimes more?” Believe it or not, it goes by incredibly fast and the more you see, the more you WANT to see. We truly feel like you could spend an entire lifetime traveling and still not see everything there is to see. Keeping that in mind, we said goodbye to our new friends and packed into the already full shuttle that was making its way to the lake. This was the first time we rode shotgun in a shuttle, which meant we had a perfect view of all the dead dogs along the side of the road from getting hit by cars. Yeah, it was pretty gruesome. Our count was up to five in just over three hours. We probably could’ve done without that. Since Lake Atitlan was made by volcanoes, you definitely have to do some climbing up them before you make your way down to the lake. The gravel/dirt/concrete road isn’t the greatest of course, and you’re lucky if you can fit two cars going past each other at the same time at some points. Not to mention, unless you have the neck of a giraffe, there’s no way in hell you’re going to see around those tight turns. It may or may not have been a good thing it was kind of foggy with a little mist and we weren’t able to see just how treacherous the road really was.

Once we finally made it down to the heart of San Pedro, we were more than ready to get out of the shuttle even though it really wasn’t that long of a ride. Not surprisingly, there were a handful of guys trying to ask us where we were staying, obviously to earn some commission. We told them we had a room (which was the truth), but there weren’t going to take the gringo’s word for it. “We’ll show you where it is.” We just kind of laughed as we thought, “Well, what the hell? At least we’ll get there easily.” Little did they know, we really were telling the truth and there was no commission to be made. We have no idea how we managed to get a reservation at this place since they don’t actually accept invitations, but we did. We decided to share a room with Fiona for a night. Probably the best part of that day was just having a couple beers and hanging out in the lounge area after the ride. Not to mention, Zoola has a pretty awesome area to chill. We hadn’t seen the town during the day yet, but we could already tell it was definitely going to be a hippie place, which was totally cool with us.

After a good night’s sleep, Fiona was off to one of the other smaller towns on the lake, San Marcos. We knew we were going to have to do some shopping for a school, so we ended up staying in San Pedro. The next couple days were spent checking out schools, walking by the lake and Nate smiling and saying “no thanks” to all of the guys hitting him up to buy some ganja. You could obviously tell this was a town FULL of drugs. Everyone knows it and that’s just the way it is. Our mornings were spent at a great little café where we had some really good coffee and a typical Guatemalan breakfast. Trust us, never were tortillas more popular than here (ok maybe 2nd to Mexico)! We absolutely loved our breakfast with tortillas, eggs, tomatoes, onions, and of course beans. Typically we don’t spend much on breakfast, but that coffee kept us coming back for more every time. One thing that takes some getting used to in San Pedro is the steep hills throughout the town. Some of them aren’t too bad, but other’s make you feel like you just got your ass handed to you by a stair climber! We would be able to get plenty of exercise here (if we so chose).

We’ve actually known a few people who have studied here in the past and recommended going to school at the Cooperativa. One of the things that sold us on this particular school was the fact that a part of your fee you pay for your classes goes towards helping the people in the community. It makes you feel good when you can do something like that, even if it’s just a little bit of help. All in all, we were pretty stoked to get started with Spanish school. Not only is it nice to be able to TALK to people, but it’s really nice to know when someone is talking shit to you. Sometimes you just KNOW there’s a group of guys talkin’ shit about you right next to you, but you have no idea what they’re saying. Most likely it’s something like, “Stupid ass gringos. But I like the girl!” Instead of being able to tell them to piss off, you end up looking at them and smiling as if to say, “Yes, I’m a stupid gringo. I agree with you.”

