Antigua, Guatemala => St Marcos Laguna, Guatemala =>St Pedro Laguna, Guatemala => El Zonte, El Salva
El Zonte, El Salvador
Hannah's last entry left off on our penultimate day of Spanish School which came and went without incident or shred of emotion from our teacher Olga (this was not her first rodeo). We just managed to squeeze in the protocol for verbs in the past tense which Hannah will find particularly useful being one of life's story tellers. After two weeks we know enough to be polite, but little else. We plan to keep things going with an hour a day of practice, Rosetta stone and another few lessons here and there when we feel the urge.
On the Saturday before leaving Antigua I decided to stretch the legs and climbed Pacaya Volcano (Hannah had a sore toe). In all honesty it was a bit of an anticlimax as the top was very cloudy and we could not see much past 10m, Mother Nature picks and chooses these things. I included a couple of snaps of Agua erupting from ground level which are pretty spectacular and more than made up for any disappointment.
After a rather poor showing at the Ocelot Sunday pub quiz we escaped Antigua the next day heading up to Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is the deepest in Central America formed when a large volcano blew its top hundreds of years back (debris from the eruption has been traced as far north as Florida right down to Ecuador). Aldous Huxley had this to say about the area ""Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing." There are several towns around the lake and we started off at St Marcos, a mixture of indigenous Mayans who have been joined over the years by a community of hippies. There isn't a great deal to say about St Marcos, it is very quiet and peaceful. Our days were spent swimming in the lake, diving off a purpose built platform, soaking in the spiritual energy and avoiding some of the biggest spiders I have seen in the wild.
After a couple of days we nipped across the lake by boat to St Pedro which used to be a party town but, due to an over exuberant mayor and local pastor, is now very quiet after 11pm. From here we headed out to Chichicastenango market where we witnessed an impressive offering of masks, textiles, medicinal plants and other 'niknakkery'. After a couple of trial runs, we estimated that the initial price quoted for most items was ~ 2-2.5 times what we believed to be the lowest acceptable and the best technique was to walk away claiming that we needed to think about it. More often than not the vendor would chase us up the street with a calculator and a new price. If they didn't we either went back later or purchased the same item somewhere else. If you have the time and the nerve there were definitely some bargains to be had although I drew the line at negotiating with anyone under 10 years of age. We posted our haul back to England and we look forward to opening them up in a few months' time.
From St Pedro we caught a shuttle back to Antigua, stayed overnight and the next day headed off on the 6 hr drive to El Zonte in El Salvador (country #3) from where I write this entry. El Salvador, like many countries in Central America, has had its fair share of internal troubles and its 10-12 year civil war only ended in 1992. These days the vast majority of violent crime is gang related, the US deported thousands of suspected gang members in the mid 90's to a country far less equipped to deal with them. However we are here to surf the Pacific Coast and problems are few and far between. Surfing has been going well and the waves are very friendly, I rode one almost into the bar yesterday (truth be told I wasn't quite sure how to dismount as until that point the decision had been made for me) and I have another lesson this afternoon with Chinbara, my surf instructor, who has set a new low bar for punctuality. Our hotel has a McCaw Parrot who can say 'Hola' and large male Iguana who has taken a rather aggressive shine to Hannah. We also bumped into a chap from Nottingham last night who has furnished us with the top 100 books of 2011, approx 50 films and the entire series of the Mighty Boosh so we are well set for evening entertainment.
We just found out our shuttle to Copan, Honduras does not leave until Friday so I'll have another day to hone my skills. Coming up in Honduras are more Mayan ruins and what is apparently some of the best diving in the world on the Bay Islands, our mission to find a Whale Shark is on….Hope you are all well…..Santiago and Hannah.