The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 24: Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango
Wednesday, 22 March 2000
Antigua, Guatemala is a place that I have heard about for the past 20 years, but really didn't expect ever to go there. It's kind of off the beaten path for Caribbean water lovers. But, since we have lots of time we couldn't deny ourselves the pleasures of another inland trip.
Joan has become fast friends with Marlen (pronounced Marlene) the local travel agent. She is a native Guatemalan, but lived in the US for many years. Marlen set up the trip for us. She arranged for a 12 passenger Mitsubishi van to drive us to the various towns and also took care of the hotel reservations. Marlen accompanied us the first couple of days.
Marge and Marv decided not to go on this trip because it was expected that there would be a great deal of walking. Mariam and Mark from the trimaran Delphys went with us, however.
Have you noticed a really large number of names starting with M cropping up. There's Marge, Marv, Mariam, Mark, Maggie, Marlin (me, Ben), Marlen, Mitsubishi and then there's Joan. Pretty strange stuff, huh.
The first leg of the trip was to Antigua via Guatemala City. It took 4 hours to get to Guat. City and then another hour to Antigua. The roads were all good, but once again it was hard to get used to two lanes being driven as though they were three. There was a lot of traffic and the best places to pass were always on the blind curves. They have a pretty good unwritten system for avoiding accidents though. It is that EVERYONE yields, and for the most part it works well. Of course when it doesn't you see things like overturned tractor trailers and such. But, throughout the week, we only saw a couple of accidents. Our driver that day was practicing for a road race and even though it was a van, he maneuvered it like something out of a chase scene in the movies.
Guatemala City is a big place and the local newspaper said that during rush hour there were 628,000 vehicles on the streets. I guess that includes everything from motorcycles to tractor trailers, but it is still a damn large number. Most of the cars belch smoke (no smog control here) and rush hour traffic is a tearful ordeal. The good news is that Guat. City is at a higher elevation and breezes clear out the pollution pretty quickly when the traffic is diminished. Guat. City isn't my favorite place, but we have met a few US ex-patriots that have done well there and really like it.
On to Antigua and in under an hour we were there. This is a very old city. There are churches dating back to the 1500s and I think that most of the city is old as well. The streets are narrow and cobblestone. All are one way and there is just enough room for a car to pass pedestrians. Walkers have to stay close to the buildings and are at some peril. The city elevation is about 5000 feet and nestled amid at least 4 volcanoes with classic volcanic cones rising up to about 12,000 feet. The tallest, Mt. Acatenango, dominates the southern view. Although they are mostly dormant there are some steam vents on the mountain sides visible from in town.
Our hotel, Santa Lucia #1, was OK, but barely. Mildewed walls, towels that were rags, a shower that didn't drain, pillows that were filled with sand and rock (I think) and hot water only between 6 and 8 AM contributed to the ambiance. A double room costs $10 a night. Our first night I estimate that the temperature dropped to the mid 40s and even Maggie was cold. During the day it warmed up to the high 70s, but mostly it wasn't shorts weather.
We found a veterinarian and doggie beauty shop and had Maggie trimmed. They did a great job and she looked and felt good. Everybody in town melted when they saw her. She always stole the show at the restaurants, hotels and on the street.
The restaurant food was good and we ate a different place almost for every meal. Breakfasts were about $1.50 and the average cost for dinners was 3 to 4 bucks a person. Mariam and Mark walked our asses off. On cobblestones that didn't take long either. We visited the market, the churches, bought a couple T-shirts, had lots of Gallo beer and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
The next day, our van picked us up at the hotel for the two hour drive to Panajacel (pronounced pan-a-ha-chel). This town is located on the shore of Lake Atitlan which some travel authorities call the most beautiful lake in the world. I pretty much agree with that assessment too. The lake is roughly 13 miles long and 9 miles wide and has depths of over 1000 feet. The lakes elevation is about 6000 feet and it is surrounded by 4 or 5 dormant classic cone volcanoes that rise up another 6000 feet. It is a really dramatic scene.
The lake was formed only 500 years ago when a volcanic eruption filled in the valley where the areas water ran off. The water is gin clear an only very occasionally does a boat disturb the otherwise mirror-like water. In town, the Mayans line the streets with their wares. The stuff here is very good quality and cheap too. But, life on a boat doesn't afford one the luxury to buy a bunch of stuff, so we contented ourselves with just a few trinkets.
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Kind of out of time today. I'll complete the Antigua trip write-up tomorrow. We are currently back for another few days cruising on Lake Izabal with Delphys. (About a half hour ago, a 10-12 foot alligator swam between our two boats.) The Heides are heading back to the States later this week.
Joan, Ben & Maggie