in the vortex
by, 07-15-2008 at 01:40 PM (15500 Views)
What do you mean, it's the "steepest road in the entire country"?
Oh--I get it.
What do you mean, "that was the easy part" I just drove?
There are still 16 back-to-back switchbacks?
Manual mode, first gear, beep-beep, chicken buses, OMG, beep-beep, turn, turn, turn, turn, beep-beep, stay left until you meet another vehicle (what do you mean, stay left???)
Stop...breathe...we made it down into town ( village, maybe... )
My sister and I took our first chick trip--to Guatemala. Why Guatemala? One of our learned LLcontributors goes there alot, it was easy to fly there, nice weather (even in rainy season) and sounded interesting. So, we went.
We rented a car (maybe not a great idea initially) and drove to Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan (once described by Aldous Huxley as the most beautiful in the world). The lake is formed in 2 craters between no less than 3 volcanoes and is purported to have mystical properties.
We booked our posada online--3 nights (oops, sorry, the middle night is no longer available, but we'll get a good place for you). The Posada De Los Encuentros was a lovely little hidden gem--we couldn't find it without the help of a local on a bicycle who led us there eventually! Our quaint cottage room with private bath was clean and comfortable. Our matrimonial bed (double) was suitable for sisters who grew up sharing a bed. The patio windows gave us fresh cool air, some privacy and a feeling that the room was a bit larger when we kept them open. We weren't too particular since the rate was $34 night, with 22% tax and continental bfast included. Our hosts were ex-pat's from Germany/Texas and New Jersey. They arranged for us to rent a house somewhere on the lake, so we decided to be adventurous, chuck our plans to go the big tourist attraction market in Chichicastenango (2 hours away) and we were off (on THAT road) to our casa at the vortex of the lake, 2 hours away the other direction. Wed seen enough of Panajachels touristy district and restaurants, and were ready to move on.
Luckily, the caretaker for the house was riding with us and he became my navigator, since we would never have found any of those back roads without him. I would never have driven on them, either--rutted dirt and rocky ridges (try putting a car with low cowling and an equally low oil pan on the high side of the road just to avoid that horrible scraaaaape. Frequently there was no high side, so I just zigzagged everywhich way and angled over the huge and inconvenient speedbumps in every tiny hamlet.
Once we made it to our casa, it was a shock.
Our little stone house consisted of 3 rooms in the woods. The entry was an open grill door and wall that housed the basic kitchen and some rather large spiders. One room had a queen slat bad, a closetful of old sheets and pillows and a basic bathroom that shared a common door. The bidet looked like it hadn't been used for years, the shower had some webs, with a functioning sink and toilet. The other room off the kitchen was small-- table, chairs, twin bed, fireplace and a partial lake view. No tv, no phone, no hot water, no drinking water, but the toilet flushed!! Wed traded the most famous market in Guatemala for the mystical location of this casa of the vortex. After a walkabout to the pointthe OMG views of the volcanoes and Lake Atitlanthe serenity and privacy, we knew it was a good choice. We were rethinking that decision when, at 9 pm the local church (still several miles away but with a sound channel from the valley that reached our open windows, had their version of Tokyo Rose chanting until near midnight. Our first impression was that Jim Jones had a service going, the mic was so poor, but eventually our Lady of the Lake quieted and we fell into a solid sleep. Until the fire went out--I got it going and used the last 3 sticks of dry wood....
Morning brought us nothing but that flush toiletno matches, no cooking pot... Luckily wed bought some tooth-brushing water in town (that meant another drive; unlock the private gate, re-lock, return and repeat...) To our amazement, a French press of coffee has arrived, along with the Sri Lankan caretaker, assistance with the stove, a cup of tea and a cold shower. An invitation to join a neighbor for coffee produced anther adventure, albeit a brief one. We met another expat from India/Houston--an 80's silk suit hippie and architect/graphic designer, who was building his dream house in Guatemala. Who knew??
Our adventure culminated in a trip back up THAT road, to wait for the winds to allow my sister to tandem parasail over the lake. A French chocolatier/ restauranteur also runs the parasail operation in town. My sister was frustrated that it just didnt happen, but would try later, so back down THAT road, into San Marcos de La Laguna (bigger name than the village). We took a local ferry across the lakeits the typical way to go for locals w/no cars and tourists who wont driveto another town, San Pedro. Its a happening little place with uphills and galleries and restaurants and shops but thats about it (as most small towns on the lake are!) Once back, the winds were not favorable for flying, rain started and we abandoned the idea, drove back up THAT road and went to Antigua (via a route most locals would never take. That road made THAT road look like a smooth highway...)
We did stop at Antigua on our return. We stayed in the same hotel that BonnieJoy3 recommended. We had a cute little twin room on the rooftop level overlooking the tops of churches and more volcanoes. I would highly suggest splurging and getting the rooftop suite. It would have made more sense to go to Antigua first and get an idea of whats where, how to etc. But we didnt. Antigua is a larger than expected city with heavy crowds on weekends and on holidays. Its lovely, but the congestion really left me feeling cheated after our few days in Pana, on the Lake and driving on THAT road. Theres hardly any reason to stay in Guatemala Citythe drive from the airport takes so long to get out the city, that youre almost halfway to Antigua. The new highway is under construction and there are some really slimy diversions and delays, but easy if you dont ry the OTHER back road we should NOT have taken from Pana.
The story here is people. Go where you can, meet them, visit with them and remember them. This is more of a fourth world country than I expected. Its working its way into better tourism but it will be a long time before its developed to any extent as Costa Rica or Panama. Im not even sure it will get that far. Thats the beauty. You can go to market or you can have an adventure...
Have a Guate time!