Buenas tardes amigos! It was an extremely busy weekend for me.
After class on Friday I joined five new friends for a trip to Lago Atitlan. A tourist bus picked us up at 1:30. We were on the main highway for a little while but then our driver swerved off. He said there was road construction and lots of traffic so he would take us a different route: the back roads.
We were climbing impossibly steep roads up mountainsides and then down the other into deep valleys, swerving around hairpin turns, passing other buses and cars at breakneck speeds around blind corners, and having other vehicles pass us around blind corners as well! I don´t get carsick but after several hours of this I thought it just might happen.
And thanks to my mom who taught me to be prepared. We stopped in the middle of the mountains for some guys in the van who needed to use the bathroom. One of the guys cut his hand on a rock and came back bleeding all over the place. I quickly pulled out tissue for him to clean up and a couple bandaids. If only I had brought along Neosporin! =)
We finally made it to Panajachel around 4ish in the afternoon. We checked into our hotel (Hotel Regis) and went down to look at the lake. The lake is enormous. It is 5128 feet above sea level, 12 miles long, 6 miles wide, 1049 feet deep, with an area of 49.3 square miles. It is surrounded by the volcanoes Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro, as well as some other outlying ones I think. It is the deepest lake in Central America.
After taking a look, the six of us went back to our hotel which had two natural hot spring pools. We relaxed in the hot springs for a couple hours. I actually sat on the side along with another woman because we didn´t have swimsuits with us. That water was unbelievably hot!
Saturday morning we set off for a 7 hour boat tour around the lake. It was a bit cloudy, but still a beautiful day. At the first town we visited we only had an hour and a half which we took up with an incredible breakfast. We sat on an open deck looking out on a bay and the lake. It was gorgeous! Of course there are many differences between here and the US. For instance, the moment we sat down women and children began coming to our table with baskets of food and other items trying to sell us things. And there were also a ton of flies. Flies everywhere!
We left that town and moved on to the next. (sorry I can´t recall the names right now!) At this small town little chilren and old women came down immediately to meet the boat and start begging for quezales (money) or for us to buy something or to go on a tour.
We were befriended by a young boy, Pedro, who took us up to the church and showed us around town. He was an excellent guide. He kept track of all six of us and kept watch on the time to make sure we got back to the boat on time. He was also very respectful of the church even though he isn´t Catholic. He also showed us, we think, the home of their local god, who, as legend tells, saved the village from a sickness a long time ago.
We left Pedro with a big tip and travelled to the next small town. It being rainy season, and it being afternoon, the wind was starting to pick up a bit and there were white caps on the lack. It also started to sprinkle a bit. Most of the people moved down below on the boat, but several of us stayed up top. We had only a half hour in the last town, which was good. It was a very poor town and the beggars were quite insistent. They apparently called some of our group bad names when they wouldn´t buy things or give money.
I certainly, as well as others, began to wonder what we were doing. Are we rich white people coming to gawk at these poor people, take pictures of them, and then depart on our private boat back to our comfortable lives? It seemed a bit that way. The lake is beautiful and the towns are fascinating: clinging to the sides of mountains, with steep, steep streets winding up and up. The small houses painted in many colors: red, orange, green, yellow, white, mint, pink, and so on. The houses seem to be piled one on top of the other and the towns are full of roaming dogs, chickens, and men, women, and children selling every sort of tourist trinket you can imagine.
We left the last town a bit sad and overwhelmed. The rain had picked up so very few of us stayed up on deck. For our last hour or so boat ride home, the wind was stronger, the waves were higher, and it really began to pour! When the thunder and lightening started all but myself and Margy went below. I had to try out my new raincoat. =) Our little boat was rocking back and forth, up and down, as we motored through the troughs of the waves, water splashing over the front of the boat as we crashed down into each time. The sky was growing darker and the clouds were getting lower. It was very exciting!
We finally reached home and rested for awhile before heading out to find dinner. The streets were absolutely flooded with water. We had to wade across to a restaurant on the other side of the street. As we sat on the second floor looking out at the town, I thought for sure there would be no street left by the time we finished dinner. It rained harder and harder and harder. But the rain finally let up and we made it home mostly dry.
On Sunday morning we boarded a return bus. Our bus wound up and down the mountains and valleys again and stopped at Chichicastenango. This is a small town which has a humongous market on Sundays. They sell everything! Handicrafts, food, flowers, clothing, animals (dead or alive), machetes, carved wooden masks, medicinal plants, pottery, wooden boxes, candles, bags, tons of jewelry, blankets, pillows, and lots more. We walked through the market for about 4 or 5 hours and bought some things. =)
We had a nice lunch at a hotel nearby and eventually returned to our bus with our purchases.
As we neared Antigua the sickness began. One of our party said she didn´t feel well so we dropped her at home. A few hours later I began to feel sick as well as the other girl in my house. This morning we heard a fourth friend had come down sick in the middle of the night. Ugh. Two of the group seem to be fine so far, but, as they say, vamos a ver: we´ll see.
For me I think it was a combination of too much traveling on curvy roads, the food, too much sun, and my really bad sunburn I got on Saturday.
I´m feeling much better today, though still a bit funny.
I´ll be sharing photos soon!