Yeah, it took longer then we thought to get out of Antigua...rain had roads closed to our next stop: Lago Atitlan, the famous highlands lake nearby considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. (we'll be the judges of that!)
We made our way to the lakeside town via a packed shuttle through the mountain landscape of the Guatemalan western highlands to the Atitlan main town hub, Panajachel.
We were hoping for a smooth transition from shuttle to boat, however, that would not be the case. There were as many different stories as there were people; this boat, that boat, this price, that price, this route, that route. I finally got a little sharp with one guy and he cracked and sent us to the right spot. Still, of course, this is Central America, and like SE Asia no form of transportation leaves EVER until it is full to capacity. Check that: way over capacity. Finally we were loaded up and ready to roll and blood pressures fell to normal levels. A couple non-Spanish speaking American backpackers not only had received the same run around we'd gotten, but were also hustled for 150% of the fare we paid, plus sold some expensive and crappy looking lunches. I guess we hadn't had it so bad after all.
The boat ride over was fine, although I did note only 2 life jackets on the vessel which was at that point loaded up with about 15-16 people. I had one locked in my eye-site ready to pounce on it if need be. I figured (optimistically) it would keep me and G afloat; the rest of the passengers be damned...;))
Finally we arrived in San Pedro La Laguna; we were almost there. Our final destination was the Zoola Hostel, a spot we'd had recommended and a spot we'd tried several times unsuccessfully to call for a reservation.
We walked down the main drag and up an alley way led by a member of the "tourist office" who assured us he made no commission, but who enthusiastically tried to talk us into another hostel. At last we walked down the tiny walk way that led to the bright pink hostel; the sign read: "Welcome to Zoola, you can relax now."
The scene laid our before us was indeed relaxed. Several groups of young backpackers sat on pillows gathered around tiny tables covered with plates of food, beers, and cigarettes. My nose caught a whiff of the sweetness of 'non-tobacco' smoke lingering in the haze.
We checked into our modest room and then cruised to the lounge area to order some food, hop online, and scope the scene. After eating we went out to explore the little town and found our evening activity: hot tubs!
We got back to our hostel and with nothing else really to do we headed to the pool bar where we befriended the bar man, Colin, from Calgary. He gave us the scoop on the joint. Zoola is an Israeli owned hostel which means it is almost always full of dread-locked Israeli backpackers who are just hanging out. Apparently they're all stressed after they get out of their mandatory military service and so they head off to travel; this place is popular as it's cheap and apparently has some of the best grass around. What's more: the Guatemalan police can't enter the premises without a warrant so it's all good. Also, although they were laughing and chatting in Hebrew as if they'd been friends for years; most of them had just met about 5 minutes ago. That's how they roll; thick as thieves. It all made sense now.
After a while the Zoola 'Happy Hour' began to catch up with us (a free shot with every beer you buy ((s***!!)) and we thanked Colin for the chat and headed off to our 8pm appointment at Los Termales Solar Tubs. The water is spring water heated naturally by the sun and a pretty slick coil system. It works great; the water was almost too hot to get in at first.
We spent almost 90 minutes soaking in the warm water during which time we were serenaded by a combination of their funky iTunes mix that attempted at romance and the rain which came in and dumped. When the water had cooled we got out, dried off and headed for home.
In the morning we got up and dusted ourselves off and had breakfast and lots of coffee before wandering down to the dock area and getting ourselves hooked up for our days activity: kayaking across the lake.
The kayak was in rough shape, for sure, but the guy vouched for it's sea worthiness and so we looked at each other and then said OK and jumped in. Our destination was San Marcos, another little town across the lake which was supposed to be kind of cool.
The lake was completely placid aside from the wake of a few commuter boats taking tourists from town to town. And although San Marcos looked very close it is always deceivingly far when it's just you, the open water and a couple half busted oars.
The crossing took about an hour. We arrived to very adamant young guys requesting we let them watch over our kayak and paddles while we cruise the town. At about a buck an hour it's a pretty good deal, seeing as if you don't pay, these are the guys who are most likely to jack you. Better to have them with us than against us.
So we agreed to a price with the fine gentlemen and stumbled our way to solid land. We were immediately taken with how slow, laid-back, and heady San Marco was. There were signs pointing every which way advertising Yoga retreats, Vegetarian Meals, and even a few options that we found a bit more amusing: hippie-dippie, cosmic, intimacy couples retreat:, billed as: a sensual odyssey. You know... just you, your partner and some dude with long hair who looks like he belongs at Woodstock...not at all awkward. Yup, San Marcos is that kind of place.
We wandered for a little and then enjoyed a ginger ale and green tea before heading back to find our kayak being dutifully guarded by our guys. After paying our fee, we jumped back into the kayak for the hour paddle back to San Pedro.
We took it pretty slow the rest of the afternoon (awesome hummus plate for late lunch)and then had a great dinner at Zoola; pesto pasta and a good Nicoise salad. But, for sure, the standout of the meal was dessert; Zoola Queen: vanilla ice cream, warmed bananas, hot chocolate fudge, hot caramel, and covered in crushed chocolate chip cookies. Yeah, all good.
On Monday morning we woke up leisurely, we were headed next to El Salvador, but we couldn't do it without a layover night back in Antigua...and so we didn't have to leave San Pedro until 2:00pm. That gave us the morning to just chill, aside from picking up some laundry about all we did was get some fresh squeezed juice from the juice lady that we'd hit up a few times while we'd been in town. Gina's fav: orange, carrot and beetroot. We decided that we're buying a sick juicer when we get back 'home'.
At 2:00 we grabbed our bags and headed to the travel agency to wait for our shuttle. We took a long, deep breath as we climbed into the full to capacity mini-van as we knew this was the beginning of the big travel push: Lago Atitlan, Guatemala to Playa Samara, Costa Rica in under two weeks as we had a rendezvous with our friends from EdVenture International to keep. Oh boy, here we go.