Day three in Antigua and truly hungover with three drinking nights under the belt, the only way to beat it off was to take the hike up Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the cross) for a commanding view over Antigua propped up against the backdrop of the dormant Volcan Agua and Acatenango, and the still very active Volcan Fuego. Now a safe route that is patrolled by our police friends, you can rest assured that your valuable are safe, even though they barely walk halfway up.
Back into the Rainbow Café for some WiFi catch up followed by some last minute shopping, we again hit up El Faro for a monstrous burrito (Q40) and super tacos (Q20) and walked it off by following one guidebooks recommended walking tour that takes in all of Antigua’s churches, standing or ruined, with most of them now ruined. Turning from one such ruin we were greeted with the sight of Volcan Fuego again spewing clouds of ash into the sky.
Antigua has a great little cafe and bar culture, and as you stroll around the cobblestoned grid system of streets and avenues, you continuiously discover new little nooks, cranny’s and courtyards that could keep you entertained here for weeks. Unfortunately we didn’t have weeks so it was time to hit the road again. Saying our goodbyes to new friends, we left the pretty town of Antigua for some lake time on Lago De Atitlan.
Guatemala has a total of 33 volcanoes stretching across the highlands of the country, and three of these circle the lake, Toliman, Atitlan & San Pedro, basically creating a natural dam. With no less than eight towns dotted along it’s shores, having a car without 4WD and not wanting to get robbed, we could only safely drive into one of them, Panachajel. Being the most visited and touristic of them all, we found a relaxing campsite removed from town at Hotel Vision Azul, and even though it cost us Q150 for the night it was such a picturesque location, with soft green grass rolling down to the water’s edge and a pool to rest our weary bodies in. And boy did we need this. The road down from Solola is again a steep gradient that takes patience, good brakes and an engine screaming in first to descend down.
Walking into Panachajel, with it’s busy atmosphere and many lakeside restaurants, we came across a US expat from hippy haven Sedona Arizona (you can read about our slightly crazy Sedona adventures here), we weren’t surprised to discover the homemade chocolates he was selling actually contained marijuana. We had plans to hire a kayak and enjoy a nice paddle for the afternoon, but approaching the lake shore we were greeted with strong winds and choppy waves, which would have made kayaking on it more of an adventure sport than we were up for that afternoon.
Walking to the far end of town we soon found some familiar vans, running into the Argentinians first with the Chileans soon arriving into the same free carpark outside the Paradise Inn for the night. Walking down with Victor and Caro, they’d had a testing day driving from Guatemala City, and were hankering for a cold one. Finding a place that was going to serve us beer at the right price we plonk down lakeside and shoot the shit until sunset and eleven liters of Gallo beers are finished.
‘Don’t get ripped off by the tuk tuks!’ Victor says as we’re leaving.
‘What do you mean I’m good at bargaining’ Matt replies.
‘Well, not when the extent of your Spanish is Taco, Taco, Burrito.’ Victors throws back.
I have’ll you know we paid exactly the right price of Q20 thank you very much, and the driver even apologised that he had to charge this much as it was now dark! If anyone reading this gets the privilege of being in these two’s company, enjoy it, you don’t often meet a couple like this, and they’ll have you laughing so hard you’ll fall off your chair.
Wanting to check out the famous Chichicastenango markets we left Porkchop under the shade by the lake, popped into tourist information to find out the best way up (he even wrote the correct fares down!) and chicken bused it up the hills. This journey took us three hours with quick change overs in Solola and Los Encuentros – three buses for a total of Q10.50 each (a bank breaking 90p). The drive involved a lot of steep winding roads, so we were glad we’d given Porkchop the day off and didn’t have to contend with the insane bus drivers taking ridiculously tight blind corners on the wrong side of the road at mach 10.
Arriving on a Saturday, the best day, the explosion of action and colour, with flower sellers, food stalls and many folk draped in vibrant traditional fabrics, is a sensory overload and photographers delight.
Moving through the markets myriad of hammocks, wooden masks and draped traditional woven cloths our noses are tickled with foreign foodtastic scents and soon enough its food time. Finding a small corner outfit run by a momma and her daughter and swarmed with locals we’d found our spot. Settling on a chicken soup and tamales with some previously bought sharp cream cheese we had a little picnic while doing some people watching.
Cutting a lap of the market making enquiries on prices we came away with a carved wooden elephant mask (paid Q50, started at Q250) and Sarah, eventually, settling on a big overnight bag made from leather and brightly coloured woven fabrics (paid Q280, started Q420).
Circling around a few more times the efforts of bargain had revived our hunger, Matt’s anyway, and we were lucky enough to stumble across quiet an extensive food court that seemed to be occupied by locals only. Scouting the pots and pans bubbling away with various dishes we settled on a plate of fried chicken (few too many brews last night) accompanied by rice, salad and, yep, beans (Q22)
Squeezing our way onto a collectivo back towards Panachajel, with 23 people making room in a space made for 10, we enjoyed the additional space afforded us by actually aquiring a seat, and listened to the sound of chicks chirping from a cardboard box resting on the knees of the woman next to us. Compared to this to two chicken buses that followed were like first class!
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