Thursday, July 31, 2008

49. Lake Atitlan

Our tourist van to Lake Atitlan picked us up at our hotel a little before 8. There were already 6 people in the van and we were hoping that was going to be it. Nope, they packed 5 more people into it. I, of course, was lucky enough to get to sit next to an Italian Lurch whose nicotine cravings were so bad that he spent most of the 8 hours twitching for a cigarette. At one point, I seriously thought he was going to put his arm around me during one of his fits. We played the this is my space, back off game pretty much then entire way trip to the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

Immigration was easy, thanks to the tour company. They guided us along and like good little cattle; we followed the rest of the heard and made it though in less than an hour. The Guatemala bus was bigger, but we were one of the last ones on and I had to sit on a jump seat that folded out into the aisle. Not exactly the most comfortable, but the other passengers kept me distracted enough that it wasn’t so bad. Teenagers – two beautiful German girls traveling with their parents who giggled most of the trip and a guy from England who watched South Park on his ipod the whole time - surrounded me. And of course, Lurch and his traveling companion were up ahead jonesing for a smoke the entire time. The Mr got to sit next to Lurch’s friend, but he at least had a real seat and a window.

The Guatemalan countryside is very dramatic- deep craggy cliffs that sort of remind me of Kauai. The border is in the lowlands, so it was much warmer than San Cristobal. To get to Lake Atitlan, you wind your way back up into the mountains. The road is paved and I can’t imagine the man hours it took to carve it out of the mountains. It’s the rainy season, so it’s very green. People build their homes, plant their corn and raise a cow and a couple of chickens right on the side of the road and on the edge of the mountain cliffs. It seems dangerous, but it was that way the whole way up.

Tourist van is the way to go. There is no way I would drive these roads. They’re just so curvy. Plus, drivers are insane. Either that or the rules of the road are really loose. People pass at the most dangerous times with just seconds to spare and often drive over the center line, creating a third lane. There are speed bumps all over the place. In one little village at the top of a hill, a couple of little boys created their own dirt speed bump and pulled a rope across the Pan American Highway, forcing tourists to stop. Our bus stopped, paid the boys and drove past. Can you image that in the states? On the 5?

We also got pulled over by the Policia. It was probably just an insurance check, but still a little unnerving to see these tough looking guys, dressed all in black, and packing machine guns.

Guatemala definitely feels more third world than Mexico so far. Panajchel, our jumping off point for the Lake, was sketchy. It’s definitely an opportunist place, but you can’t be bitter about it since the poverty level is so great and we represent such great comparative wealth. I don’t mind that we pay almost double than the locals for a boat ride to our hotel. Especially when it works out to be less than $3 US.

And our hotel…Lomas de Tzununa. It’s exactly as represented on the their website. 10 rooms carved into the mountain, each with amazing views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes. Of course, to get those views, you have to go up. Maria, who owns and runs the hotel with her husband Thierry, said it was 100 meters from the lake. I didn’t think it sounded like that much. I’m not so good with the whole metric conversion math. It’s high. 400 steps straight up, starting from an altitude of 5000 feet. I’m going to blame my heart pounding, out of breath, think I’m going to die state on the long trip, altitude and hunger. It’s either that or admit that while I’ve definitely lost some weight on this trip, I’m still horribly out of shape.


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