After three weeks of Spanish classes, I decide I have enough to get by, and it’s time to start my journey down to Panama. But I really liked my first week in San Pedro and want to see more of the surrounding villages, so as I leave my home-stay on Sunday, I walk down the hill and check into a hostel (my own room for $7) and just like that I slide from being a sort-of student to just a backpacker. Here’s a few things I do in my last few days around Lake Atitlan.
The day after the disaster of the kayaks Sophie and I are off on another adventure, this time to hike up to a peak called the Indian’s Nose, due to it sort of looking like the face of a reclining native. We have a sort of guide that we arranged through an agency in San Pedro, who accompanies us via chicken bus from San Pedro town center.
We get dropped off at a seemingly arbitrary point in what is less of a town and more a collection of shacks alongside a road. Our guide finds a small wooden gate and pass through. It feels like we might be going for a hike in somebody’s backyard, and in a sense, we are. Not right at the beginning, but the top of the Indian Nose hike is actually private property, and we have to pay a few quetzals to get in. It’s not much of a hike at all really, more like an uphill walk. Pacaya was much harder, and that wasn’t really hard at all, except for the loose terrain. There’s a couple of locals near the top with a dog they say is named Sam. “Tío Sam!‘ suggests our guide, I think in an attempt to ingratiate himself with me. “Tío Sam en Guatemala!” I shake my head and respond saying it’s been a while since Uncle Sam has showed up in Guatemala, but as I think about it, he’s probably overdue. If you don’t know the history of Guatemala, and why would you, you went to an American school, didn’t you, you should keep track of how many times the CIA gets involved in Guatemalan affairs (or the affairs of any Central American nation, for that matter). Here, Wikipedia does it for you.
Political commentary sparked by dog names aside, the view from this end of the lake is really fantastic. Sophie wants us both to do jumping photos, which I flatly refuse. She does a pretty good job of capturing my go-to “look at me outdoors and on top of stuff” pose, which is “I am looking over this vastness and definitely pretending that I don’t know a camera is being pointed at me.”
There’s no way of knowing when the bus is coming back the other way, so we end up more or less hitching back towards San Pedro in the back of a pickup truck. This actually becomes my favorite part of the day, as we get some more fantastic views of the lake on the harrowingly steep and narrow switchback road taking us back down to the shore.
I took a marvelously shaky video of this experience:
The pickup is only going as far as San Juan, which is one town over from San Pedro, so we hop into a tuk-tuk for the last leg back home. As though to honor Tío Sam and his camera-toting backpacking representative, the roof of the tuk-tuk is covered in an American flag.
I’m sure Panajachel has something to recommend it, but as far as I’m concerned that town is the fucking pits. Sophie and I go to check it out, and really all there is for us to do is get a lunch at a restaurant where we’re hassled by old ladies whose jobs are to stand near you looking professionally off-putting until you give them money to leave. Other than that there’s the same kind of tourist-oriented shopping that San Pedro has none of – Gallo hats, crude t-shirts, and locally sourced souvenir crap of all kinds. Antigua has plenty of this too, but it’s not the main focus of the town, and Antigua at least has its colonial charm and historic building codes to keep this sort of stuff mostly tucked out of plain sight. Not so for Panajachel. Sophie buys a shirt while I drink a tallboy on the sidewalk, and gets it altered while I drink a second. And then we’re back to San Pedro.
The failure to reach the swimming hole gnaws at me and before I leave Atitlan, I finally make my way to San Marcos, this time, by the regular lancha service from the San Pedro docks. The lanchas are boats that feel about 10% safer than the kayaks I nearly drowned in.
My Lonely Planet guide describes San Marcos as full of “hippies-with-a-purpose” and that’s about as good a description as any. San Pedro hippies are mostly devoted to things like fire-twirling or selling crap jewelry on a blanket. San Marcos hippies are the real deal. There’s all kinds of yoga centers and spiritual retreats with glass pyramids and god knows what else. And it doesn’t have any of the annoying traffic of Panajachel, mostly because it has almost no roads. Everything is reached by narrow footpaths. But aside from a quick lunch, I’m not really spending my time in the town proper, but going just outside to the small Cerro Tzankujil reserve, where there’s a platform for jumping into the lake.
When I get to the platform I find myself with a very unexpected realization of how old I have gotten. There was a time in my childhood when I routinely launched myself off the high dive at the local pool at full speed, pulling cannonballs and can-openers and the occasional belly flop. Now here I was, a grown man, looking at a jump not much higher than the high dives of my youth, and I was… hesitating. Wasn’t it just last summer I was on the high dive? But the truth was it had probably been more like 20 summers ago, or more. Fortunately there were a couple of girls there – from Chicago, no less – so I really couldn’t sit there anxiously looking like a toolbox for too long. I had launched myself into this trip without being exactly ready, and it had been working so far, so I take the same approach to the platform. I take off at a sprint and kept my legs working in the air, but it has been so long since I’d been airborne for so long that I forget how to operate the avionics of my flailing body, and hit the water more or less directly on my ass. Had I torn my trunks it would have been a very awkward boat ride back to San Pedro, but they were fortunately intact. I climb back up and jump again, with less speed, less flailing, and a better, feet-first entry, and I head back to San Pedro having reclaimed some of the courage of my youth.
I had the girls take a video of me, which I thought I had backed up but it looks like it’s one of the things lost in my iPhone update. It wasn’t very exciting anyway. Here’s a of youtube of a guy jumping off the same platform.
Not an Atitlan village, but my last day in San Pedro. Not much to say, except Irish pubs are everywhere, and St. Pat’s behavior is universal in them.
The Irish bar got so full we were all just drinking on the street anyway, and since there was a tienda right next to the bar, it was an affordable night of celebration. Shout-out to the fine folks at El Compadre tequila.