Reflections on Guatemala

20140122-145932.jpg
Lucy

Guatemala is good. We slept in a tree house, it was fun. We made chocolates, we had to cook the coco beans. The Spanish changed the Mayan name to chocolate. The Mayans called the drink “kaka” which means poo poo in Spanish and I remember it is the same in Czech. So this made me laugh and laugh.

We roasted marshmallows on the top of a volcano without a fire. There were two types of marshmallows. One was pink and one was blue. I liked the pink ones best.

20140122-150047.jpg

Alisha

My favourite thing was going to the chocolate factory. I love eating all the chocolates I had made. We made with real cocoa beans and I filled mine with different toppings such as coconut, sprinkles and even two had chilli in but these were a bit hot.

It’s good to be out of the rain because on our boat trip it rained and rained and rained. I did not get wet because I was under a tarpaulin and I was wearing my life jacket and my raincoat and my waterproof trousers. Mummy had to snuggle up to me when I took my life jacket off because I was so warm. To see anything we had to peek over the tarpaulin that we were hidden under.

20140122-150224.jpg

Gilly

Here in Guatemala, I’ve had it confirmed that I’m a mountain girl. Although the jungles in the north and east of the country were beautiful and teeming with life, the bugs and persistent rain (yes, I know why it is called the “rainforest” but still that was a hell of a huge amount of water) started to grate. However, the highlands consisting of volcanic hills and lakes in the central part of the country have really got my heart singing. We stayed longer at Lake Atitlan than anywhere else on our journey so far, apart from at the beach with my Mum. It was the view of the volcanoes and the lake that held us captive there.

I’ve loved seeing all the different costumes that all the Mayan ladies wear. Each village has a different design with different significance in the weaving. The skirts, blouses, scarves, belts and head straps are all woven locally on different type of looms. Although most of the men have changed over to western dress, apart from some of the older gentlemen we saw around Atitilan, most of the ladies outside big towns still wear them.

20140122-150358.jpg

20140122-150435.jpg

20140122-150509.jpg

Steve

We have really slowed down our trip in Guatemala and have only done 1000km in 3 weeks. I was wondering whether we have really seen enough of the country but we have enjoyed spending time in just a few places. Whilst the ruins of Tikal were great and the Rio Dulce area was interesting the constant rain, mud and biting insects were getting us all down a bit. I think that’s why we have enjoyed the highlands so much. The climate is perfect, warm sunny days and cool evenings. All the time been dry and hardly an insect in sight. Antigua and Lake Attitlan have been very different. Antigua is busy but very liveable with good restaurants which we have taken advantage of. Lake Atitlan was calm and very relaxing. Everywhere there has been epic scenery and we have spent a lot of time just admiring it. Lake Atitlan claims it is the most beautiful lake in the world. Whilst I can not confirm that, it certainly ranks highly.

It’s been nice spending time taking it easy and chilling but now it’s time to get back on the road.

20140122-150613.jpg

20140122-150707.jpg

20140122-150753.jpg

Taking It Easy

We spent a very relaxing week at Pasajcap on Lake Atitlan. We spent most of the time lazing around enjoying the view. We did do a number of walks and went into San Marcos de Laguna for a great curry one evening.

20140122-143609.jpg
We also did another boat trip across the lake to San Pedro de Laguna. This town had a bit of a split personality. At the lake shore it was a travellers hang out with all the usual facilities including a great juice bar that made fantastic smoothies with ginger. Further up the hill it was a more traditional village with a local market that we wondered around. From there we walked the mile or so past coffee plantations and coffee drying to the quieter village of San Juan de Laguna. This was the centre of a local women’s weaving cooperative and we spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around.

20140122-143759.jpg

20140122-143838.jpg

20140122-143913.jpg

20140122-143959.jpg
In one of the shops the girls were given some free bracelets by the local ladies so Alisha felt she had to buy something and bought a new hat.

20140122-144056.jpg
While we were out walking the wind had got up and the lake ride back was choppy and a bit wet. This made getting out of the wooden docks difficult as the boat was banging against them and going up and down. When we reached San Marcos, Gilly had had enough so we got out and walked the mile back to where we were camped.

20140122-144144.jpg
After a week we felt we should be moving on and decided to drive back to Antigua as we had booked a night in a tree house on the slopes just outside Antigua. Neither Gilly or I were looking forward to the drive back. First we had to navigate the steep, narrow driveway (it was the same width as the truck with bushes on either side) followed by the gate (we only had an inch on each side and the light I had refitted was very close to coming off again),then we had to go through 2 small villages on tight roads, then we had to drive up the mountainside with all the hairpin bends (it goes up 1000 m in less than 10km) and finally drive through the streets of Antigua back to the tourist police compound without been stopped by the police for going down the wrong roads.