We had heard a lot of people saying great things about San Marcos, so we figured we had better check it out for a day. Luckily the lake was nice and calm, which made our boat ride over nice and smooth. Since Fiona was still there, we got to hang out with her for another day before she was on to other parts of the country. We know a lot of people love this little town, but it just wasn’t our thing. The one thing that tends to turn us off about a place is if there are more foreigners there than locals. Again, to some people, this is absolute paradise. You could literally just hang out by the lake and either meditate and/or smoke bud all day long and all night while getting stuck for days, months, maybe years. There’s probably more to this town than what we saw, but it just didn’t do much for us other than provide a few laughs. For instance, at one point we walked past a meditation group where people were sort of chanting, almost as if we were witnessing a cult séance. The only missing was a magic blue pill and some “special punch.” We’re totally down with the whole hippie way of living, but this was a little too far for us. It was an interesting place to check out for an afternoon, but definitely not a place we needed to spend a lot of time at.

With nothing really going on in town other than drinking, chillin’ and our upcoming school, we decided to check out a market that was close by in Chichicastenango. Lots of people said they really enjoyed it, even if it was a bit of a tourist trap. As usual we shopped around for the best price we could find and got our tickets there. It was going to be an “early” morning to get there with time to shop. We figured our shuttle would be completely full, but there were actually a few spots left. It’s almost weird when you have a little room to move your legs on a road trip. On our way there were 3 American girls in the very back who were obviously very much like the typical Cali girls from “The Hills.” The Russian couple behind us was getting plenty annoyed with the constant, loud bantering and finally the guy had enough. “Shut the fuck up,” he muttered. “American bitches.” We couldn’t help but laugh a bit. Obviously that wasn’t a very nice thing to say, but the way he said it with his thick accent made it kinda funny to us.

When we arrived in Chi-Chi, you could quickly tell that there were plenty of things to choose from and quite a few things that catered more to tourists. One thing about the way the indigenous Guatemalan dress is that they LOVE to wear bright colors. It definitely makes for a beautiful sight when you walk through a market with every single color you could ever imagine represented, whether it’s being worn or sold. Everyone you walk past is doing their best to pull you in. This also includes the people walking up and down the aisles who are trying to sell anything from different kinds of nuts to bracelets or fabrics. For all you ladies out there who love to shop for unique jewelry, you’d be in heaven here! When you’re on a tight budget like we are, you can’t really afford to buy too many things, but you’ll find things here you’ve never seen before. Jessie fell in love with some earrings there that were actually made from Mayan coins that they had cut into a design. Nate probably should have started a counter for all of the time he’s spent looking at jewelry on this trip so far. He’s pretty sure it’ll add up to about a month! No, just kidding.

There were plenty of things we would’ve loved to have gotten, but some things were just a little too expensive and others were things that we just would never use later on. Jessie had bought some earrings back in San Pedro and found a guy trying to sell her the same ones for 4 times the price she had paid! He knew right away he blew a potential sale when she just laughed and walked away because he was laughing, too. Yeah…oops! That wasn’t a stupid gringo. Your bad. It was fun to walk around the market and the town a little but just to take in the sights and smells of being back in a proper market again, something we love to do in just about any country we visit. When our few hours were up, we got back to the shuttle and started to head back. We didn’t get more than about 10 minutes down the road our driver looked over to the other side of the mountain across the valley and stopped off to the side of the road. There was a HUGE line of stopped traffic in both directions because of a “chicken bus” that was hanging off the edge of the road. This wasn’t just a little ditch either. We’re talking an un-survivable drop here. Guaranteed if we were on that bus, Jessie would have left some serious dagger marks from her finger nails in Nate’s leg. Thank God that wasn’t us.

