Being our first country in Central America, Guatemala has been pleasant and relaxed but also challenging. A burglary into our truck, roads too steep to climb and alleys too narrow to pass through, to name but a few. All in all it was still a good experience and I will be back on my way up north in May!
After a very fast and painless border crossing in La Mesilla, Jirka and me end up in Quetzaltenango. Being the second biggest town in Guatemala, it served us well to find some WIFI in a big Guatemalan fast-food chain and sleep in a public street near the center. Still we are happy to leave in the next morning and make our way to beautiful Lago de Atitlán.
Volcano-ringed, it is one of Guatemala’s most famous natural attractions. With its aquamarine colored water, three big volcanoes on its southern side and a lot of lovely little villages on the surrounding shores, it is no wonder that German explorer Alexander von Humboldt called it the “most beautiful lake in the world”.
In busy Panajachel we find a good parking spot close to the waterfront and meet Brenda and Román from Mexico. They finance their travels by selling self-made jewelry on the streets. Not the first people we meet doing that, but another good example to show that you don’t need money to travel!
We stay two relaxing days before we pick up our new travel mate Rani in Guatemala City. With the capital being more or less uninteresting for us (and also supposedly dangerous), we head back to Lake Atitlán after only one day.
After another day in Panajachel we make our way around the lake to get to San Pedro La Laguna at the base of 3030 meter high Volcán San Pedro. While the road gets steeper and steeper along the way, our brakes start to smoke and with them my hopes of returning the same way evaporate into the air.
Driving through those little towns towards the lake it gets really narrow a few times and all my driving skills are demanded. A few times I have to turn around “Austin Powers Style” with only a few centimetres on both sides of the car. Finally we make it into San Pedro and find a camp spot with pool and showers for about 5 US$. We also meet Brenda and Román again, selling their goods in the street.
In the evening we have some cocktails together in our camper, before going out into one of the many bars in town. While the DJ is playing reggae on the dance floor, we sit next to a big fire pit drinking from big one-liter bottles of Guatemalan Gallo beer. After so many light beers in Mexico, this is finally a good and tasty beer again. It is a great night out until they start to close down the bar around midnight. Telling them about Europeans starting their evenings around the same time doesn’t help and so we have to go back to the camper…
On the next day we make our way around the other side of the lake, hoping for less steep roads. Instead of those we are now in danger to get robbed along this really lonely road. We are told that a police escort is recommended for this drive. Fortunately nothing happens and we make it to Antigua on our own, where we were told to find a safe parking lot for campers inside the walls of the Tourist Police.
When we get there, we are told that it is not possible to park here over night. With little Spanish from our side and no English on the other side there is no way to communicate with the guard on the gate. We decide to park just next to the police station in the street then and walk into town.
Antigua is a really nice colonial city with lots of old buildings and cobblestone streets. We wander around until the sunset and go for a beer in a roof terrace bar. When we come back to our car everything is still fine and we go to sleep in the camper. In the early morning hours busses driving by in the narrow street wake us up quite often. Around 5:30 AM I wake up again and feel the car shaking.
At first I think it is an earthquake but while my brain starts working I realize that someone is causing this movement directly to our car. I wake up the others and Jirka gets out of the car as quickly as possible considering that he was still asleep. Unfortunately he can only see that one window is broken and his backpack with all his cloth is missing. No sign of the thieves. They must have been really quick…
When I go around the corner to the police station, I am told to bring the car. After doing so the police woman is talking to us about the camp spot inside the police station and she is asking questions like if we have a shower and so on. Showing her the broken window doesn’t seem to help with her and frustrated we have to leave again, looking for another police station.
After about an hour we find the local traffic police, which is nice enough to call the police for us. Another few minutes later an officer from the Tourist Police arrives and takes us back to the Tourist Police Station after a while, where another officer is finally able to prepare a report for us. We then are allowed to park inside the station and realize that it is absolutely full of campers. There is really no way there should have been a misunderstanding in the previous day…
We stay for only one more day and feel very unwelcome in the parking lot the whole time. Some officers tell us not to use the toilets, which are obviously supposed to be for the campers and others always ask us about when we will leave…Without understanding what the problem is with these people, we leave to get a new window in the capital. Mercifully we find a garage to put a new window inside for only 200 Quetzales (about 25 US$).
We are then able to make it to the Volcán de Pacaya in the same day to watch the sunset over the Volcán de Fuego and Acatenango near Antigua. Picked up by the nice owner of the Hotel Salamandras House near the main entrance to the volcano, we find a nice and safe parking spot in front of the Visitors Center.
The next morning we hike up to the volcano after a complicated discussion about not wanting to take a guide for the hike. We then make it to the final viewpoint easily and Jirka and me decide to go for the peak and look inside the crater. Even though that is not officially allowed, we feel quite safe doing so. The higher we get, the hotter the stones under our feet become. After about thirty minutes we reach the crater and enjoy the view towards the three volcanoes near Antigua.
The last time the Volcán de Pacaya broke out was about one year ago and the remains of the magma are still widely visible. After a few minutes on the top, we make our way back down to have some beers in the Hotel Restaurant. In the next morning we drive to Monterrico on the pacific shore and luckily end up in a private hotel pool for drinks with some nice French Canadians. We have a wonderful last evening in Guatemala before crossing the border to El Salvador in the following day.