Every time we travel, we’re bound to miss the alarm at least once. Of course, 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 consensus. Fortunately, we are pretty good at packing. We methodically threw stuff in 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 realized that our hotel in Antigua was renting rooms by the hour. For the six nights we stayed 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 midway 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 traveller’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 residents and backpackers. The gringos congregate by the Pana dock, and locals 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.

Jesus es el Señor
Coffee Beans Drying
The Panajachel Dock in San Pedro
San Pedro
Chicken Bus in the Narrow Streets
Chicken Bus in San Pedro
San Pedro, the Dock
Lago de Atitlán
Guatemala Coffee
Santiago Dock in San Pedro
Flooded Dock
Streets of San Pedro
Tuk Tuk
San Pedro
Coffee Beans and Volcanoes
The Shore
The Dock

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  1. Cynthia January 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I see you are having fun 🙂

    I always find it hard to wake up in the morning while travelling, no clue why, it just is!

    1. Zhu January 4, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Yes, and it’s always a “where the hell am I” question the first few days!

  2. Lily January 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    The photos are really beautiful… but really, your bus stories are like horror movies to me! 😀

    1. Zhu January 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      In a way, it is scary! Sometimes I just focus on reading so that I ignore the scare and take my eyes off the road. Denial I guess!

  3. ristinw January 7, 2012 at 5:39 am

    My first time to see coffee beans being dried on the field. Interesting! I love your camera, it takes really great picture! The shot where the kids are on the chicken buses is really nice! 😀

    1. Zhu January 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      That´s a good camera 🙂

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