20140122-144247.jpg
In the end it all went pretty straightforwardly. On arriving back in Antigua, Gilly took the girls off to the Costume Museum as part of the schooling. As for me it was off to the launderette to do the weeks washing.

20140122-144409.jpg

20140122-144448.jpg

20140122-144524.jpg
The following day we headed about 12km outside Antigua up the mountainside to Earthlodge where we were staying in a tree cabin. The views across the valley from both the dining room and our cabin were fantastic and the food was all freshly and organically prepared. We spent the afternoon lazing in hammocks and enjoying the view. I think we all wished we were staying more than one night.

20140122-144620.jpg

20140122-144704.jpg

20140122-144800.jpg

20140122-144846.jpg

20140122-144931.jpg
The following morning it was pretty cold when we woke up so we warmed up with a hearty breakfast of sausage, bacon and egg. After that we returned to Antigua to sort a few things out and prepare for our next border crossing. Before we left we still had time for one last dinner out.

Volcanos and Lake Atitilan

After climbing Volcano Pacaya, we were amazed to hear that that afternoon it had erupted. Just hours after we got got down, the lava had flowed and was now 3km from the summit. The whole area was now closed to tourists.

Back in Antigua we had more culinary matters in mind. After the fun we’d had in Oaxaca, Mexico at the cooking course we decided to take a chocolate workshop. The girls of course were super keen. We had a great teacher Pablo, who was enthusiastic and animated about the history and the making of chocolate. We got to make 3 different types of hot chocolate both Mayan and European. Roasted and ground our own coco beans……

20140116-145243.jpg20140116-145255.jpg20140116-145313.jpg

…and finally make our own chocolates.

20140116-145424.jpg

It was hugely popular with all of us…..

20140116-145554.jpg

We worked off the extra calories by spending our time exploring the streets and market.

20140116-145758.jpg20140116-145826.jpg20140116-145835.jpg20140116-145850.jpg20140116-145910.jpg20140116-145921.jpg

Lucy was particularly taken by these life sized piñatas (paper-mâché models that are filled with sweets at parties then hit with a stick till they burst, showering the children with sweeties). She tried to convince her sister that there was a “Lucy” one as well as Minnie Mouse and Strawberry Shortcake.

20140116-150022.jpg20140116-150034.jpg

Our camping spot at the tourist police station maybe wasn’t the most scenic but it was very social with other overlanders, central and very secure in a compound filled with police officers.

20140116-150236.jpg

There were lots of amazingly painted “Chicken buses”. These retired US school buses are shipped to Guatemala, given a funky new paint and chrome job and then spend many more years carrying both people and produce throughout the country, hence the moniker.

20140116-150434.jpg20140116-150441.jpg20140116-150455.jpg

Heading towards Lake Atitilan we had our first taste of the famed Pan-American highway through the fertile volcanic hills. Turning off the wide highway we descended the steep and jagged hills surrounding the lake. Lake Aitilan is a volcanic lake, surrounded by yet more volcanos. It makes for stunning scenery but a very nerve racking drive down. Steve did an amazing job as there were countless hairpin bends. Some were so tight that he had to reverse back to get fully round them. This is just a small section of the bends on the map!

20140116-150704.jpg

Arriving at the lake though it felt like the journey was well worth it.

20140116-150907.jpg

We were staying on the grounds of a cottage complex Pasaj Cap near San Marco de la Laguna. The views were astounding.

20140116-151021.jpg20140116-151035.jpg20140116-151049.jpg20140116-151104.jpg

20140116-151157.jpg

20140116-154043.jpg

The following day on a stroll into the village we couldn’t quite work out what it reminded us of…..

…Japan…..

20140116-153825.jpg

…India……

20140116-153923.jpg

….the Italian Lakes….

20140116-154259.jpg

…in the end we decided it was its own unique mix. The village itself had an alternative traveller scene but with most of the local Mayan ladies wearing traditional clothing, it really feels like a different sort of place.

20140116-154411.jpg

It is so relaxing and beautiful we have decided to stay a whole week, the longest we have anywhere since the start of our trip nearly 6 months ago. As the sides of the lake are so steep, the main form of transport are boats that you flag down like buses. Lucy was thrilled to see it worked much in the same way as the real “Chicken buses” as the friendly man we were sat next to had 2 live chickens with their heads sticking out in his shopping bag. We took one to Panajchel, the biggest town on the lake which was far busier and more touristy than San Marco. After having lunch and looking round we were happy to return to our more tranquil spot.