Had to wake up at 5:50am to catch the 7:00am shuttle bus to Panajachel, the gateway to the Lake Atitlan. The plan was that I would give myself plenty of time to find the meeting point, clearly marked by Martin on my map. Although it was only a street away from my hostel, I very cleverly managed to walk all around the north west of the city with my huge pack before finally being met by the bus driver 10 mins late.
The Pullman bus would take us on a 2 hours 30 mins ride through the dramatic region of Guatemala´s highlands, full of grand volcanoes with Lake Atitlan in the valley. My guide (and you can probably tell, gosh, don´t I need one!!) was Martin - from Heideburg, Germany, who was following Mario - also from Heideburg, who in turn was following Marc - also from Heideburg. So you see, I was the only random person there, but have to give credits to these guys for tolerating me for three days. Well done!
The problem with me is that if there is someone sitting next to me, I feel obliged to talk to them - even if they have had a late night previously and yearning to sleep. Poor Mario talked to me patiently (well, he is training to be a special needs teacher) for about an hour and a half of the journey, missing out on the fantastic views as a result, before apologising that he needed to sleep. However, I understand it wasn´t very good sleep either...
Although we wer on a shuttle bus, we managed to pick up an amazing amount of local people dressed in their colourful Mayan clothings on the way. It was unbelievable the way they are able to squeeze themselves into all available space, not wasting an inch at all to fit in their bags, baskets of fruits or little kids.
Normally at home, I would offer my seat to elderly people, pregnant women or children. But I knew I couldn´t stand up for two and a half hours, and my bad balance would be even more of a hazard to the entire bus. So I gingerly offered the arm of my seat to the Mayan lady and her daughter, though some seats became vacant for them shortly afterwards. When they sat down, she trusted me with looking after her basket of strawberries - which was fine, until the bus became so packed again - and suddenly my feet lost their space. To add to this uncomfortable position, I found myself leaning 30 degrees to the left, in order to avoid the armpit of a couple of smelly men, holding on to the rails above my head, with what could be described as funny smelling toothpaste.
When the bus finally arrived at Panajachel, most of the foreigners continued to stay in their seats, not sure whether that was our final destination. Even Marc, who was there previously, wasn´t sure. But when we got off the bus, the backpackers stood in a little confused crowd. This made us very easy target for the local touts, who all wanted to take us to their (commissioned) hotel, horse, taxi or boat.
I was so glad that I wasn´t by myself, as it would be quite overwhelming with so many touts approaching you, especially with no Spanish! With constants mutters of "No gracias" we made our way to the harbour (about 5 mins away), all the time being followed by two bicycle rickshaws who couldn´t give up the prospects of taking money from 5 foreigners (Ariel, from Israel joined us to our next destination).
Luckily there a boat arrived soon after we got to the harbour, which was going to San Pedro, where we planned to spend the night. Again it was lucky there were people to help me lower my pack onto the boat, so I could jump free handedly.
A passenger was staring intensively at his book, and seeing that it was English, I asked what he was reading. It was an anthropological book on economic developement, and with perfect Yat timing, was interrupting him with his catching up on studying. He was preparing an essay on economic development in Guatemala (I think) as an entry to Univeristy back in the States. He meant to come to Guatemala for a week, but ended up staying since March!
San Pedro was a popular hippy hangout in the 60s, who wanted to execute the freedom movement in Central America. They left during the civil war, but have since reclaimed the village. After locking our bags in a shabby hostel, we had lunch at the Freedom Cafe, which has very nice (vegetarian) food - even if they do arrive somewhat late, with an amazing view of the Lake. Found out that it´s a popular hang out for Gringos (probably due to their lack of action against people smoking weed on their premises - don´t worry Dad, I don´t do drugs!!) even though the two times I ate there, the waitress had no change (to whatever size of the bill you wish to pay with).
Oh! This was also where 1981 made his appearance once again, happy to be out of the bag and posing happily in paradise with the volcanoes and Lake behind him, whilst he enjoys a refreshing pineapple juice... 1981 fans watch this space, as will set up somewhere for you to view his adventures - so watch this space!!