Archive

Guatemala

Started a bit later than planned from our lovely hostel in Guatemala City and got a taxi to the bus station. At first we were a bit sceptic about taking the 2nd class bus (chicken bus) but this turned out to be quite a fun little adventure. They really cram the bus full so we got squashed to within an inch of our lives, but it was a nice atmosphere in the bus and everybody has a big smile on their faces. Every now and then the bus picks up vendors who pass through the bus selling their goods before being dropped off further along the route.

When we arrive in San Marcos la Laguna it’s around eight in the evening and as we don’t have a map of the place we have no idea where the guest houses we’d looked at are situated - and there is no roads here, only a network of small paths so the guest houses’ addresses are just San Marcos la Laguna and no street-names. Along the paths there is no lighting which doesn't help us in our navigation. After walking up and down the main path and then up and down countless of more times we finally find a place to stay for the night. It’s not the nicest place – it’s a very basic room, which isn't anything unusual or bad in itself, but the shared facilities are downright very grubby. It serves us for the one night though as we find it near impossible to find any open guest houses. Next day we learn most guest houses close their receptions around six in the evening (apparently for security reasons) although San Marcos seems completely safe to us.

[caption id="attachment_2797" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Having a gorgeous curry at Restaurant Fe, San Marcos la Laguna. Having a gorgeous curry at Restaurant Fe, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2798" align="aligncenter" width="426"]Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2799" align="aligncenter" width="545"]A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna. A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2800" align="aligncenter" width="545"]A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna. A bit of streetart in San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

First thing in the morning we head over to Hotel Aaculaax to see if they have any available rooms. We’re in luck and get an amazing room – really spacious and with a nice view of the garden. We could also have opted for one of their self-contained flats up in the hill above the hotel with what must be an amazing view, but at 800 Quetzales (US$ 100) per night it is a bit above our budget. Our room is unfortunately not available for our whole stay here so for the last two days we go for a smaller room (the good thing is that it’s cheaper of course). We love the décor in this hotel – everything is built by volunteers and out of recycled materials. It’s got heaps of character and the staff and owners are really friendly and helpful. The breakfast is also absolutely amazing with lots of fruit, home-made jam and fresh locally grown coffee. No wonder this place holds the top spot on TripAdvisor.

[caption id="attachment_2801" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The path up to Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. The path up to Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2802" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2803" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The view of the garen from our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. The view of the garen from our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2804" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our room at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2805" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our bathroom at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Our bathroom at Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2816" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2817" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2821" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2822" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna. Hotel Aaculaax, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

The atmosphere here in San Marcos is dangerously relaxing – almost hypnotic - and we find time just flies by while we get a well deserved rest and recharge at the end of our trip. People here are also really friendly and as we walk around exploring the place virtually everyone you encounter says hello with a smile – it’s infectious and really makes it a pleasurable place.

[caption id="attachment_2825" align="aligncenter" width="545"]View of Lake Atitlán from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. View of Lake Atitlán from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.[/caption]

The most important highlight of my travels was played out here in San Marcos la Laguna. It all happened when we went to jump into the Lake Atitlán from the rocks. It’s a really popular thing to do here in San Marcos and there is even a seven meter high platform where you can jump off of. The water has a really nice temperature and it’s really deep so it’s very safe to jump in even from very high up. I decide to try to dive from the platform and have Hannah take a photo of me in the dive. Little does she know of the upcoming surprise. I dive in and when I surface and swim into land I call to Hannah saying I found something on the bottom of the lake. She’s very curious about what this can be and as I hand it over to her it becomes clear it’s a small ring and as she receive it I ask for her hand in marriage. To my relief there is no sign of hesitation and I get an instant YES. It made me feel like the luckiest man alive.

