We said good bye to Semuc Champey and headed toward Lake Atitlan… this was no easy feat. As mentioned in our previous blog, the roads of Guatemala are extremely rough. After driving for nearly five hours, I couldn’t stand the bumps and the car sickness any longer… I figured I had two options; I could take over driving or have the most fun out of everyone. I chose the latter and instructed Tom to pull the car over. I pulled my mountain bike off the back of the car and raced down the mountain, wind in my hair, bugs in my teeth, passing the overlanders!
That evening after taking turns biking down the mountain, we finally found our way back to a paved road and decided to camp in a quarry. It was large enough to fit all three vehicles. Of course, all the locals were very curious and came out to see who the weird gringos were parked in their backyard. Once again the generosity of the Guatemalans was only surpassed by the beauty of the landscape. After another day of driving we pulled into Coban. We found a city park for all three vehicles and called it a night. The next day, we found a welding shop and Tom was able to weld the oil pan to create a better fix for our leak. Unfortunately, the pan still sweat a bit of oil, but it was much better than its previous condition. All the while I was working hard reading Game of Thrones.
After yet more driving, we finally made it to Lake Atitlan, a place I have always wanted to go. We spent a day driving through various touristy towns, before we came upon San Lucas. San Lucas was not remarkably beautiful, but it was traditional and lacked the overabundance of tourism that some of the other towns seemed consumed by. We spent the evening exploring the food stalls and the next morning wandering around the markets. In search of the beauty that we were certain existed in Lake Atitlan, we made our way to San Marcus, a gorgeous town on the lake with views of the nearby volcanoes. Calling it beautiful would be an understatement. The town seems to draw holistic health practitioners and several folks who seem to participate in more liberal health practices. I was beyond excited. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the purposes of this trip is to seek out a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. Word on the street was that there was a Cacao shaman who conducted twice weekly meditation ceremonies. Tom decided to stay back since his meditative time is in nature away from large groups of people while Kelly, Beefy, and I headed over. The Cacao Shaman, an ex-gringo from the states, gave everyone a large glass of cacao grown on the nearby hillside. It was a stimulant meant to help achieve a meditative state. The meditation process was good. It was interesting to watch everyone with their differing ways of meditation… some laughed, some cried, some did both… While it was an interesting experience, I decided that I would probably continue to meditate on my own. We celebrated New Years in that beautiful town, still in the company of Sylvan and Nadia. We discovered amazing street food tostados that were comparable to Mexico’s food and gorged ourselves with them! Of course, the boys decided to set off fireworks over the lake and we all played with sparklers.
Come 11:30 we were all beat. I was feeling especially old for being tired at 11:30 on New Year’s Eve… I am only 28! Then I felt better when Kelly and Beefy were also exhausted … they are 23. As we were climbing into our vehicles a middle aged couple came walking down the street and completely called us out for going to bed before midnight! Attempting to clutch whatever pride we could salvage, we all wandered back out to prove we were young and vivacious.
Tom and I had to head toward Antigua for work, and Kelly and Beefy decided to stay behind for Spanish lessons. Sad to miss the opportunity for Spanish lessons, Tom and I decided to take some lessons in Colombia. Sylvan, Nadia, Tom and I set off with Volcan Papaya in our sites. I had a few days to kill before work and we decided to backpack one of the largest volcanoes in Guatemala. We set off on foot around 4 pm and hiked until 9 pm. We found an abandoned structure, rolled out our sleeping bags, made some food and tried to get some sleep while Hydro and Lika stood guard.
The next morning we woke before the sunrise to try and make it to the top before the guides came. The guides won’t let folks hike to the very top while they are there, so we had to get an early start. Sylvan and Nadia, being hard core Swiss mountaineers, decided to hike off the trail and scramble up the side of the volcano. Tom and I, not being nearly as cool, stuck to the trail and took the long way to the top. By the time we reached the summit, clouds were hugging the mountain top, impeding on the view. For a split second the clouds would open up so we could snap a quick photo.
After the volcano hike, we said hasta luego to Sylvan and Nadia and headed towards Antigua. We tried renting a nice place to stay while I was working, but couldn’t find any place that was nice on our budget, so we camped in the tourist police lot. There were showers, security, and several other overlanders present. It is actually in the remains of an old hospital that was destroyed in one of Antigua’s earthquakes. Antigua is an adorable colonial town and I enjoyed spending some time there. I presented to a small group of Americans and locals at a nearby church. The pastor gave me a tour of their charitable program. They provide people with the materials to build basic homes and many US citizens wanting to volunteer come down and build these houses for several folks in the more rural areas of Guatemala. Directly after Antigua, we raced to Guatemala City to present to the embassy and another local group. Having saved money on the campground in Antigua, we decided to really splurge in Guatemala City. We stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel that used to be a mansion. Most people say there is nothing to enjoy in Guatemala City, but I loved it. Besides working at the embassy, you couldn’t get me out of that adorable hotel. Tommy had taken to calling me the hotel troll. Finally I had to release my grasp from the gorgeous hotel as Tommy, Hydro, Lika and I headed towards the border, sorry to leave such a fascinating country. Guatemala is amazing and we will return.