Each trip, there is a morning when we oversleep. Ironically, it always happens when we have a bus or a boat to catch. Last year was in Ko Phi Phi on our way to Phuket; this year was in Antigua,on our way to Panajachel.
The bus was at 8 a.m. and we didn’t hear the alarm. We bolted awake at 7:40 a.m. “Fuck!” was the general consensus. Fortunately, we are pretty good at packing. We methodically threw our stuff in the backpacks and headed to the door, not that worried. Buses in Guatemala rarely show up on time. Schedules are given with the usual warning: “a las—insert whatever time—más o menos.”
On a side note, we finally figured out that our hotel in Antigua was renting rooms by the hour. For the six nights we were there, we were pretty much alone but we kept on wondering why the owners always seemed to be busy washing sheets. We got our answer when we noticed young couples checking in and checking out a couple of hours later. “Wow, they must think you are a semi-God!” I told Feng. “I mean, we’ve been there for almost a week!”
The bus to Panajachel was a beaten minivan—they seem to replace chicken buses on the most popular routes. Feng and I were the first passengers to be picked up so we had the luxury of choosing our seats, at the front, with some leg room. The other backpackers had quite a lot of gear so bags got thrown on the passenger seat.
And off we went, on the Interamericana.
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 shrugged and closed my eyes. We were a tad too close to the edge of the cliff at each turn but what were we going to do?
Eventually, we arrived in Sololá, one of the first villages on the shore of lake. The dramatic scenery catches even the weariest traveler’s eye: the lake is surrounded by volcanoes, including San Pedro, Atitlán, Toliman and Cerro de Oro.
The bus dropped us off at the Panajachel dock. From there, we took a boat to San Pedro de la Laguna. It was windy and we surfed more than we sailed but we made it, slightly wet but safe. Not a small feat—transportation in Central America is always an adventure.
San Pedro hasn’t changed much. We spent a while there in 2001 and again in 2003. It is still “hippy central”, and it’s still very cheap. Our hotel room costs us $14 a day and it’s pretty luxurious by local standard. We even have some hot water!
The village is a curious mix of Kaqchiquel Mayas, long-term gringo resident and backpackers. The gringos congregate by the Pana dock, and the local live around the Santiago dock. Tiny dirt alleys connect various parts of the village. Within ten minutes, you can spot packs of stray dogs, banana and coffee plantations, holistic massage joints, coffee shops, tienditas, Coke truck attempting to deliver glass bottles, tuktuk, local handicraft shops etc.
It’s funny how similar these “backpacker villages” are around the world. If it weren’t for the scenery, typical of Guatemalan highlands, we could be in Ko Phi Phi in Thailand, Airlie Beach in Australia or Quepos in Costa Rica. Restaurants offer the same international backpacker fare: pasta, pizza, pad thai, curry, nachos etc. and lots of beer. There are always a couple of hippies offering massages or predictions about the end of the world, and Internet cafés are full of folks speaking in various languages.