This weekend I went to Lago de Aitilan with Kate, Nikita, and Ariel. We met on Saturday morning to catch the chicken bus out of Xela. And now a bit on the logistics of catching a bus in Guatemala. All the buses are old school buses with luggage racks, uncomfortable seats, and brilliant paint jobs. Each company and route has a different color scheme for where each bus is going. We don’t know what this is, so we just waited for the person helping the driver to yell out where the bus was going. Once you hear it, you jump on, often while the bus is still moving, and try to find room to stand.
We started on the corner where all the buses drive by in Xela. We hopped on the bus to Guaty – Guaty Guaty (Guatemala city), hopped off at Los Encuentros, jumped on bus to Solola. Took the bumpy, cramped 45 minutes ride before jumping off and catching a bus while it was leaving to Pana – Pana – Pana (Panajachel). We got in to Pana at 11, dropped our stuff at the hostel, and started to explore the lake.
Lago de Aitilan is a lake set in the midst of massive volcanoes. Small towns dot its shore line. The easiest way to get between them is on a lancha, a small boat. We bartered and got a private lancha for 5 hours for $40. It first took us to the Santiago Aitilan first, the largest city by the lake. We hopped off and were immediately swarmed by vendors trying to convince us of the tremendous deal we were missing out on. Once we got past them, we grabbed lunch and walked around the town. The church in the center of town was built in the 1540s. We meandered back to the boat. I got cornered by a woman who drove me down the dock in an attempt to sell a table cloth. After telling her no for 5 minutes, everyone got on the boat and we moved to the next town.
We got in to San Pedro de la Laguna and immediately were more at ease. It was a smaller, much quieter town. It has a small hippie population, a few language schools, coffee plantations in the hills, and meandering, narrow cobblestone streets. We wandered through and looked in some of the shops, stopped at the church, and grabbed a beer overlooking the lake. We picked up some beer for what turned out to be a rainy 40 minute ride back to Pana.
We got back to the hostel, changed, and went out for dinner. It started to rain and we decided to try out Restaurant Jebel. It was the worst restaurant experience any of us had had. It was run by a young Guatemalteco and his younger sister. They were out of almost everything. Why? Because it was raining of course. We asked if they had a beer we’ve grown fond of called Mosa. He answered yes. And we watched his sister run across the street, return with a full bag, and then bring out our beers. It took over 2 hours to get our food.
On this note, there is actually a special word to refer to Guatemalan time. It is hora chapina. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and let things happen at they’re own pace.
Once we finally got done with dinner, we headed to PanaRock, a bar with live music and a theme similar to Hard Rock Cafes. We got a cubetazo (a bucket of beer) and tried to find a seat. Many of the tables were reserved for the whose who of Pana. We found one and listened to the band. They were definitely interesting. We progessed to a couple discotecas afterwards and danced to the mix of Latin, American, and electronic music. The town shut down at 1 (very late in Guatemala) and we walked back to our hostel in the pouring rain.
Sunday morning started slightly hung-over at 6 to the almost continuous chorus of roosters. The idea of waking up to cock-ill-do-dil-do doesn’t seem so quaint when it continuous for 3 hours. I managed to get back to sleep before we got moving and grabbed brunch at 10. This was infinitely more successful than dinner the night before.
Then, we walked up to a nature preserve about a mile out of town. Eco-tourism has driven a conservation movement in many parts of Latin America. While those might not be the best motives, it has led to the preservation or reclamation of beautiful wild areas. We walked the trail through Reserava Naturaleza Aitilan. We spotted some spider monkeys as they were playing around in the tree, wandered over many very swingy cable bridges, stopped at a waterfall, and stopped in the butterfly sanctuary. We took a tuk-tuk back to Pana.
We wandered through the different booths and bartered with the shop keepers, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. The fact that there are so many people selling such similar things helps keep bartering a normally successful affair. We all picked up a few things before taking the chicken buses back to Xela. The weekend was a great escape from Xela into a more rural and scenic area of Guatemala.