GUATEMALA WEEK 2: November 8 – November 14, 2016


Tuesday November 8, 2016 – Panajachel

Woke up to brilliant sunshine and warmth in the air. Coban so far has been very cool and rainy. I looked outside the door to see a swarm of black clad police around the entrance to the  hotel. Not sure what  is going  on but it makes me feel nervous. By the time we left the hotel to get our shuttle bus they were gone, leaving just the  one armed security guard. We are slowly  getting used to seeing so much visible policing.

Our destination today was Panajachel, located on the shores of Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan).The lake was formed 85,000 years ago when a massive volcanic eruption  in the area caused the surrounding  surface terrain to collapse forming a huge, almost circular depression which soon filled with water. Smaller volcanoes  rose to the south about 60,000 years ago: Volcan San Pedro which stands at 3,000m, Volcan Atitlan (3,537m) and Volcan Taliman (3,158m). The lake  is 8km across from north to south and 18km from east to west with an average depth of 300m. 

The bus trip  was long and passed through the most  stunning mountain range, the Chuchumatanes. Long sections of the route were unpaved and the bus ride was bumpy and dusty. 

Passing through Santa Cruz del Quiché

Passing through Chichicastenango -fashion and tradition

Passing through Chichicastenango

Just after dark we descended a windy road to arrive in Panajachel.

Wednesday November 9, 2016 – San Pedro

From our room we have  such a serene and peaceful  view of the garden. And the mornings peacefulness was marred by the  US election news.  Walking to breakfast we were hearing American accents  for the first time since leaving Los Angeles 3 weeks ago. And you can guess  what every conversation was about – the election result. There is a sense of disbelief and foreboding.  

Volcan San Pedro to the right of Volcan Atitlan and Volcan Taliman

Panajachel is much nicer then  the guidebooks suggested. The view of the lush mountains framing the lake and the towering volcanic peaks  to the south are simply breathtaking. The view across the lake was spectacular in the morning sunshine. 

It is a great spot to be at this time, a great reminder to the power of the human spirit to endure. A cursory reading of Guatemalan cultural history makes  me wonder why there aren’t  more broken  people visible  here. Instead we see hard working and  industrious people, inventing their  own jobs when nothing else can be found, and always ready with a smile. What they must have endured is unimaginable. 

Volcan San Pedro

We were tempted to  stay another day but decided to stick to our plan and head to the village of San Pedro across the lake. A quick boat trip across and we were disembarking onto a busy dock.

Volcan San Pedro

First impressions of San Pedro were of a noisy, busy town especially  around the dock. So  not what we expected. While the lakeside, where accessible, is stunning the town is less appealing. The tuk-tuks running up and down the steep streets is a constant background rumble.

Thursday November 10, 2016 -San Pedro

Despite all we’ve read about bandits operating between towns and general warnings about safety outside the towns Hammer and I decided to walk from San Pedro to the summit of the Volcan San Pedro. The trailhead is about 3km out of town passing along a relatively good road which we heard was  prone to kidnapping and hijacking.  We passed only hard working people going  about their daily lives and had no problems at all.  With so many ramshackled houses along the way, it was a surprise to find a new modern soccer stadium built high up above the town.  

The entry to the park to walk up Volcan San Pedro was Q100 (US $14) each and included a guide for the first 20min to make sure we did not get lost or wonder off towards the  local coffee farms. 

Passing by a few coffee farms near the start

Our guide Jose left us after we passed the two side trails leading to  the farms and we started to ascend the volcano at our own pace. It was a tough,  steep climb with over a 1,000m vertical gain, that took almost 3hours from the trailhead. We made the summit at 3,020m well before the clouds rolled in to obscure the view. From the summit of volcano the  visible lakeside towns of Santiago to our  right and Santa Clara and San Juan to the left were bigger and much more spread out then appears from across the lake.

Another 2 quad-busting hours and we were back in San Pedro.  On the  way down we came across  a man carrying a huge load  of firewood suspended  over his forehead. He must have been distracted by a person walking  towards him and he buckled and fell, trapped under the load.We raced down to help him – he was so small and the load  was so big. 

Friday November 11, 2016 -San Pedro 

We sat in our rocking chairs reading  and writing. 

Saturday November 12, 2016 – San Pedro

A day about town.

Sunday November 13, 2016 – Antigua

We were ready to move on from San Pedro. A  bit disappointed not to have been able to walk more  between the villages. Today we got a shuttle  bus from San Pedro  to Antigua which is about 3 hours away. A steep ascent through two local  lakeside villages and we were soon on a Highway.  

We were pulled over twice by police checking the drivers papers.  We arrived in Antigua just before lunch, checked  into our hotel and set out on foot  to explore.  It did not take long for both of us to agree that we liked Antigua. Great Spanish  architecture framed  by  huge volcanic peaks, one of which is still active, discharging steam about every 20 minutes.

Monday November 14, 2016 -Antigua

We spent the day walking through town visiting ruins of old churches and monasteries.