Goodbye Guatemala: October 28 – November 13
San Pedro la Laguna is one of the many villages, smaller or larger, on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We stopped there for a week, we decided that it is a good place to wait for a new motorcycle chain and sprockets that were supposed to arrive via courier from the States. And indeed what a setting! The lake, the deepest one in Central America, is basically guarded by volcanoes!
A bungalow outside the city center of the village, in a quiet area with a view of the above mountain and close to the lake makes life switch gears and slow down in the heat of the dry season debut. Days go by slowly and lazy. Our main occupation is walking the narrow streets, going to the market and learning a little bit of Spanish (good opportunity to learn more interesting things about Guatemala from my Mayan teacher). After my previous posting, Julio, a Guatemalan friend, drew my attention that I might have a too romantic image of the internal war that Guatemala struggled with for 36 years. Maybe he is right, maybe it is easy to get an incomplete picture when you look at things from the outside. But I don’t think there is anything romantic about armed conflicts. And I confess war is one of the things I fear the most. Apart from “who started” and “who was right” there will always remain the horrible actions taken by both parties. I think that now it is more important that Guatemala is moving forward and leave all this behind. I hope from all my heart that they will succeed and we are happy to see places, like Lake Atitlan, which was a scene of the conflict, are now calm, quiet and inviting for tourists to take a walk to discover the details hidden on the narrow streets.
And the small village is full of bright colored surprises. For instance, the 3 wheeled Tuc- Tucs, used as taxis. Normally they are red-white and look like this:
But who says you need a super expensive car to tune it properly? Here’s a real work of art, way above the tuned Romanian cars.
Well, if you really want to go for a ride in a tuc- tuc, at least do it with a properly pimped one! We didn’t go for a ride with it, probability the guy was really popular and had lots of orders. We prefer walking anyway when we are not on the motorcycle. And when you are walking you notice more details that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
I am dizzy! There is too much people here!
You only do the laundry in the family!
Do you remember our Vancouver visit when we spent a few days with Mihaela and Traian? And there was a car in their back yard ready to go to South America also? Well, the guys kept their promise and one of the days we were in San Pedro they showed up! 4×4 and same passion for long travels! Now that’s one tricked up car! They even have a tent on the roof that can unfold right there, high and mighty!
And because world is not that big, we meet Bogdan just like that, on the street, another Romanian traveling the opposite direction, backpacking from South to North. Only from one bus to the other, and more flexible than all of us, no car, no motorcycle to worry about. The next few days… San Pedro was now speaking Romanian. What were the chances for 5 Romanian travelers to meet in a small village in Guatemala? We were happy and spend a lot of hours talking…
We say “goodbye” to the guys. Bogdan was going up North, as last part of his journey and Traian and Razvan had to hurry down South. They want to get to Ushuaia and back in 6 months. We shake hands and promise to meet again, if possible, somewhere in South America. As they come back up and we go down. Until then… safe trip, guys!
We stay some more in San Pedro and we are there when Guatemala, as well as many other Latin countries, celebrate Dia de los Muertos. There are interesting customs but we were intrigued by the high degree of mixture between the Mayan traditions and the “newer” rules brought in by the catholic religion. And indeed, many of the locals either Catholics or protestants kept their old traditions from one generation to the other.
The lake is a wonder also. It’s an endorheic volcanic lake with no link to the sea so water is not going anywhere. So when it rains a lot the water level increases significantly. That is why today many of the places that were once “by the lake” are now part of it.
Nothing was spared, old shops and hotels are now abandoned structures or in the best case, parking for the boats.
Internet you say? Sure we have, we even have wifi, right in the middle of the lake….
We take a boat for a short ride on the lake, to the neighbour village, Santiago Atitlan. The newly built deck sits above the old streets. We can see the old benches and fences under the water. It is a little bit strange.
Once we are on the boat we admire the landscape created by the lake and we understand why Atitlan is compared with Lake Como in Italy.
And maybe even better! As Lake Como is not surrounded by volcanoes like Lake Atitlan.
We think, though, that the lake is a little bit “overused”. There are many areas where water is really dirty. Lots of trash is thrown into the lake and for sure there are sewage systems from the villages that end up in the lake also.
And in the same lake women do their laundry or give the children a bath. Detergent, soap, shampoo, all into the lake (and the water of the lake is not going anywhere….).
And day by day fishermen paddle their boats to catch some fish in the same lake. This makes a pretty picture if you take your mind off what’s in those waters.
We leave San Pedro after a quiet and pleasant period we spent there. We considered ourselves lucky for being able to see the things behind the “touristic” curtain. Andres and his dog, Chato are waiting for us in Guatemala City, we are supposed to stay with them in the capital. We will also meet Richard there who is helping us with the spare parts for the motorcycle. We feel lucky again to meet people that we connect to on the spot. Not too many words, not too many explanations.
Andres and Richard prove to be extraordinary people. Without trying to flatter no one I confess that we spent more days than planned with Andres, because of his way of making people people feel welcomed. OK, I confess, it’s Chato’s “fault” also, for being the dog with the most “effiecient” puppy eyes I’ve ever seen.
Richard shows us the city and it’s surroundings and helps us with the spare parts we need. And when it’s time to go we accompanies us outside the city to make sure we don’t take the wrong road.
We leave Guatemala City – a city that many tourists avoid- with new friends, a very positive impression of the city and warm memories. We’re sorry that Luisa and Julio are not home yet to meet them too. But we are excited about their trip and wish them to get home safe, whenever that will be!
As for us…. we still have some time to spend in Central America, the boat that will take us from Panama to Columbia is leaving in a month. We don’t feel any pressure to leave Guatemala and as we like it here we decide to find a quiet place by the ocean to spend few more days. Richard told us about a place place like that. A small hostel, in a fishermen village, not yet on the touristic “radar” reachable only via a sandy road. That doesn’t sound to good for me, a beginner on a loaded motorcycle. But let’s try it.
Doesn’t seem that bad. But from time to time there is someone strongly pulling my handlebars and the motorcycle becomes unstable. There are places where the sand gets deeper. Hmmm, this is not fun at all. We are not going that fast but all of the sudden we end up….in the sand. And there you go, my first motorcycle fall while riding…. first one with Gunnar… after 50 000 km, in deep sand. We are fine and the motorcycle too but it really gets to me. We hurry up to pick it up and forget to take a picture…. But we take one with it standing. Sand was deep enough to keep the loaded motorcycle free standing without the side stand.
OK, we get the sand off our clothes and Gunnar and ride on. We dance through the sand the whole 12 km but without other incidents.
And get to a place… looking right out of an exotic postcard. Few huts built on wooden pillons, close to the beach, all facing the ocean (ours will be the first one on the right).
Reed roofs, hammocks by the beach. Great waves, deserted beach.
It’s great. For the following week we were to stay close to the ocean, moving one time from these hammocks to other ones few kilometers South East, in Monterrico. We were planning to cross into El Salvador in a few days. But for now… we are trapped on the beaches with volcanic sand, where crabs and turtles walk freely and sunsets are spectacular each time. There couldn’t have been a better way to say “goodbye” to Guatemala. Time stood still with us….
Route map for this story:
View Larger Map
Next time we find the courage to leave Guatemala and we press onwards to explore El Salvador and Honduras. Stay tunned!