The lake between volcanos

Hitch-hiking again, the longest downhill in our lives and doing nothing at Atitlan

The Guatemalan boarder is a huge market place and just an open gate marks the beginning of Guatemala. Unless one guy told us, maybe we wouldn’t stop. We get worth advices from locals how dangerous it is in Guatemala, that we shouldn’t ride in night, is difficult to hitch-hike and that we can ask for place to sleep in a church.

Much “calmer” after this conversation we go to look for the place of God. The pastor there is a little confused what we want and why we don’t go to hotel but at the end we are allowed to sleep at the basketball court under the roof. The whole complex consists of radio, school and church and in the middle is parking lot and basketball court. It takes almost 2 hours till all the secondary students leave on their scooters and 4-wheelers. In the evening we visit the radio Impact and fall asleep with the sounds of a gospel group which is training in the church.

The road to Atitlan is nice, some hills, nice downhills and 3 hitch-hikes. First two are families where we sit in the back with bicycles and the last is a company car where we talk inside with an interesting guy. The mountains are beautiful but huge and we are happy that we can enjoy them without using our muscles.

The crossroad “148.km” means that we are only 20miles from our vacation destination. We don’t understand the warnings of locals “muy abajo y curvas peligrosas” (steep down and dangerous curves) because first 30minutes we climb steep hills up. And there it comes, we start to go down – nice serpentines, few cars, good road… bad road, more curves and steep hill … gravel, sand, almost full brakes and the feeling that I will fall above the steering … no way we will get this road back up! Some steep uphills and down and down and down. It’s good to know our brakes are almost new and we can trust them even when they are so hot that we can fry an egg on them.

Finally Atitlan and village San Pablo … happy that we are almost there we pedal another half an hour up-and-down (why would they do a flat road around the lake?). In San Pedro la Laguna we go some uphills and one so steep downhill that I was even thinking to walk with bike… and in a bar at the end of the street we meet Andrew (our colleague from whalewhatch boats who spends winters here). To celebrate our arrival we drink some beers, eat french fries and nachos, Jan smokes Cuban cigar and after getting room in hotel San Francisco (for 5 bucks a big room with bathroom, terrace, kitchen and internet) we can finally start our holiday in Guatemala.

Next day we explore the town, buy fresh vegetables at the market, walk the streets full of tourists discover big and tasty food for 3usd, do laundry, find language school and a cafeteria with internet, swimming pool and big garden and realize that the bars are full of American youth who came here to have fun for not much money.

We’ve planned the Spanish course for 2 hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Both of us have own teacher but one is more for grammar and the second for conversation so we divide the hours between them. First 4 days pass really fast and we don’t have time for more than to have breakfast at the market, Spanish class and evening talks with our neighbors.

Ahmed and Eva are a marriage couple who sold their apartment in Scotland and travel around the world. In 2 years they’ve seen a lot from Asia and now they are in America going to south. We were a good inspiration for them and they want to buy bicycles and continue cycling.. They are perfect and have a lot of interesting stories and photos. Since we’ve met them we spend every evening together 🙂 And sometimes also with other neighbors – Charlotte from USA working on a biofarm, Maya from Poland who meditates here and Yos from China.

On Thursday we get the bikes and between the classes we go for a “small trip” to San Marcos. After one hour of pedaling up and down we get to a beautiful small spiritual village with lots of trees, small cafeterias and different people. If all the prices weren’t almost 2 times higher, it can be a perfect place for relax.

Last day of Spanish classes I take a class of weaving. First tho hours we just prepare all the strings (for 1.6inch belt) and prepare the “weaving machine” (they do everything by hands and tie every second string and with using many sticks they weawe in a very creative way). After three hours and 10cm of belt (out of 2m) I have enough and ask the lady if she can finish it for me and how much will it cost. 35 quetzal (3.5eur) -I don’t even think and agree.

Later we have in the school an activity – cooking a typical Guatemalan food. But because we mostly just chat with our schoolmates we don’t know how to prepare it and even the name of it 🙂 (it’s a soup from tomatoes and chicken and it’s pretty good).