[caption id="attachment_2808" align="aligncenter" width="545"]This is me taking the plunge :-) When I surfaced again I claimed to have found something on the bottom of the lake. It was a ring, and when I handed it over to Hannah I asked for her hand in marriage... She said YES!!! :-) This is me taking the plunge :-) When I surfaced again I claimed to have found something on the bottom of the lake. It was a ring, and when I handed it over to Hannah I asked for her hand in marriage... She said YES!!! :-)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2818" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The little ring that signifies so much - even if it's a temporary stand-in :-) The little ring that signifies so much - even if it's a temporary stand-in :-)[/caption]

We spend the rest of our stay just lounging around in town eating gorgeous food – all locally sourced and organic of course – and find it really hilarious with all the hippies we encounter – some are really, really “far out” and like a throwback from the sixties. Here you can actually find true hippies - something we’d hoped to see more of previously in our adventure, but unfortunately not had much luck with. It’s also really fun when there is live music in the restaurants and as they pass by they dance in the style of seaweed on the bottom of the ocean, swaying around with their hands high in the air as if in slow motion.

[caption id="attachment_2806" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Lake Atitlán seen from the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2807" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hanna at the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna. Hanna at the Mayan viewpoint at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2810" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2811" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Chicken-busses in San Pedro La Laguna. Chicken-busses in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2812" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2813" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2814" align="aligncenter" width="545"]San Pedro La Laguna. San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2815" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Street art in San Pedro La Laguna. Street art in San Pedro La Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2819" align="aligncenter" width="465"]Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna. Lake Atitlán seen from the shore at San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2820" align="aligncenter" width="545"]"Canadian Bacon" performing at The Mojito House, San Marcos la Laguna. "Canadian Bacon" performing at The Mojito House, San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

We decide to splash out a bit as we’re close to the end of our trip and hire a private taxi from the hotel to Guatemala City Airport for our flight to the last destination Mexico City. We get picked up just after eight in the morning so there is no time for breakfast. Our driver stops at a petrol station which has a little restaurant attached though and we have a fantastic traditional breakfast there – really unexpected how good this meal in a petrol station is – a very pleasant surprise. After this it’s direct drive to the airport and we arrive nicely in good time for our flight.

[caption id="attachment_2823" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport. Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2824" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport. Our amazingly lovely traditional Guatemalan breakfast at a truck-stop on our way to the airport.[/caption]

We arrive in Guatemala City in the early evening by air, it’s a bit extravagant of us to fly – we were planning to take a bus but were less than enthusiastic to spend a whooping 60 hours on a journey by bus - our time is precious and we much prefer spending it relaxing rather than cooped up in a bus now that we’re seriously starting to feel the fatigue after countless long journeys, always on the move from place to place. We managed to book a room at Hostal La Coperacha and an airport pickup while waiting for our flight in San Jose – we had a few hours to kill as our VIP taxi-van arrived early from Montezuma. It feels very luxurious to have everything booked up and arranged for us for once – no stress is a very pleasant feeling. Our taxi driver is waiting for us as we come out but he need to go and pick his car up from the car park so we have to wait outside where we have some crazy woman (probably on crack and various other substances) shouting abuse at the world and some gibberish about government satellites and aliens. We try to just ignore her as she comes up to us but this just make her more determined to shout louder and even more abusing than before. We’re just hoping she won’t attack us with her used needles and probably deadly diseases. Our taxi driver arrives in the nick of time to rescue us from an attack by this crazed babbling woman – we’re out of here. As we get closer to the centre of town we hit crazy traffic – it’s all stand-still as many roads are closed off for the Easter holy week parades. Due to this chaos the journey that is supposed to take 10-15 minutes takes over an hour. It’s quite nice to watch the bustle of the people dressed in their funny purple church outfits as we slowly move through the traffic stand-still in our taxi. When we finally get to the hotel we get a very nice surprise - the room is huge and really nicely decorated and the hostel is in a really nice old building on a quiet road.

[caption id="attachment_2782" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City. Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2783" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City. Our budget room at Hostal La Coperacha, Guatemala City.[/caption]

