Gringoville!

Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Friday, July 21, 2006

As it was absolutely hammering it down when we arrived yesterday we really didn't want to hang around outside any longer than was necessary. So when I awoke this morning it was great to see the sun shinning and the promise of a gorgeous day.

I set off towards Parque Centroamerica again to take a few pictures. It's a nice little park surrounded by a number of grand buildings but all of them seemed to be banks! Apart from McDonalds and the cathedral I think every other building was a bank, complete with armed guards outside. The surrounding valleys with the volcanoes also looked very good by day.

We checked out of the hotel and grabbed a taxi back to the Minerva bus terminal to go towards our next destination. When I had been planning this leg of the journey I had been prepared to stay here for a week or 2 learning Spanish but lack of time/money but paid to that. The town also didn't captivate me like I thought it would.

Today we were going to get our first real experience of the chicken buses. Sure we used one for 13km's yesterday but today we were going to need to use them for at least 2-3 hours. There are direct buses but they cost far more and I thought the chicken bus yesterday was brilliant.

The Minerva terminal was incredible! People and buses everywhere. Our taxi driver dropped us off right in the area where buses to Panajachel depart and it was just as well as we were completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of buses and people trying desperately to get our trade. We ended up getting on a Guatemala City bus and would have to change somewhere along the journey.

The chicken buses are a form of transport that I think everyone should get to experience at least once in their lives. Everything about them is special. The amount of people, the exhaust fumes, the constant horns beeping, street sellers coming on the bus all add up to a surreal experience. Unlike Mexico where we heard Reggaeton music everywhere, (damn Gasolina!) in Guatemala it was all local music. Hilarious radio stations with spacey echo voice overs and every song seemed to have an accordion in it somewhere. If you remember the program Shooting Stars where Vic Reeves pretended to be a pub singer, it was like that only with an accordion in the background!

Once out of the city the traffic ground to a halt again at Cuatro Caminos. Street stalls everywhere and some unbelievable luggage getting loaded on the bus in front. A live pig with its legs tied together was being loaded upside down on the roof luggage rack and chickens were everywhere! Brought back memories of Cambodia where I saw 2 pigs strapped upside down attached to either side of a motorbike.

The LP says you should carry your backpacks inside the bus for safety so I sat in the tiny seat with it between my legs. When we arrived in Los Encuentros we were supposed to get off and change for a bus towards Panajachel. Well I tried! My backpack was wedged between the gap and wouldn't come out! The drivers are in such a hurry to move on that by the time I had freed the bag, had to actually remove the seat, we were already 500 metres further along the road. You just have to keep shouting at them to stop!

We sprinted back to the junction and just managed to meet the bus to Panajachel. I have nothing of value in my backpack so it's going on the roof from now on. We assumed the bus was going all the way to Pana but we had to change once more in Solola. The views as we came down the mountain were incredible. We could finally see the Lago de Atitlan.

Panajachel itself is a rather unappealing town. Full of hippies who came for a few days and haven't left. The amount of them who littered the street doing nothing with their lives but making jewelry and depriving the locals of something to sell to the tourists. So everything in town was geared towards hippy travellers. Che Guevara t-shirts, Bob Marley music and hammocks everywhere. Not that I mind most of that, I just find it annoying that they assume this is what all travellers need/want. Wish I bought a hammocks actually.

As we were walking down the main street an American guy came riding up to us on his bike, trailed by his young kid. He stopped us and said, " I know what you guys want, weed and a cheap place to stay!" we said no and walked off. Damn hippies!

We did find a cheap place to stay though but they ripped us off big time, well a couple of dollars each anyway, but when you're on a budget every dollar counts. The room was also pretty crappy but again, it'll do for a night. With accommodation sorted we set off to see the reason we had come to hippieville, the lake.

Lago de Atitlan is a huge lake formed in the caldera of an ancient volcano and it was incredible! I knew it would be an amazing sight but it was better than I had imagined. I recommend everyone who visits Guatemala to pay it a visit. There are a number of small villages dotted around the lake, all reached by boat, but we didn't have time to visit any of them. I had been recommended La Iguana Perdida in the village of Santa Cruz La Laguna but it sounded too much like a hippie commune for my liking. Everyone we met raved about the place though.

As happened everyday it started pissing down with rain again by about 4pm. We headed for shelter in an Internet cafe and watched the locals trying to sell hammocks to passers-by whilst standing ankle deep in water. Gotta give them credit for persistence. The rain continued for at least 3 hours and when we gave up trying to upload pictures we retired to the rip off room to try all the different beers in Guatemala. None were particularly that good but by the time it had finished the rain had stopped enough for us to venture out and get dinner. I know it's the rainy season but one day without rain would be nice!
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