Then we have 3 days without classes. We breakfast at the market (arroz con leche/chocolate and torta with everything), we buy newspaper to know what’s happening in the world (of course, we understand only pictures and sometimes some words), we go for a walk to the other part of the town, stop at the cemetery (they use shelves for coffins and a plate with name and picture in the front), we meet Tomek from Cancun, we get to know Carlos (cyclist from Alaska) and arrange a guide for a sunrise climb to a volcano to celebrate our 1-year anniversary…

The alarm rings and everywhere is dark – it makes sense, it’s 1:30am. We finish coke from last evening, wear boots, pack water and food and 2:10 we are outside ready. We wait for the guide … wait … sometimes a drunk tourist passes, sometimes some groups of “body watchers” (today a local healer died and now her body is exhibited in town so people can say last goodbye).

After one hour of waiting… we give up and go to bed but it’s impossible to fall asleep (drink coke before you don’t know for sure that we will live was not a good idea). Jan reads book and I try to sleep. After an hour I start to be tired and… our guide comes – he makes so much noise that he must have awaken the whole hotel. He apologizes that he overslept and proposes that we can go now (it’s 4, the walk takes 3hours and the sun rises 5:30). We refuse this great offer and “continue” sleeping.

We enjoy breakfast on rocks near to the lake and even if it’s not with the planned romantic, food taste good. We rent kayaks and paddle to San Marcos and back (by straight line it’s not so far). In evening we eat in experimental Guatemala-Asia restaurant. First we thought they combine this two cousines, but it’s only traditional meals. Anyway it’s interesting and very tasty. Later we participate in the school on another event – reading from the Maya calendar (we don’t believe our zodiac either, but this is relly crazy) and at the end of the ceremony we ritually throw cacao nut and some herbs to fire.

It’s morning and our Spanish class starts again (oh, we are so lazy to go there). Now it’s not going to take the whole day, just 2 hours in the morning, but because we want to finish articles for our blog we don’t have much of free time.

The week passes by without realizing it. Evenings we spent with Tomek and Carlos, we go to a Quiz and win 2nd place, another unsuccessful climb of volcano (we were packed and already in halfway but we didn’t like the guide much … and it was raining later in the night – from the sky and also from me so at the end it was better not to go) and a trip to Santiago.

They say the road to this town is very dangerous (80% chance to be robbed). Therefore we leave everything at home including wedding rings and take just a little money for ransom :D. The road is unbelievable steep and long. After every curve I hope this suffering ends but I have to wait 45minutes. The landscape changes at the top – it’s partly flat with field of corn and other plants all around. Big mountains behind it and the volcano San Pedro. The downhill is great and the perfect view on the clouds pouring
above the peaks erases the memories for the difficult climb. And it’s here – end of pavement and just a dust road continues (here all the robberies take place). The wheels are deep in the sandy dust, the bike is like floating and a rock… I’m on the ground. I get a cramp and hit my hand but I’m ok and happy that I’m not a boy (that would hurt much more). We continue mostly walking which is also not easy on this surface. Our plan to go fast didn’t work but to be unnoticed doesn’t work at all – the hot brakes with the sand make a strong noise and everybody in radius of 1mile definitely hears us coming :D. After half an hour we get to a good road. We are covered with dust and continue to Santiago. We believe a guy that this boat which leaves in 10min is the last one to San Pedro and so we don’t see much of the town (the last boat went in one and half hours). But we are happy from today’s successful trip without any losses.

We have new neighbors from Argentina at the hotel and after 2 days of describing the beauties of the south we recalculate our budget and come with a new plan – we will continue to Patagonia to see it in a flourishing spring (September-october).

For the last Spanish class we take Tops for a walk and don’t want more gramma. We show him a painting which we consider to buy (big, expensive but really nice). In the evening we attend potluck at the school and prepare haruľa (potato pancakes) and the people like it.

We try to leave next 3 days and in that time we repeat the bike trip up to the cornfields behind the volcano (now with camera). Now we know what is awaiting us and therefore it’s without psychological suffering (awaiting the end after every curve). We upload new articles, say goodbyes to all our friends here, pack our stuff, finally sell tires we’ve been carrying from Cancun (finally we found good owner for them) and don’t buy the painting, because the gallery is closed and for the lady is this transaction not enough important to come to work (nevermind, some better and nicer painting is waiting for us somewhere else).

Bicycles are loaded in the boat and the captain starts the engine. We finally move from here. Three weeks were a long but perfect time. We’ve met awesome people and make new friends. We got to used to our room and the breakfast at the market. We had the daily routine which we liked. Lake Atitlan was our home for the longest time during our traveling and we will miss it 🙂

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