Upon arrival we’re absolutely starving and quickly pop out to get something to eat. Because it’s the start of holy week and Sunday not many restaurants will be open, but we head out in good hopes. We don’t get far down the road before we can’t get any further because of the crowd of people still hanging about in the streets after the parade we saw some of from the taxi earlier. The good thing with it still being very busy is that there are many food-stalls around, so our worries about not being able to get food are unfounded. We really like the look of a stall that makes some gorgeous smelling chorizo sandwiches. With my broken Spanish I manage to order one for me without the mayo sauce and one for Hannah with all the trimmings. I’m astonished I manage to do the order without stuttering and even more surprised that the stall-holder understands me on the first try, so I don’t need to repeat myself – I’m getting better at this, whohooo. I even get a compliment on my Spanish from a bystander after he learns I’m Norwegian. Happily fed we walk back towards our hostel (or more correctly – we’re happily stuffing our faces while walking back to the hostel). It’s quite late by now and we’re looking forward to relaxing in our plush room. Our hostel has a really tranquil setting with lots of plants dotted around the place. The manager Lucien, an ex-pat Frenchman, is really nice, and in the morning cooks up a very nice traditional Guatemalan breakfast for us. He also arranges for us the transport to the bus station for our bus to Panajachel on Lake Atilan where we can catch the boat to San Marcos La Laguna.

Before we get our taxi to the bus station we need to get some cash out and head in towards the main square to find an ATM. We’re quite surprised to find there are armed guards everywhere and for everything - how bad is the situation here when they need an armed guard for the truck delivering frozen chicken and the van delivering sausages to the various small shops. We’d seen armed guards by banks and ATMs in other countries but that is sort of expected – armed guards for some frozen chicken is a sign of desperate measures due to desperate people – how poor are people here to resort to robbing a chicken or sausage van?

It’s time for us to take the bus to Panajachel and the taxi takes us to the bus company. From the outside I would never have guessed the place was a bus-station – it’s an anonymous doorway and at first we’re unsure the taxi driver was properly briefed on where we were supposed to be dropped off. He keeps saying something about one o’clock and wait, and something more about a closed office. We get our backpacks out of the car and head into the anonymous doorway hoping this is actually where we’re supposed to be. When we get inside we can breathe a sigh of release as we can see our bus with a Panajachel sign getting a proper overhaul and a good wash. The old bus is positively gleaming as if it was brand new by the time it’s ready for boarding. It’s a so-called chicken bus and in the beginning we’re a bit worried it’s going to be a bit rough and ready. It quickly fills up and we’re happy to see the passengers are a mix of families and business people, and not the crooks our guide was warning us would frequent these busses – maybe we should show our Lonely Planet books the shredder... (under pressure they might start to improve themselves...). The journey is a really fun experience with vendors coming on during the trip selling chicken in tortillas and fruits – and a few things we couldn’t understand what it is of course. Everybody on the bus are wearing big smiles, even though it’s really crammed – we’re practically sitting on top of each other – and the atmosphere is really great.

[caption id="attachment_2788" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our chicken bus getting a good wash and overhaul before the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel. Our chicken bus getting a good wash and overhaul before the journey from Guatemala City to Panajachel.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2785" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The bus depot for the chicken bus to Panajachel in Guatemala city. The bus depot for the chicken bus to Panajachel in Guatemala city.[/caption]

We arrive in Panajachel around six and after a bit of walking about find the right pier for the boats towards San Marcos la Laguna. After about a 45 minutes wait for the boat to fill up we’re finally on our way across Lake Atilan.

[caption id="attachment_2787" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Our view from the pier in Panajachel while waiting for our boat to fill up and cross Lake Atilan to reach San Marcos la Laguna. Our view from the pier in Panajachel while waiting for our boat to fill up and cross Lake Atilan to reach San Marcos la Laguna.[/caption]

It feels very sudden, despite months of preparations, but it's now less than a day before we head off for what will be a very big adventure. Tomorrow the flight will take us to the first stop on our journey, New Delhi. We're braced for a bit of a culture shock but more and more excited for each hour that passes. A quick outline of our trip: India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali, Singapore, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico. We've been trying to catch up with as many of our friends as possible before heading off. But alas, some we have not had the chance to meet up with. We'll be sure to get around to see everyone on our return in five months time. We're feeling very humbled by all the well wishes from everybody - and we had a most wonderful leaving-party (sorry neighbours). One of the highlights must be the cake by Lauren http://cookingbakingandallthingsfood.blogspot.co.uk Absolutely amazing! We've been repeatedly stabbed by various doctors/nurses and injected with many concoctions to vaccinate us against what felt like every disease known to man... Everything (almost) is now packed and today we're sorting the very last details out. Soon we'll not have any more time for more details and what has not been sorted just won't be - tough luck... This reminds me I have to get started. We're off!!!