Lago Atitlan, pt.2

One of the other highlights of San Marcos for us, was the health food shops. While you felt like you had been mugged after, when you emerged thirty pounds poorer, clutching your vital wheat gluten, you could buy things here that would have been hard to find in Europe. Lee has been wanting to make his own seitan for a long time, but it’s impossible to find the ingredients here. Now though, we finally had them. It was a little disconcerting to try a new recipe that featured so many incredibly expensive things, but fortunately it makes a big portion and it turned out well. We stocked up for the future.

One of the things that unfortunately dominated our time here, was the weather. It was truly rainy season and it didn’t let you forget it. Due to the availability of our tutors, Lee and I were alone one day for our Spanish lessons. We decided to walk from San Marcos that day, despite the ominous looking sky. As we walked through the town it began to lightly spit, a surefire way of knowing that soon the heavens will open. We watched the skies. Maybe we could make it back in time. As we left the town and hit the dirt road that marks the final section, several tuk-tuks drove past, our last choice. We should have taken one. We only made it a matter of minutes down the road before it began to rain. This is a proper tropical monsoon. We hid under a sturdy tree that offered protection for around 30 second before it too was drenched. A tuk-tuk drove past and pulled up. It was already full, three people in the back but the driver let us squash in the front with him and we rode in torrential downpour onwards. Despite the ride, we were pretty wet when we arrived at the entrance gate. We hid in the gatehouse with another couple waiting for a break. After a while, it became clear there wasn’t going to be one and we ran for the vans. You might have believed that we had been swimming in our clothes by the time we had arrived there. It was really the storm to end all storms. The campsite disappeared under an angry brown river that poured into the lake below. Lighting crashed close by as we waited it out in the van. We had been right at least, there was no letting up in the storm for a while.

Another thing that is notable to do in the areas is hiking. Several tour agencies run trips up Indian Nose. A hike so called because the shape of the hill looks like a profile of a face. Lee had asked his teacher for a price from his friend, but it was twice the price of the local agencies and so we made arrangements to be collected for the hike at 4am in the village centre. The hike is traditionally timed so that you can watch sunrise from the summit. 

After a slightly dodgy start where our taxi got a puncture, we made it to the start of the trail with still enough time to complete the hike.

We walked through the wet jungle, lit by phones and head torches alike. It had rained heavily in the night, but in actual fact the trail wasn’t too flooded. As we climbed the last steepest section we no longer needed torches as the grey light of dawn began to illuminate the scenery around us. 

We made it to the top with around 10 minutes to spare before the sun crept up over the hills on the opposite side of the lake. Despite the fact that I wouldn’t normally choose to be awake at 6am, let alone 4am for exercise, it was an incredible view. 

We were supplied with a very weak cup of coffee and we sat and watched the rays of light come towards us across the lake. In the distance, we saw puffs of black smoke from our next destination, Volcan de Fuego as it erupted. 

With the sun well and truly risen, we headed back down and back to the campers for a well earned nap. The day is surprisingly long when it starts at that time. 

By this point, we had completed our first week of spanish. The others had had enough, but I hadn’t quite got where I wanted to, so I booked another two additional days. After all, we would be waiting for our parts till then. 

Lizzie too, needed to head back to the other side. We had received good news. The person who could actually read x-rays said it was normal. The blood tests were ok, just indicating an infection. The lab had found what that was and had tested which antibiotics she needed. I headed back for my penultimate day of spanish and to collect them. The only sticking point here was that she needed 4 injections 3 days apart, pills weren’t an option. We would not be waiting around in Atitlan that long and so I decided to bring her back the following day for the first one and then buy the remaining three and take them with us. 

While I had assumed that our amazon order would take it’s full time frame, it actually arrived early. Delivered to our doorstep as it were. This meant that we planned to leave the day after I finished my last lesson, a Wednesday. With only two nights left in Pasajcap, we took the opportunity to buy some more Snook, a rather good fish that Pierre sold on site. We also sat in the palapa until late that night, drinking and chatting with Hanno and Kikki like we used to on the ranch. Then, Kikki announced the time and to my horror I realised she was right, it was past 1am.

I was not so fresh for my final spanish lesson. I bagged Lizzie and made a dash for the boat with everyone else still in bed. We had learnt that missing the 9.30am boat often meant there was a lack of boats for the following 20 minutes. I was in luck today, I flagged a boat down and being the sole passenger we headed straight to San Pedro without stopping at the other normal stops. This was great until the boat didn’t stop at the normal dock. Instead he parked next to a great line of boats and indicated I should exit by climbing through all the other boats. My hangover and I obliged, bashing an unhappy Lizzie on several seats on the way out.

I muddled my way through Spanish, thanked and paid my tutor before heading to the vet. Lizzie got her first lot of antibiotics much to her annoyance and I left armed with a handful of syringes for the next doses. Back at the camp, Lee was responsible for packing away the van in preparation for our departure the following morning. Hoping to find a packed van, I returned to a hungover Lee with the majority of things still looking suspiciously like they did when I left. I was then told we were swimming in the lake. 

My tutor had been a little disappointed when I told here we hadn’t been dancing and we hadn’t swum in the lake. We agreed, it seemed a crime to live by this beautiful lake for so long and not swim in it. The area around the jetty was pretty clear, unlike other parts that were full of trash or the towns waste water. 

I can’t say I really wanted to swim, it wasn’t pretty cold and starting to rain. It had to be done though. We headed to the jetty and jumped into the rather refreshing water. After a few minutes, we all agreed that yes we had technically swam in it so we could now get out. We hurried back up in the rain. 

As it was our final night, it seemed easier to eat out. We had meant to try several of the cheaper restaurants in the town but had never got round to it, constantly having Lizzie with us. We headed to a cheap comedor that the others had already eaten at. I was pretty happy with my burrito, while Lee gallantly at the dish of the day which heavily featured chicken despite the fact that I had told the lady twice, “vegetariano”. 

Suddenly, it was time to face that road again. Lee drove again so that I could obsessively check the engine temperature. We set off fairly early, less traffic and cooler air temperatures would be on our side. Hanno and Kikki had arranged a hike for Volcano Acatenango the next day, and so we planned to meet at the guides’ house that evening. We were both apprehensive at trying the road again, especially as Ruby ran like complete crap when we turned her on that morning, several cylinders already protesting what was about to happen. 

Nevertheless, we made it our of the slippery grass campsite and up the steep track of the campsite. We bounced along the main road towards San Juan, where the crazy road starts. We pulled over just before the first hairpin bend, Lizzie clearly needed the toilet, this we knew as she had just pooped on my leg. We had a coffee and let the engine cool before tackling this section.

We made it around the last bend, the engine was getting very hot and we needed to pull over but we had made it up the first part. While we encountered several at other points, the road was blessedly free of the two worst things to meet. Firstly a chicken bus, so called because they cram in so many people it’s like chicken in a cage. The second a tuk-tuk. Too big to overtake easily and also so slow it tends to boil the engine as we creep behind it in first gear.

After a stop in Santa Clara, we set off again. The last section had also been the most challenging on the way in. We had heard that Bruno crawled down with the handbrake on. It’s a constant steep uphill climb, impossible to get out of 2nd gear due to the curves of the road. We judged we had less than a kilometre left when we pull over to be safe. Sure enough, we had pretty much made it and soon we triumphantly arrived at the top. It hadn’t been all that bad, in fact Ruby had done better than expected. Maybe that new coil pack was helping. We learnt later that Bruno had overheated, it was indeed a tough road. With it firmly in our rearview mirror we headed west to the volcanoes that awaited us there. 

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