Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Backpacker's Paradise

A bunch of small villages ring Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and each has its own flavor and reason to visit.  Some are tourist-free, some are transportation hubs (of lake traffic only), some tout themselves as yoga retreats, and some are hotspots for backpackers.  A friend of mine has been telling me about the glories of San Pedro, one of the towns which draws backpackers, for some time now, and Amy was itching to return after a very short visit in December.  So, when presented with a 3 day weekend in March, Amy and I booked a room with a view of the lake and set off to explore what San Pedro has to offer. 

After a beautiful 3 hour drive, we left our car in an overnight parking lot in Panajachel and took the public boat across the lake to San Pedro.  We stepped off the boat and set out to find our hotel on foot.  When we asked for directions, we were told, “first street…left…about an 8 minute walk.”  When the first street came to a dead end with no sign of our hotel, however, we poked our heads into another hotel and asked for directions again.  The woman working there didn’t know it, but she grabbed a patron who was relaxing in a hammock, and that woman popped up and said, “It’s really easy to get there, but really hard to explain.  I’m happy to just show you!”  So she took us through the magical alley we needed to find to get to the hotel and gave us directions.  After that—no problem!

view from the rooftop terrace of our hotel

Amy and I settled in, then explored the city for a bit.  We found a snack (the most amazing guacamole I have had in a long while) and a table perched out over the lake at a place called Sublime, where drinks were cheap and the view was good.  We wandered around the city, reading the advertisements for drink specials and live music, browsing the menus posted outside each door, and trying to remember the names of the restaurants my friend had recommended as his favorites. 

Stopping for an afternoon snack

For dinner, we took the recommendation of the woman who had shown us to our hotel and visited a place called Ventana Blue.  After dinner (which ended up being rather late, so it was close to 9:30 when we finished eating), we set off in search of live music—preferably upbeat live music to keep us awake. 

We ended up back at Sublime, where we’d discovered the tasty guacamole earlier.  A ska band from the city was performing there.  They were quite good, and we listened to them from the comfort of a giant bean bag chair (determined to dance when the dance floor got full…but then contenting ourselves with watching until the very end).  For some reason it didn’t seem to me that a ska band would exist in Guatemala, much less perform their songs in Spanish, though I guess I’m not sure why I thought that.  I really enjoyed listening to them.

We retired early that night, which enabled us to get up at a reasonable hour the next morning.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, made even more leisurely by the exceptionally slow service.  Though…I should clarify.  The food didn’t take that long to reach us.  It was the coffee.  Each cup was prepared individually, and after ordering, we watched 8 people get their coffee before us.  It was the first time in my life my food has ever arrived before my coffee. 
I’m not complaining, really.  Rather, it sort of amused me.

After breakfast, we explored the town a bit more, venturing up the hill and away from the tourist locales.  We found a beautiful square where we relaxed for a bit.  Then, we headed back to the tourist zone with a goal in mind: book massages for ourselves for the day.  The purpose of the weekend was to relax, after all.  A massage sounded fantastic. 

The town square

Street leading down to the dock

We soon realized that we wouldn’t be able to book our massages for the same time at the same place, because only one masseuse worked at each place.  This was easily solved, however, by booking for the same time at two separate places and meeting back up afterwards.   We returned to the hotel utterly relaxed, and with almost perfect timing, as our friends Chris and Brendan had arrived from the city by that time and met us near our hotel. 

Later that afternoon, we savored mango pie on cushions sitting on the grass behind a little café and chatted about nothing in particular.  We relaxed the day’s light away, enjoying each other’s’ company and the beauty of where we were. 

Picnic at a cafe!  Definitely a hippie sort of town.

Mango pie and homemade yogurt.
First time I'd ever had mango pie...it's as delicious as you would imagine.

In the evening, we found an establishment with games to play, and we sat facing the lake and playing Cranium, sipping fruity drinks.  We ate dinner later at a place called El Barrio that truly felt like a slice of home—the food wasn’t memorable, but the staff was friendly and willing to share a story, and the atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming.  From there we moved to a place booming with techno dance music.  I firmly believe that dancing is the most fun when the goal is to look as ridiculous as possible, and that’s exactly how we danced that night. 

By the time we left, I had exhausted myself, and I fell into bed utterly content, happy to have spent the day with friends, exploring, laughing, relaxing, and dancing.  What more could you ask of a weekend?  

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