Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Most Beautiful Lake in the World

Dec. 5, 2009
It's been so long since we updated that I forget where we left off.
The drive from Antigua to Panajchel through the mountains was definately an unforgetable one. Greg being Greg, he made one wrong turn after another (on purpose of course) and before we knew it we found ourselves on a single track dirt road in the mountains. All around us were farmers fields planted every which way in all directions. I saw brussel sprouts, cauliflower and beans for sure, and who knows what else. The hills rolled just as haphazardly as the fields were
planted, it was really a very beautiful sight.
Down a hill and around a bend we came across some local boys, from a village so small there were only a few houses, flying a kite in the middle of the road. Greg stopped the bike and turned it around which made the boys run away laughing. I'm not sure they had ever seen a white person before. Through his magical way of sign language, the kids eventually figured out that he wanted to fly the kite with them and they gave him a chance. The kite got off the gound, barely. Eventually the entire village showed up to see the white people on the moto who had stopped by to fly a kite. We wished we had been equipped for such a stop over with small gifts for the kids but we had nothing to offer so Greg gave the oldest man in the group a pen which he accepted with a giant smile and a huge muchos grasias.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves back on the main road and headed towards "the most beautiful lake in the world". We found the city of Panajchel on the banks of Lago Atitlan. Surrounding the lake is three large volcanos and several mountains and it most definitely is a beautiful sight. We ate dinner as the sun went down and went to bed, exhausted.

Dec. 6, 2009
In the morning the lake was clear as glass and we decided to pay the big bucks (about $30 US) for a four hour boat tour of the lake. There are about 12 villages ringing the lake. We visited two of them where we watched women weaving on hand looms and the local people were dressed in their traditional clothes. It was very interesting to see how the present day Mayan people lived after visiting the ancient Mayan ruins and spiritual sites.
When we returned to town we headed out to find some internet and explore more of the town. We were heading up the main street when we noticed the street vendors seemed to be closing up shop. It was Sunday afternoon around 2:30 so I thought to myself, "they must close up early on Sundays". Then people started running down the street towards us, frantically closing up their shops and yelling in spanish. We stepped off the street into a cafe looking around like a deer in headlights when we were gently pushed out of the cafe and back onto the sidewalk and the doors closed and locked. Then we noticed the smoke. An older hippy looking fellow stopped by as he was running down the street and told us it was tear gas and we'd better head in the other direction. Luckily the tear gas was numerous blocks away and our hotel was close by. Back at our hotel we climbed to the roof to watch the action with the hotel owner and his family who did his best to explain to us what was happening. Safe on the roof with the gate closed we watched the protest/riot, which had now moved out of town, through binoculars. By 4:30 it was all over, some cafes and shops had reopened and we were convinced by our hotel owner that it was safe to go out. We tried to find a restaurant with internet and finally found one only to find out that the signal was down.
Our plan was to leave town in the morning anyways, but at breakfast we met an American journalist who was living in Guatemala, who told us what really happened the day before. Three women and a man had allegedly stolen or laundered money at the local market. Discovered by some locals, the man was dragged out into the street and beaten to death. The three women escaped into police custody and were airlifted out of town by helicopter. The local people then turned on the police, flipped two police trucks and set them on fire. From there the police were chased out of town. Apparently this is not the first time the local people have reacted in this way. They are in no way out to "get" tourists and we were in no real danger at any time, but it was nerve racking none the less. Needless to say we headed out of town as fast as we could. Just outside of town we met up with a large group of police officers who had gathered, waiting for something to happen. Did it ever feel good to leave the most beautiful lake in the world.

Dec. 7, 2009
We really had no particular destination in mind as we drove the twisty turny roads down from the mountains and headed towards the Pacific coast. Eventually we found the CA2, a main highway and pretty boring, when I noticed a sign for a playa (beach) and motioned to Greg to take the exit. Because Greg really doesn't know where he is at any given time, he took the exit and we headed down a long dusty country road. The road suddenly ended in a small village, really just a cluster of houses and stores selling sodas and chips, and in front of us was a small river and some run down old wooden boats. We stopped the bike, looked around wondering what to do next when a guy came over and said "ferry?" while pointing to one of the old wooden boats. We looked at our map, made some jestures and figured out we had to take the ferry to get to the next town where there were playas. Greg drove the bike on and off we went through a beautiful canal. It was one of the only places in Central America where i haven't seen gargabe lying around. So we relaxed while drinking our "cocos frios" (cold coconut milk straight from the coconut).
After backing the bike off the ferry and being pointed in the right direction we headed to the playa. Hotel after hotel lined the beach of the quiet little town of Monterrico. We picked one right on the beach with a balcony and quickly changed into our bathing suits to hit the beach. The waves were the biggest ones I had ever seen. Seriously. Greg braved the surf before I did and ran into waves so big they sounded like thunder hitting the sand. I eventually dove under a wave to also hit the surf and was pounded twice so hard that I came out with giant handfuls of sand in every crevis of my bathing suit. Exhausted and full of sand we walked up the beach which seemed to go on forever. We ran into a local guy who took us to the Turtle Sanctuary just down the beach to see the baby sea turtles that had just hatched that day. We met him back on the beach at sunset to help set the baby turtles back out to sea. I never thought I'd ever get the chance to hold a baby sea turtle, only in Guatemala!

Dec. 8, 2009
We finally found an internet cafe this morning before we left Monterrico, the only one in town actually, and sent some quick messages to our parents so they wouldn't think the worst and headed back out of town the same way we came in. Back on the CA2 it wasn't long before we came upon the El Salvador border. An hour and half got us through both borders (a chaotic gong show of people, cars, and trucks everywhere) and we headed off. About a half a kilometer down the road we came upon a check point where they asked to see our documents. As the border control guy gave Greg back his passport and bike documents an offical looking lady came up and asked us for $5 to drive in El Salvador. Greg played super dumb (haha), told her he didn't understand and handed her our english/spanish dictionary. She got super frustrated and went to get another guy who knew a bit of english. He told us that it was free to process our documents to enter the country but we had to pay $5 to drive in the coutry. After Greg told him we had no money and we weren't paying he looked around frustratingly and then waved us on. Whatever dude.
About a half an hour down the road we stopped for a well needed poweraide and agua where we ran into a German couple who were bicycling from Chile to Alaska. Already a year into their trip they had 18 months left to go! They told us about the town on the coast that they had left that morning and so we headed towards El Tunco, the surfers capital of El Salvador. Tomorrow we get surfing lessons!

1 comment:

  1. So nice to hear about you surfing as we are here working in snowstorm #2.