Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Written 2/7 - Antigua to San Pedro-Lake Atitlan

Here we are in San Pedro at the Gran Sueno Hotel.  Its raining so I will write a good long post.  We've been traveling with Kate from Toronto since El Retiro in Lanquin.  We had met her before that at Finca Ixobel and really enjoyed hanging out with her.  We took seperate pathes through Rio Dulce and arrived at El Retiro within 20 minutes of each other.  Yesterday from Lanquin to Antigua, we took a tourist shuttle that was organized through the hotel.  Its a long, tricky route and we had figured that the direct shuttle would be easier and more comfortable.  It turned out that they crammed us into a van with no leg room at all and we spent all day surrounded by other travelers.  It wasnt interesting or fun in the slightest.

Today, the 3 of us set out for San Pedro which is known as a "party" town on a beautiful lake surrounded by volcanoes.  We had already had more than enough of the tourist shuttle and decided to just take local transportation.  I think there are more direct express buses normally to get between Antigua and Lake Atitlan but we knew that on sunday's we would have to change buses and we were up for an adventure.  Rob and I have ridden on all kinds of local transportation...large vans, minibuses all stopping every few minutes to pick someone up or let someone off.  We've had great experiences until now with everyone taking special care to make sure that we get where we want to go.  All of the buses down here have a driver and a conductor.  The conductor collects all the money during the ride, somehow keeping track of who has already paid and how far they are going.  He is the guy that loads our bags onto the roof and tells us when we get to our stop.  Its obvious we have no idea what we are doing and they are generally really helpful.  On the ride from El Estor to Lanquin, they even made sure that we had seats...sorry to digress.  Today we went to the bus station at Antigua and had our first experience with the totally pimped out Chicken buses...although we had already been on a bus with a rabbit in a box earlier and there were no chickens today.  These buses are great!  We knew that we would have to take a bus to Chimaltango and then change to a bus to Panahachel which is the big town on Lake Atitlan.  We got on our bus which was mostly empty.  We were so happy with the amount of leg room and interesting bus decor...patting ourselves on the back for not needing a shuttle (which we honestly will avoid for the rest of the trip).

Within minutes, the bus was completely packed...although still more comfortable than the shuttle yesterday.  These are old American school buses but the Guatemalans will fit 3 adults and as many additional children as possible in a seat.  No big deal, we had plenty of room.  The guidebook said that in Chimaltanango, we would be approached by guys who would help us to the next bus (which has happened for us frequently in the past).  No such luck today.  We were laughing the entire time as we wandered the town trying to find the bus to Panahachel.  One guy pointed kind of down the street and around the corner, when we got there a guy looked very worried when we asked about the bus and told us it was actually a 5 minute walk on the other side of town.  No big deal, we got a confirming second opinion and headed off through the bustling town..past all kinds of goodies for sale and got to a big street.  A guy told us (we think), that there would be a bus coming within half an hour but as we turned around, a guy across the street started yelling "Pana?  Pana?  Pana?"  and we responded "Si, Si Si".  He told us (we think) that there was an express bus in 2 hours but that it would be faster to take his bus and change one more time.  Great!  We happily got on his bus and realized that it was already packed!  We sat with one butt cheek on a seat holding on for dear life as the bus drive accelerated around tight mountain curvy roads and we slid into the guys next to us and tried desperately not to fall on the people across the aisle.  We found it completely entertaining and slowly people would get off and we finally claimed more comfortable seats.

Our next bus switch was much more smooth.  The conductor signalled to us that they were stopping for us, he climbed to the roof and got our packs and walked us to the bus that was waiting to take us to Panahachel.  This bus was pretty empty and we happily rode on, happy that this bus was clearly marked "Panahachel".  Eventually, we turned a corner and although it was cloudy and hazy, we could make out the lake.  From Panahachel, we took a boat ride across the very choppy lake to San Pedro.  We found a hotel that had been recommended in  the guidebook and are so thrilled with our rooms.  They are the nicest that we have stayed in so far for 100Q which is about $12.  We have a TV WITH a remote control.  Nice tile floor.  A big clean nice bathroom with a vanity and hot water.

We were starving and walked away from the main part of town...onto a dirt path and followed signs for a restaurant on the beach.  We found it and had a great lunch.  Kate is hilarious and really clicks with our sense of humor.  Actually she is a TV writer and writes for Degrassi (for those of you Canadians out there).  We finally headed back to the hotel with the intention of exploring the town but as soon as we got back, it started raining and it hasnt stopped.  We hung out on the roof for a couple of hours enjoying the view and its still raining.

Now we are watching the Super Bowl in Spanish, hoping that it will stop raining eventually so that we can go get some dinner and get our bearings.  I have a feeling that this a place where we could have found a number of bars showing the game but the rain has us staying in our room.  It turns out that when you watch the super bowl outside of the US, you dont get to see the good commercials...just the normal local commercials.  Kate mentioned that in Canada, they never get to see the commercials so I guess its not that strange...we had never even thought about it before.

We've paid our hotel up for a week and tomorrow we will check out spanish schools and sign up for another week of classes which we can hopefully start on Tuesday.  As we had hoped, this will be a good place to spend sometime and keep working on our Spanish.  The plan is to stay here until the 17th and then spend another night in Antigua when we will meet mom and dad and the house in Antigua on the 18th.