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30. Lake Atitlan

Guatemala

Public transport is never as easy as it looks. Even when you book your bus through a hostel or tour agent, don't expect things to go to plan. 

 

Our bus was to set arrive at 6am at our hostel in Lanquin. At 6:30am it arrived, so we jumped on for our trip to Lake Atitlan. It was a foggy morning so no beautiful scenic views like we had coming in to Lanquin. We passed through Coban and Guatemala City without any problems and without much to look at. Traffic lights were a novelty though. At Antigua we needed to change bus (for whatever reason) but the driver said it wasn't leaving for another hour. If we wanted to leave now we could pay extra for a different bus. SCAM! We waited for our already paid for bus, which turned out to be the slowest bus in all of Guatemala. The driver was constantly on his phone and apparently didn't know where the accelerator was. It was dusk by the time we reached San Pedro la Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, 12 hours after leaving Lanquin. We were told it would take eight hours. 

Lake Atitlan: worth the effort.

We were so happy to be off the bus we let a tout take us to a hotel, which was basic but fine by our standards. Dinner was at an Israeli restaurant, chowing down on one falafel sandwich and one sabich sandwich, something I had never heard of. Turned out it was a pita filled with eggs, eggplant and hummus. Both were delicious but way too garlicky. After a quick nightcap we turned in early, exhausted after doing nothing all day. 

Danny's exhaustion carried into the following day and he decided he wanted to do absolutely nothing. I left him to it and set off to explore Lake Atitlan. A 15 minute boat ride across the volcano-rimmed lake took me to Panajachel, the main town in the region. It was filled with tourists, street stalls selling souvenirs, and persistent touts, which was too overwhelming by the end. We definitely chose a nicer town to stay in. The main reason for visiting the town was I had read they offered paragliding, an activity on my bucket list. I found the office, signed up for the 1pm slot then went off to eat some lunch (eggplant tacos, not bad). Eagerly returning at my designated time, I was more than a little disappointed to hear that they had to cancel due to bad weather. There were beautiful clear skies overhead and barely any wind, so I didn't entirely believe their excuse. I was told I could try again tomorrow.

Tourist-focussed. What the whole main street of Panajachel looked like.

Back in San Pedro I explored the narrow laneways, local shops and markets, climbed the steep streets (there was no way I running up these hills) to view points over the town, and spent some time getting well and truly lost. Losing my way did reveal some cool, laid back restaurants and bars, and I told myself I would bring Danny back here if I could ever find my way out of this maze and then locate the place again (I was successful on both counts).

The next day my wishes came true: I went paragliding! I booked with a different company who had no problems with the weather. I left Danny in Panajachel and was driven up to cliffs overlooking the lake. Strapped up and attached to my pilot, I was then told to run straight off the cliff. Um, what? Run off the cliff? Yep, run off the cliff. As a kid we used to always hear, "If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?" Well I guess the answer is "yes" in this case. Putting all my faith in the complete stranger behind me and a large piece of fabric, I took one step before being quickly lifted into the air. Before I knew it I was floating. It was a gentle, peaceful feeling, but the sound of the wind was unexpectedly loud. For the next 30 minutes I tuned out to the noise and enjoyed the amazing views of the town, lake and volcanoes, waving back to people on the mountain below. Our landing was perfect, in a dried up riverbed with hundreds of locals hanging around (this part was clearly off the tourist map). Within seconds I was surrounded by half the town, asking me questions in Spanish and taking photos on their phone. I was a celebrity! I guess this didn't happen everyday. I quickly walked back to town, picked up Danny (poor thing had waited for two hours for me to finish) and was on a high for the rest of the day.