Preparing for the second leg of our adventure, we went to Guatemala City to catch an early flight. Ruth was interested in exploring the capital, which Lonely Planet describes as “dirty, dangerous, and fascinating.” True on all counts.
We’re staying in Marianna’s Petit Hotel, which is in a guarded compound near the airport. Inside, it is decked out in Christmas gear, including a trainset and funicular.
Out in the city, we did a walking tour of the historic center. Found cheap souvenirs on the crowded Calle Real, including a 999999-in-1 FunStation Game, which must be the result of integer overflow. The central park was filled with families enjoying the sunshine, and two clowns who were apparently very entertaining. Right off the park, the beautiful National Cathedral is fronted by 12 columns documenting the names of the disappeared. Impressive to see that recognition out in the open, even if it is years too late. Stopped in a bar that was apparently a favorite of Che’s. It serves beer by the goblet, which is a good start. More on him later, as our adventure continues…
After calling home for Christmas, Ruth and I decided to go off and climb a volcano. It was an hour drive, then a 3.5 km hike through jungle up to the crater. The final pitch was covered in loose rocks that slide backwards with each step, and embed themselves in your shoes. The hipster girl on our trip wearing leggings was poorly equipped. Actually reaching the lava flow, we stepped gingerly off the loose rock onto still cooling magma. The sight of a melted sneaker sole was a deterrent against venturing too far from our guide. However, some dudes showed their machismo by lighting a cigarette from lava plucked from the flow. Perhaps the second most dangerous thing I can think of doing. After the incredible sunset, we stumbled down in the dark, thankful for Hannah’s warning to bring flashlights. Feliz navidad.
In my quest to acquire still more bad-ass but useless skills, I took a course in high altitude diving. Lake Atitlan sits at 5000 feet, which means the air pressure at the surface is 15% lower than sea level. Because dive tables and depth gauges are all calibrated to one atmosphere, this necessitates slightly different protocols. Nothing too fancy, but I got to dust off some of my rusty knowledge of partial pressures and Boyle’s law.
Because the boat we dove off was quite small, we suited up on shore. Nothing felt quite so silly as walking past women in traje while wearing a wetsuit and carrying a tank of air.
There’s actually very little to see in the lake, so the altitude is the interesting part. We saw a drowned but standing tree, some volcanic formations, some warm mud due to underlying activity, and several tire-fish and cans of Gallo. More exciting than my training dives in Lake Mascoma, but only by a little. But now I have an extra PADI certification, and another useless skill under my belt.
Today we had planned to hike along the shore, but delayed that activity due to the rain. Instead we took a boat across to Santiago Atitlan for the Sunday market. It was a far less touristed town, and apart from the area directly in front of the dock, the stalls were selling everyday goods. The market was crowded but my relative height meant that I towered over everyone and could see my way through. In the center of town is a large apostolic church and a relief map of the lake and the surrounding towns. I took an overhead picture for Jeff to rectify.
A small boy who claimed to be nine but looked seven follwed me around, eventually convincing us to take a tuk-tuk tour of the town from his father. We went to see Maximon, a Maya figure who accepts offerings of money, cigarettes, and liquor. We also went to a “peace park” at the site of a massacre in 1991, which interested Mom greatly. Back on the boat in the rain, and Hannah and Ruth went off for a weaving lesson.
We left Antigua early on Saturday and drove along the Pan-American highway north to the lake. It’s a curvy road, but apparently much better than it used to be. Children stand along the edges waving to the turisticos, hoping to be thrown candy.
We had lunch and did more shopping in Panajachel, and Ruth found a beaded dinosaur that I thought was an igaunadon, but she declared definitively was a brachylophosaurus. I trust the amateur paleontologist on this one. All the kids knew was that it cost 175 quetzales.
We left Armando and took a small boat from Pana to Santa Cruz, where we are staying for the weekend. There is a ridiculous view out our bungalow window of one of the volcanoes that ring the lake. Had a lively diner discussion with some of the other people staying at the hotel, and retired early to a game of Hannah Montana Uno.