The time came to wave goodbye to Antigua and meander our way back towards Mexico. We opted to cross back into the wonderful country of Mexico to renew our visas and explore the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, which were missed on our first trip through. Having talked to several Mexicans and Guatemalans, these states are definitely not to be missed. But first, we had plans to visit some more Guatemalan hot spots including Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango.
After one last day and night exploring Antigua and getting our last bag of Fernando’s Coffee (our favorite in Antigua), we were off to the iconic Lake Atitlan. The terrain in Guatemala is unbelievable. Although on a map the country looks small, the amount of relief expressed in the terrain accounts for a mind blowing amount of surface area and makes the country feel much larger than it appears and can be very difficult to navigate.Guatemalan roads are not to be taken lightly. The many mountain passes to overcome tax the transmissions of vehicles while the descents tax the breaks. Just when you think you are in the clear on a straight and narrow path, think again, just hope you don’t get caught behind a big heavy diesel truck!Our arrival to Lake Atitlan was marked by stunning views of the lake and 3 magnificent volcanoes surrounding it. We found a great camp spot in Panajachel next to fellow travelers Kai and Steffi in their VW T4 van, and we ended up staying there for 4 days and explored the magic of the lake.The geology of the lake is of special importance when appreciating the degree of difficulty getting there and living there. Once a large volcano, a huge explosion some 85,000 years ago ejected an enormous amount of material correlating to some fauna extinctions found in the fossil record. The large caldera eventually collapsed, creating a void for water to fill. Interestingly, there are no river outlets for the water so it drains solely through the subsurface and maintains a steady level. What has been created by that explosion is a beautiful lake surrounded by steep hillsides and unique remote Mayan villages, all with their own style and flavor.The best way to get around to the villages is on the lanchas (boats) that leave the docks about every 20 minutes throughout the day. Similar to the chicken buses, locals with their crops or supplies were always using the lanchas to transport themselves and their goods to and from the various towns. It is simply amazing how Guatemalans have adapted to getting around their country with its unforgiving geography.It is also worth noting that Spanish is only one of 24 languages spoken in Guatemala. There is such a rich Mayan history that many of the locals learned Spanish in school as a second language, and some not at all. We were both surprised when some of the vendors gave us confused looks when we spoke to them in Spanish.On our first day exploring Lake Atitlan we visited Jaibalito. This place isn’t fully on the tourist path yet and it was nice to see what small lake villages are like before a large amount of visitors arrive. We enjoyed the narrow streets and amazing views.We had been told by a friend that a German man named Hans had a little restaurant here with delicious food, and since we are all about good food, it was our first stop! Here were enjoyed a tasty plate of goulash and spaetzle while enjoying the sounds of dogs and chickens running all around.On our way back to Koru, we hiked between a couple of lake villages while enjoying stunning views and the company of a friendly local. The next day we decided to “stay in” and clean the van, enjoy the scenery and explore Panajachel in the evening. Just like life in a house or condo, some ‘spring cleaning’ needed to happen! We visited San Marcos the following day and thoroughly enjoyed how different the little hippie town was from the other towns we had explored. After enjoying a coffee and exploring the small streets, we relaxed on the public beach watching the tourists and locals alike enjoying the lake’s beauty.
On our last day, we visited the Crossroads Cafe in Panahachel with a gregarious owner named Mike. He had some award winning coffee from Huehuetenango which was the best coffee we’ve ever had by a long shot. We both had simple black drip coffee and it was so smooth we couldn’t believe it.He was so thrilled about our adventure and excitement for his coffee, he gave a us a bag to take with us as we drove on. If you’re ever in Panahachel, please stop by and say hi to humble, happy Mike.The more time we spent at the lake, the more enamored we became with it. From the peaceful town of San Marcos where yoga and meditation centers riddle the town, to the party town of San Pedros, to the culture rich Santiago de Atitlan, and the all-encompassing Panahachel to the sneaky spots of Jaibolito and Santa Cruz, there is something for everyone at the Lake.Alas, our time at the lake came to an end; we had plans to visit Chichicastenango where the famous K’iche market occurs every Thursday and Sunday. We arrived in town Saturday with ample time to prepare for the onslaught of market shopping!We happened to be there for a religious event where Saint Tomas and 2 other saints were precessed through the market. Stepping into the Iglesia de San Tomas, we discovered the practiced religion is very different than any Christian faith we know. With more research, we learned it’s a Mayan religious practice with Catholic influences.
We both had a blast wheeling and dealing with the vendors where we thoroughly enjoyed the art of the bargain. It was especially fun because we witnessed naive tourists paying way too much for some of the goods, which we used as artillery to get the prices we wanted. Matt bought a great leather hat and Sarah found some comfy van slippers.
After a colorful and fun day at the market, we continued onward ever slowly through the mountains of Guatemala. As we drove through the highlands towards the border on one of the best roads yet in Guatemala, the terrain reminded us of the pine forests and valleys of Colorado and Wyoming. It was a wonderful drive full of gratitude for what we have, what we are doing, and where our future is headed.That night we stealth camped at a cool city park near the border and prepared for our return trip into Mexico.We rested easy knowing we would be back to the amazing and diverse Guatemala. But now, off we go back into the magical land known as Mexico!