So, instead we went a different route…a very different route…as in one car at a time. The road literally wasn’t wide enough 90% of the time for 2 cars to pass one another, so we would have to pull off in the spots we could to let someone pass or stop and back up into a spot we had already passed. How the hell those big loading trucks make it around those turns and through that road is a mystery to us. Just being in the shuttle we had a few instances where our hearts skipped a couple beats. Well, since you’re reading this post you know we obviously got back to San Pedro safe and sound. We made our walk through “gringo land”, which you can probably tell is the area that’s mostly made up of foreigners, and back to our hotel. We had been moving around quite a bit and we were on our third place. We’d been here for a few nights now and didn’t mind the room at all. The price was dirt cheap, too, but the kitchen was almost impossible to see in at night and the wifi was still not working for the 3rd day in a row. We decided just for the hell of it that we would check out another place just down the alley, and we were glad we did. We got an even better room with a huge kitchen, a place to do laundry, and wifi that worked really well. This was all for about 40Q ($5) a night! Considering we had just stayed at another hotel that was 100Q ($13) per night for the same thing and the place we were currently at was the same price, it was pretty much a no brainer to make the move.

Really there wasn’t anything WRONG with where we were at, and the people who owned the place were really nice. One of the best parts about our newest room was we had an amazing view of the lake. The downside (but this went for most of San Pedro), is the monster-sized booms from the fireworks that were lit at all hours of the night. Every country we’ve been to has had its own things you need to get used to at night, but there is no way in hell you’re not waking up from one “boom bah” after another going off 20 feet from where you’re staying. For those of you aren't familiar with the boom ba, just imagine the loudest boom firework you have ever heard...yep, that's it! All we could really do was try to get back to sleep as quickly as possible. After all, we were going back to school tomorrow…

Traveler Tips
Getting There
We took a shuttle from Antigua to San Pedro from the Black Cat Hostel for 65Q each. The shuttle was over packed and late but we made it safely to the Lake. After taking a chicken bus as well, we honestly don’t know which option is worse. You just need to decide if you are a shuttle or chicken bus person.

We stayed at Zoola for 50Q per person in a private room, shared bath with Fiona. Then we moved to Pinocchio Hotel and paid 100Q for a private room, private bath, hot water, wifi and kitchen. After 2 nights there we went to find something cheaper. On the other side of the Santiago dock you can find really good deals. Hotel San Francisco has great views and is run by a Mayan family. We had the top room and paid 50Q per night for both of us. Only downfall to Hotel San Francisco was shitty wifi. Hotel Peneleu was perfect in our minds. We paid a weekly rate of 250Q ($32 per week for both of us!), had a great room, the kitchen was big, fast wifi, most of the other people there were students and Alberto the owner is really great.

We cooked as much as possible while in SP but there were a few highlights. Café Cristalinas has the best coffee in town hands down. They grow, roast and grind their own coffee not to mention great Guatemalan breakfasts. Hummus Ya has some amazing falafel pitas. The little Taquerilla close to the Santiago dock on the left has yummy chicken tacos, 3 for 10Q. Also, Fata Morgana has some super tasty ciabatta sandwiches. We have to say, Buddha bar is the only place that is going off at night if you are looking for a drink.

San Pedro is small, you can walk everywhere. To get to any other town on the lake you can take a launcha. We paid 10Q each person each way from SP to San Marcos. There are a ton of travel agencies in town you can find transport to the market for 50Q roundtrip and to other destinations throughout Guate and Central America.

Additional photos below
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3rd February 2012

hola amigos!
cómo estás? Well that\'s our attempt at Spanish! We did learn Spanish when we were in South America but obviously our brains have gone a bit mushy now with all this travelling ;) Seems like you have found a nice place to settle for a while to go to Spanish school. We\'ve enjoyed reading your blogs on it so far and Central America looks quite interesting...it\'s definitely on the list and we will get around to it at some point! Nice colourful photos too! Enjoy school! x
3rd February 2012

Hi, from Argentina
Your pictures are so nice my friends. I also like the descriptions. Good luck with your Spanish classes. (Mucha suerte con sus clases de español).
12th February 2012

Hi Graciela!
We are slowing making our way to Argentina, hopefully learning a lot of Spanish along the way. As the time gets closer we'll be in touch...right now, Argentina is in the works for sometime between April and August. Hopefully we can see you when we get there!! Thanks for the comments! Nate and Jessie

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