For the past few days, we’ve been discussing the best way to get to Honduras from Guatemala. We don’t know the country well even though we passed through it in 2001 and briefly took refuge there in 2003 because of the elections in Guatemala. Time to visit again and explore a bit more—we still have some time, 3 ½ weeks exactly.
Ten years ago, Panajachel was a chaotic village. The doorway to the Lago de Atitlan, it’s an obligatory stop. It was touristy, borderline tacky and slightly stressful.
Well, it hasn’t changed for the better.
After following Jesus’ path for a short time (climbing to heaven was tiring), we went back to the lakeshore where we took the coffee path. Close to the Santiago dock, hundreds of coffee beans were been laid to dry on plastic sheet. On the other side of the lake, close to the Panajachel dock, we saw the actual beans, still on the trees. Of course, I took pictures, like the gringa I am.
By the Panajachel dock, the water looked calm, but as soon as we reached the centre of the lake, the lancha was jerked around. I was seating at the front, trying to hold a blue plastic cover to protect me from the water. Nice try, but I was soaked by the time we arrived. No matter what you take, a bus, a car, a tuktuk or a boat, transportation is always an adventure here.
A lot of you are curious about the food in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Rest assured: there is some and we are not starving. Quite the opposite actually.
From Antigua, the ride to Panajachel took a couple of hours. It started raining mid-way and the van’s windows fogged up. I looked at the windshield: the road was blurred but for a tiny clean patch right in front of the driver’s eyes. Not that he cared about the lack of visibility: he was too busy chatting on his cellphone.
I have this theory that the crazier the driver, the more “feel good” religious stickers and inscriptions the bus will have. And trust me, when said driver negotiates yet another sharp turn in a narrow mountain road, even an atheist like me is pretty happy to know that “God blesses this bus.”
Happy New Year, aka “let’s blow shit up” day in Guatemala!
Antigua is well-known for its New Year parties and it didn’t disappoint. The town was packed with travelers and locals, mostly from Guate. Some family-friendly entertainment took place in the picturesque “Arch Street” but the rest of us were too busy playing with a lighter and firecrackers to stop and watch it.
Thursday was market day in Chichicastenango, aka Chichi for travelers and locals alike. For both visitors and sellers, the day started early and it involved a long bus ride uphill in twisty mountain roads.
I love markets. Sure, I usually don’t like to wander around raw meat stalls very early in the morning, and walking in packed alleys can be a tiring exercise. But markets, from Beijing’s Silk Market to France’s quaint Saturday food frenzy, tell a lot about a country’s culture.
The gap of wealth within Guatemala is also fascinating to observe. Antigua attracts wealthier travelers from all around the world more than backpackers, but it also attracts local tourists. On one hand, you have the locals who barely get by—the kids who sell candies in the chicken buses, the Maya girls who sell necklaces etc. And on the other hand, there are groups of Guatemalan tourists who, cameras in hands, have their pictures taken by the “exotic” Mayas.
In Guate, each company has its own terminal and they are scattered throughout the city. Además, to make things even more confusing, they don’t really have a name. “How am I supposed to explain the driver which terminal we want?” I asked Feng. “Just tell him we want to take the bus de pollo,” he deadpanned. Unfortunately, “chicken bus” doesn’t translate as easily. I settled for “bus regular”.
Everybody makes mistake. We did a bunch of times. Like the time we got robbed by guys with machetes in Volcán Agua, Guatemala. Or when we got mugged in Panamá City.
We like to think we are wiser now. But sometimes, things are simply out of our control.
Santa Elena and Flores, the base to explore Tikal, are twin cities but they couldn’t be more different. The main bus station is in Santa Elena. It’s a huge muddy ground from where depart chicken buses, minibuses, taxis and tuk-tuks. It’s pack with touts, tired drivers and helpers busy to retrieve luggage from the roofs of said buses.
That’s what you first see of Santa Elena.
Tikal is probably the most famous Mayan archeological site, both because of the number of temples and because of its location. Indeed, the structures are still hidden deep into the rainforest and while a few peak above the canopy, most are buried under moth and trees.
Basically, if you want to feel like Indiana Jones looking for the mundo perdido, here is your chance.
Bang! Most kids had gathered in the streets and were playing with firecrackers. It didn’t take long for the entire town to be all smoky and smell of gunpowder. A few people hand-threw actual fireworks, in between power lines. Ahem… But again, most were probably drunk—to hell with safety!
This is what you hear when you get to any frontera in Central America. Here, borders invariably feature a lot of police and military, chaotic crowds, more or less zealous passport checks and a lot of walking. Indeed, the actual border—usually a gate in the middle of the road—is often located a few kilometers from the nearest border towns, hence the need to walk or take a taxi.