During my grad class in Antigua, Guatemala, we headed out on a weekend trip to Lake Atitlán. This sacred lake of the Mayans is the deepest in Central America at over 1,000 feet and is surrounded by volcanoes. The only word as you first see it, descending the hill to the town of Panajachel, is breathtaking. We settled into cabanas for a night in this hippie town on the shore of the lake before our real destination—San Pedro—the next day. I was not a huge fan of Panajachel as I felt it was a little “touristy”. Don’t confuse this to mean Cancún or anything! I just mean that there were too many English signs for my liking and too many American twenty-somethings sitting on sidewalks “finding themselves” and letting their dreadlocks blow in the wind off the lake. An enjoyable night was spent walking the town and finding a spot lakeside to sip Gallo, my Guatemalan beer of choice, and watch the sun go down.
Bright and early the next morning our group of Spanish teachers headed down to the pier to jump on a boat that carried us across Lake Atitlán, bound for San Pedro La Laguna. Just before boarding, I was able to take a couple great shots of the volcanoes across the lake. It is such a talent of mine to time the clouds just right so it appears that I am experiencing a volcanic eruption.
My next job will be shooting covers for National Geographic…
Upon arrival to San Pedro, we hiked up the road to where our coordinator had booked our rooms for the night. After staying in the adorable cabanas in Panajachel, we figured we would have more of the same in San Pedro. Not quite. We came upon a rundown place a few blocks up the hill and all looked at each other when the coordinator said this was it. As my friends and I went into our room, we were in disbelief. It was by far the worst room I had ever been in—dark, a non-secure door, and the bathroom was the worst with no toilet seat and no door! I tried to compose myself by thinking, “calm down—this is an adventure and only one night,” but after congregating with the other teachers over lunch in the same rundown area, we started to get leery of San Pedro and decided to return to the hotel and revolt against our excursion coordinator.
Luckily for us, the revolt was a success and we threw our luggage into the back of a pickup truck and all piled in and we were off to another section of San Pedro, which despite its roughness, became known as “the nice part of San Pedro”. There our coordinator found us rooms at a lovely little inn for $15 a night, making me wonder what the other rooms had cost.
Once we got the room situation under control, we continued on with our plan, which was to walk to a neighboring village and visit a cooperative of women weavers. These women were amazing and showed us how they made all their own dyes from plants and were responsible for making and selling all of their work, enabling the women to support themselves. It was a fantastic idea and we all left with many purchases. I still use my cloth napkins made by Nacha (on the right).
I really don’t know how it happened, but as we were leaving the weavers, a pickup truck appeared and we were told it was going to drive us back to San Pedro. We were having the real Latin American experience! Standing in the back of a pickup truck TWICE in one day! All I needed was a machine gun and I could have been mistaken for a local. My favorite part of that ride, not counting the curves and hard braking, was when our driver made a turn instead of following the way we had walked from our hotel. All I can say is What a bunch of teachers! We started banging on the roof to get his attention—yes, that’s right, we teachers who had been in San Pedro all of three hours were telling this man who lived there how to get back to town. Nice. Luckily for us, he did not kick us all out of the truck, but rather yelled out that this was a different way back. Satisfied, we shut up for the rest of the ride and enjoyed our trip through the side roads.
That night we went out to dinner and more Gallos in the nice part of San Pedro. After dinner and using the worst bathroom I’ve seen in all my travels, we joined up with some younger teachers from our group that had befriended some locals and some hippies at the bar next door. I began to suspect their new friends had had more than Gallos judging from the herbal scent of them so it was easy to decline the offer when they started talking about some festival in the next village that we would get to by boat. No gracias. I was too old for that kind of adventure and I only wanted to make my way back to my luxury $15 room.
If you ever decide to go off and “find yourself”, Lake Atitlán seems like the place to do it. And if you get lost on the way to yourself, maybe some teachers will tell you where to go.