Lazing around in crazy Lago de Atitlan, and then its volcano #2 folks - Antigua´s active Pacaya!!!!!!
13/05/2009 30 °C
Guat adventures cont......
After catching some of the Samana Santa parade its time to make a move from Xela all four of us pile into a shuttle bound for Lake Atitlan. When we finally made it to Panachel thankfully the scenery changed to rolling vegetated volcanos that formed a ring around the tranquil Lake Atitlan.
Panajachel looked like a bit of a circus, Semana Santa and EVERYONE on holidays was there. The place was pumping. We head straight for the wharf to catch la lancha across the lake to San Pedro La Laguna. As we walk down the dock to la lanchas we see a big pipe of slightly treated sewerage pumping out into the lake in a bloom of blackish brown. Dammit, another lake that looks so beautiful that I dont really want to swim in. We see locals and tourists bathing in the lake a couple of hundred of metres away and the locals eat the fish. Still Im not convinced.
San Pedro has two docks, Pana and Santiago. Las lanchas from Panajachel cost 25Q and you arrive at the Pana dock. Off the boat with all the gear we head up the hill to be greated by many helpful locals who are keen on advising us on a place to stay for a small fee. We find a local that knows the location of the hotel we made a reservation for, we follow him pied piper style through the maze of streets. San Pedro was also very busy for Semana Santa and we must of got the last rooms. The cheapest room we have found during the trip AUD $10 a night and it was obvious why. Cement cell, stained crusty wall and ceiling, bed as comfy as a cardboard box and whats that smell? We hit the local corner store for some comfort in a bottle and two minute noodles.
Wanting to defer going to sleep for a little while longer we wander up into the village for a peek at the Smana Santa parade preparations. The village is set on the hill overlooking the lake. The area has a strong indiginous maya population, the women wear traditional dress - hand woven patterned faldas, beaded belts and garishly beautiful embroidered blouses. The elderly men still wear traditional dress but the middle aged men opt for the macho cream cowboy hat, sharply ironed shirt, jeans and coordinated belt and cowboy boot combo. The teenage boys wear the same clothes as the kids in Aus, jeans and tees.
The streets were lit up and work had begun on preparing the ornate carpets for the parade the next day. The carpets path was marked out in an outline of rope, the base layer was either dried grass or sawdust which was smoothed into the cobble stones for an even surface. Patterns of flowers, birds, crosses and butterflies were made from stencilled vibrantly coloured sawdust, seeds, grains, fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables and leaves. We watched a group of teenage boys painstakinly layer coloured sawdust with the care of a mother. They worked on their hands and knees all through the night. What was particularly amazing was that we were the only tourists having a peek and no one stared at us or even acknowledged us. When we did make eye contact we were greated with a warm welcoming smile.
Early the next day we head back up to the village to see the finished product before their labour of love is destroyed by the procession. The final touches were still being laid. The local stray dog population was feeling very unloved as they slinked down the street abuse was hurled at them from every direction along with the occasion kick to steer them away from the carpets.
The finished products were amazing but I will let the photos do the talking.
Back to the hotel to grab our things and find another room which is not so depressing we end up in a sweet pad at the hostel San Fransisco. We score an awaesome penthouse room with private bathroom and deck complete with a hammock. A look around town reveals two very contrasting sections of town. Along the waters edge and a main thoroughfare at the bottom of town is gringo hippy wonderland. Tons of budget accom, funky cafes, resturants, shops and bars. Behind gringo land lies a residential maze with the villiage further up the hill. The villiage is very reserved, traditional and religious. Gringo land is overun with hippies and revelers keen to party their problems away.
Our stay at the lake comprised of eating out at the resturants and bars, having shin digs on the balconies and alot of hammock lazing in the sun. We all did our bit ot help for the local economy, especially the lovely bloke at the corner store who was our best freind after several days of clearing him out of rum and ellotitos (possibly the best packaged snack ever made - crunchy corn kernals covered in a cheesey spicey coating). Steve was so hung up when the corner shop ran out that we hunted through every shop in town to find more.
Goodbye hugs are exchanged with Oscar and Ellen then onwards to Antigua alone. The packed shuttle snaked up the volcanos behind the lake. Soon enough we are dropped in a street with our gear wandering towards what we hope is our accom. Luckily Antigua is pretty easy to get around and we arrive at the Casa Amarillo in no time at all.
Our room is very plush with carved wooden furniture, hand woven textiles and cable TV. A little bit on the expensive side but we soon realise that everything in Antigua is a little bit on the expensive side and our room is a good deal. The hotel has immaculate shard bathrooms, leafy courtyards with plenty of places to chill. Another plus was the free brekkie - eggs, beans, coconut porridge, spagetti, tons of fresh fruit, fresh bread, tea and coffee. AND free internet.
Antigua is an obscure Guatemalan city. Its a place where building codes are adheared to, rubbish is actually picked up and the power runs underground. 17th and 18th century buildings line the streets, flowers are in every window and there are loads of resturants, bars and boutiques. All of the above draw a lot of tourists and things are a little pricey. To save some coin we shopped at the massive mercado for all our needs, fruit and veges were fresh and cheap. There was also an extensive area dedicated to local handicrafts of the artesanas.
If you do find yourself in Antigua a must is a visit to Nim Pot, a shop that hosts a huge collection of Maya dress all arranged according to region. The sprawling space also has tons of wood carvings, masks, woven textiles and traditional jewellery. Its a visual overload, an explosion of patterns and colours in every direction. Fantastic.
The main reason we went to Antigua was to arrange passage up the Volcan Pacaya, a very active volcano. Through the hotel we booked an afternoon session, pick up at 2.00pm return at 8.30pm. It took about 1.5 hours to get to the volcano. When the shuttle pulled up we were litterally assaulted by local kids forcing you to buy a walking stick. We are introduced to our guide and start to walk up to the volcano. The walk is pretty leisurely up a slight gradient in the misty scrub. The scrub cleared to reveal the slope of the volcano covered in volcanic rubble. As we scramble over the rocks we hear constant erruptions from the top of the volcano and the temperatue begins to rise. Further up we stop next to a fresh lava flow. As one would expect from molten rock it is incredibly hot. The skin on your legs feels like it is being slow roasted and your eyes dry out. Unfortunatley thats as far as we could go because of the constant explosions but the experience of seeing the lava was well worth it!
After many weeks incland and craving the ocean its time to bail from Guatemala. Passage is organised through the hotel for a shuttle over the border then a bus though Honduras to La Ceiba on the Carribean. Carribean wonderland to be posted soon.