Days 109-113 Tuesday August 7th- Saturday August 11, 2007
San Pedro La Laguna, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Aldous Huxley once described Lago De Atitlan as “the most beautiful lake in the world.” It was with this description in mind that we made our way from Antigua to Panajachel. Panajachel did prove to be a bit disappointing, but the massive crater lake and the valley it sits in provided a stunning backdrop. Before long, we were on one of the small overloaded “ferry” boats for a fast, rough and often scary twenty minute journey across the lake. When the boat finally docked, we were in the infamous travelers haven of San Pedro La Laguna.
Our guide book mentioned that San Pedro which sits on the shores of Lago de Atitlan, is the center of Guatemala’s traveling scene. With a decent population of way past their prime hippies, a happening nightlife and plenty of drugs to go around, I don’t think San Pedro will be losing this title any time soon. The most fascinating thing about the traveling scene here is that it exists completely separate from the local Maya population who are mostly Catholic or Evangelical Christians. With a few exceptions, the travelers live down by the lake, while the locals reside in the town up on a hill. Each side seems to coexist perfectly with the other.
The scene upon arriving at the dock is a bit chaotic. After paying the boat “captain”, we were bombarded with offers to help us find a hotel from what seemed like the town drunks. We did manage to ditch most of them, but one stalked us from hotel to hotel so he could earn his “commission”. We finally settled on the Casa Lola Hotel and were told that the owner had to pay him anyway, so we opted to let it go. Things didn’t get off to such a great start in San Pedro, but it was all uphill from there.
The Casa Lola Hotel certainly does not win an award for curb appeal but what it lacks on the outside is more than made up for in its beautiful rooms. Our room had an attractive tile floor, a very clean private bathroom with hot water and a television with cable. The best part had to be the price though, as it only set us back Q80 per night! ($1 USD = Q7.5) Perhaps the one thing we were most excited about in Casa Lola was the courtyard out front. For the first time in a week, we had access to a communal area where we could meet and talk with other people. Life thousands of miles from home seems much less lonely when you have new exciting people to talk with.
Our timing also couldn’t have been better. On the first night we met two sets of travelers. One was a South African man who resides in Washington DC. He was traveling on a two week vacation with a long time friend and his two kids, ages 10 & 12. The other person we met was Jeff, who is a very seasoned traveler. He drove down from Lake Tahoe with his friendly pitbull Red and is spending an indefinite amount of time in Central America. Shawn Reece quickly made friends with the other children while Jasmine and I had some wonderful conversations with Jeff. Also, with the price of Casa Lola being a little higher than the surrounding hotels, most of the “backpackers” stayed away and Shawn Reece was not exposed to very much of the “bohemian lifestyle”.
While the atmosphere and scenery are wonderful, San Pedro being a small town only has so much that an energetic young family can do. The first couple of days were spent chatting it up with other travelers, exploring the many paths that run along the shore of Lago de Atitlan and checking out Spanish schools. On our second night, we took in a movie at one of the local restaurants. Somebody remarked how interesting it was to see “white people from all around the world gathering together to see a movie in the middle of nowhere.”
One day, we spotted Jeff returning from a hike up the San Pedro Volcano and after a brief conversation about it, we were inspired to go and give it a try. The next morning we woke up at 7am and caught a tuc tuc to the trailhead about twenty minutes outside of town. Unfortunately, the San Pedro Volcano has been made a national park recently and they now charge Q100 per person to enter it. After a few seconds of thought, we decided that Q200 (Shawn Reece was free) was too steep a price, so we walked down the hillside back to San Pedro. Fortunately, the forty minute walk back to town revealed stunning views of San Pedro and the bright blue lake in the distance, so we weren’t disappointed.
After two days Shawn Reece’s new friends left for another town and after four Jeff headed to Honduras to meet some friends. The departure of our new companions and sheer boredom led us to make a decision to move on. Ultimately, I decided to attend Spanish school somewhere else, since going to school in San Pedro meant staying another week. With our decision to leave San Pedro already made, the only question that remained was, “where would we go next?” A few people had told us about another lake town, San Marcos which is the spiritual center of the Lago de Atitlan area. On Friday, we decided to make a day trip to San Marcos to see if it was somewhere that we wanted to spend a few days.
The boat ride from San Pedro to San Marcos took about five minutes and cost Q5 per person. Once again, in San Marcos the local population lives up on a hill while the travelers stay closer to the shore of Lago de Atitlan in a separate area. What we found was a much different place. Since San Marcos has many more trees, the lake is hardly visible leading to a more enclosed feeling. While following the signs from the dock, we found countless different yoga and meditation schools along with plenty of serene laid back hotels. While this place was right up my alley, it just wasn’t compatible with a six year old kid so we headed back to San Pedro after an hour.
After our unsuccessful visit to San Marcos we decided to leave the Lago de Atitlan area and head north to another small Maya town, Chichicastenango. On Saturday, we made a quick trip over to the local travel agent and booked a Sunday morning shuttle to Chichi. Chichi is famous for its twice weekly market, the largest of its kind in Guatemala. With that business taken care of we opted to participate in one more activity on the lake.
We approached one of the men at the dock and agreed to rent a kayak for Q25 an hour. None of us had ever been on a kayak, so they gave us the heavy fiberglass version that looked more like a canoe. Since we didn’t want to fall in the lake, the extra weight was welcomed. The kayak ride gave us a great opportunity to admire the scenery. Lago de Atitlan is truly a stunning place! It took us the whole hour to paddle across the lake and back. With our kayak ride over, we didn’t have much else to do but pack up our things and prepare to say goodbye to the lake, San Pedro and the Casa Lola Hotel, all of which by now we had great affection for.
The Coomer Family