Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

dockWe had already heard from our friends in Antigua that the towns surrounding Lake Atitlan were rife with hippy drifters, but we weren’t quite sure what else to expect. We arrived in San Pedro after a grueling drive down unnerving roads in yet another rickety microbus on.  I felt so bad for Meghan who had picked up some kind of stomach bug the day before and was sick all morning—even I got waves of nausea from the crazy driving down the mountain. The sun was already setting by the time we unloaded our packs so we checked into the Maria Elena, a hotel nearby on the main road, and ventured out to scope the scene and find some dinner.

The town is small and eclectic; everywhere we looked there were clusters of  “free spirits”— young white people, dirty and dreadlocked, peddling their handmade trinkets or juggling for donations. There were quite a few juice bars and vegan eateries nearby as well as stores selling handcrafted clothes and shoes. We noticed that almost all the establishments had signs written in Hebrew and that most restaurants served Mediterranean food (which was exciting for us because that meant hummus and pita instead of chips and salsa at every meal.)

cashewAnother memorable characteristic of San Pedro was the ubiquitous presence of little girls hustling nuts. Out of nowhere they would come flying towards us singing “cashews! Cashews!” in their sweet little voices. They are all less than 10 years old, in full-length skirts and embroidered tops, balancing their plastic baskets on top of their heads. If you got suckered into buying some (which happened to us way too much, only because the girls are adorable and persistent, not because their snacks were delicious,) they’d take out homemade scales, place a rock on one side and measure out tiny scoops of stale peanuts into the other. We actually fell in love with one particular hustler, Isabel. Every time she would spot Kyle in a crowd her eyes would light up as she skipped toward us in a beeline—she knew she had a sale; there was just no saying no to her! We tried walking the other direction and avoiding eye contact but she won each time.

We were told in Antigua that we absolutely could not miss the notorious recurring party at La Iguana, a hostel across the lake in Santa Cruz. Apparently each Saturday they host a raging fiesta and all the attendees are sent to the substantial costume closet and have to dress in drag for the night. The weekend we were in town happened to correspond with the full moon, so we decided to rally for a surefire good time.  We really didn’t have much other information and got off to a rocky start… We forgot to check the boat schedule and missed the last water taxi by about two hours so we had to hire a private boat to charter us across the lake, which cost us about 65Q each instead of 20Q. No matter, we thought, minor setback. When we arrived in Santa Cruz it was already completely dark, and as we fumbled our way up the dock to the only three hotels in town, we quickly learned that they were all booked up and there were no more boats back to San Pedro. Hmm… Ok, we thought, let’s just grab some dinner and drinks while we figure out a plan. Alas, we found out that in Santa Cruz, everyone orders their dinners before 3PM so the kitchens only buy and prepare exactly enough food for the night.

Our only chance for redemption was that someone named Larry had reserved a big room at one of the hotels and hadn’t showed up yet. The manager told us that if he didn’t arrive on the last boat, we could take his room. He was also kind enough to serve us the extra food they had left for dinner, which was a delectable homemade potato soup and vegetable stir fry. We thanked him by purchasing all the wine and beer they had available and anxiously played cards on the deck, hoping Larry would be a noshow. Every time someone walked up to the lobby, our heads snapped up and we’d shoot them daggers with our eyes, expecting any one to be Larry. Luckily for us, he never came and we victoriously made ourselves at home in the room, which was beautiful, comfortable and had a gorgeous view of the lake. Everything was perfect! Or so we thought…

After settling in, Kyle went to the bathroom and came right back out, terrified. Gigantic spider right next to the toilet. Meghan, our resident spider-killer, went in to take care of it. A couple minutes later I went in and an even bigger spider was sitting right there! Megs went in for man vs. spider round 2 when all of a sudden I spotted something move from the corner of my eye. I looked down to the floor and out rushed a thick black scorpion from under the bed like a bat out of hell! It was charging straight toward me and Kyle, guns blazing, pinching wildly! Finally Kyle took a shoe and squashed it, but it was clear that our room was haunted and infested and there was no way we could sleep peacefully there although we had no choice for relocation. What could we do? Our only option was to get drunk and cross-dress, so we did!

dressTo be honest, the party was mediocre at best. In fairness, it was perhaps especially lackluster due to several other full moon events that were taking place elsewhere that night. We also heard that a large group of Christian missionaries was staying at La Iguana for volunteer trip, so there weren’t very many party people on site. The one hilarious highlight of the night was that an older gentleman was ferociously hitting on Kyle—no matter how many times Kyle laughed it off and said he was not gay, it was extremely unconvincing as he stood there in a low-cut dress.

The only other lake town we visited was San Marcos. We were only able to stay for one night, due to time constraints. San Marcos is an extremely inconspicuous and tranquil town. There isn’t much to do there unless you are avidly involved in yoga and meditation, in which case you would be in heaven.

hammockThey do have one park with hiking trails, small ruins, and a “trampoline” which was actually just a platform deck about 30 feethigh that you can jump off into the lake (so obviously Meghan and Kyle were psyched.) Without really checking the height of the jump, Harold took off and launched himself into a flip, but the fall was longer than he expected and he over-rotated, landing square on his ribs. He is still hurting two weeks later! You can actually see the point of impact in the video we posted.

Whew—that FINALLY wraps up our time in Guatemala! We had a wonderful time in the three weeks we explored the country, but the elevation sure made for a chilly climate. We were feeling cold, pasty, and inactive, so we were more than ready to board our bus and head toward the beach in El Salvador!.

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Guatemala

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