The Americas travel blog

The men in their finest

Off at 6am for a full day trip to Lake Atitlan. We drive for an hour and a half and stop for breakfast, waffles and coffee. We continue on, past all the used caryards and Tomas explains about how Guatemala gets its cars, trucks and buses. Apparently they all come from America. The buses are ex school buses that have done 200,000 miles. Guatemala buys them, replaces the motor with a larger capacity as Guatemala has many mountains, paints them up in bright colours and they become the ‘chicken’ buses that speed around the country. The colours are important as 25% of the population are illiterate and only know which bus to catch by the colour. The cars they buy have been in accidents, insurance pays up, Guatemala buys the damaged cars, repairs them to not a very high standard and sells them cheaply.

We arrive at town of Solola for the Friday market. Guatemalans from many villages come to this market to both buy and sell. The first thing we notice is the colour, colour everywhere from the fresh fruit and vegetables, the flowers, the livestock but most of all from the colourful clothing on the all the men, women and children. Each village has their own costume which the villagers wear every day (which means there is no need to decide what to wear today) and the colours are so bright and vibrant. The market and the people are fascinating. We spend ages wandering around and Tomas gets the guy on the microphone to welcome the three special guests today, two from Australia and one from England. That gets a laugh and we kinda stick out as we are the only tourists!

Continuing down to the Lake we pass by a cemetery that is not at all a depressing looking place, as like the clothing, all the graves are painted in the brightest of colours. We stop at a lookout for a magnificent view of the crater lake, 18km long and 8kms wide, formed 85,000 years ago and the three volcanoes that surround it, San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman.

We pass through the town of Panajachel or ‘gringotenango’ because of all the tourists. We don’t stay there but catch a boat across the lake to San Juan. Here we have coffee at a local café and then walk up the hill into the town to a women’s craft co-operative where we are shown how the women clean the cotton, spin the thread, dye with natural products and then weave the cotton into the most amazing scarves, clothes, blankets etc. The young girl, 24 yo, that is demonstrating her skills will pass this on to her daughter and therefore keep the tradition alive. It is a very interesting insight into the patience and skill required and how little monetary return they get for their work.

It is 4pm when we start the return to Antigua. We drop Tomas off along the way after about 1/2 hour as he will catch a 'chicken' bus to his home town as its his Dad's birthday. We continue on with our driver. Then at about 5pm we hit the traffic, just near the red light area called 'Amsterdam St'. So from here all the way back to Antigua it is bumper to bumper. We don't get back to the Hotel until 7.45. Too late for a meal so we decide, along with Anita, to have a liquid dinner and knock back a few G & Ts. From the restaurant balcony of our Hotel we have a good view of the Fire volcano and tonight it is putting on a show. There is a bright red glow of lava it erupts every 5 to 10 mins along with clouds of gasses. Quite spectacular to see and timely for us as the waiting staff tell us it has been 'quiet' the last few weeks.

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