Monthly Archives: February 2014

On the Boat from Monterrico

We really couldn’t have arranged a better departure from Monterrico. Oscar sat snugly in the middle of a rickety old wooden ferry, Bec and I waved goodbye to Mugsie and Margot as they waved back from the river shore.  Then we settled in for the ride. With the windows and doors wide open to catch some breeze, we sat in the van and read our books while the ferryman navigated up the river through calm marshlands and past fishermen poling their canoes with the current. With the ancient volcanic mountains rising in the distance and the occasional great egret flapping by, it really was an idyllic little boat ride.

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Little did we know that this we would do this twice more before we actually managed to leave Guatemala.  On the first try we were about 15 minutes from the El Salvador border when we realized that Mugsie had left her passport in the car.  With no way to contact her we decided that the best decision was to turn around and drive back.  So we took the ferry back again.

The next day after another night in Monterrico, we were up super early to catch the ferry one last time, only to find a car parked right in the alleyway, blocking the only path out of our camping spot. We asked around and found out that the driver had taken a boat upriver. We had to wait around for a couple of hours for him to come back and move his car.  Sometimes things are just harder than they should be, lucky the boat ride was so nice.

Sipacate

Along with our search for the perfect volcano there came a search for the perfect surf beach. Monterrico is on the map for beach towns in Guatemala, but we diverted slightly and made our way to a lesser known, and hopefully lesser /gringo/ populated beach called Sipacate.

Sometimes things just work out when your travelling, and I think Margot brought along some good luck in those curly locks of hers.  We found an unfinished hotel with dodgy bathrooms, a teeny kitty and a pool for 40 quetzales a day per person (a little over $5). We were set.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gang

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKids need discipline

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe black volcanic sand of Sipacate

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHello kitty 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACocos

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching the sunset was a daily ritual

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The beach was approximately 30 steps away and Margot, Mark and Bec had the surf virtually to themselves every morning.  I always end up having the same conversation with fellow travellers about how great a place used to be.  Small towns often become overrun with hostels, tour guides and overpriced souvenirs. One of the beauties of van traveling is being able to avoid these places. Big cities and tourist destinations are not Oscar’s forte, so we often end up in towns literally not on the map. Some stress comes along with not having a shower, toilet paper or running water but the tiny produce stands, the well acted out Spanglish conversations and animal visitors well outweigh the bad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFun times with Margot

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Mark and Bec, you truly do seem to make a home for yourselves wherever you are in the world and I can’t wait to visit you in your next home, wherever it may be.

Here’s to yet another adventure with you guys
Xoxo
Margarita

Vacay in Atitlan

Hi Brown Bus Followers!

My name is Margot and I’m the latest friend making a van-eo (van + cameo) on the blog and in the van. It was a great 10 days traveling with Mark, Bec, and Mugsie. I can’t think of two better people to be on this trip-of-a-lifetime adventure than Mark & Bec and I’m grateful for having been along for a very short part of the journey.

Following our less than arduous climb up Volcan Pacaya, we loaded up the van in Antigua and headed towards the popular Lago Atitlan. Atitlan is a large lake in Guatemala’s highlands known for the three volcanoes that surround it as well as the strong Mayan culture found in the neighbouring towns. To get there, Oscar had to negotiate some tight corners and questionable roads which he did effortlessly. Clearly Oscar, like his owners, is thriving on this adventure.

Oscar + Bec doing some alternative route finding

Oscar + Bec doing some alternative route finding

We stopped for lunch at a place we realized was the Guatemalan equivalent of a truck stop. My poor Spanish skills allowed me to eat my fish soup (a delicious broth filled with large shrimp, a cat fish head, and a chunk of crab) in peace, while the others were subjected to the less-than-courteous truck stop chatter around us. The stay was quickly forgotten when we rounded a corner just after lunch to a beautiful panorama of Lake Atitlan. The volcanoes jutted out of the spectacular turquoise waters –  unlike anything I’d seen before. I realized that Mark and Bec still have some traces of Canada in them as the conversation shifted to ski-touring and how good the surrounding slopes might look with some snow on them.

Lago Atitlan

Lago Atitlan

Oh Oscar, you are hilarious!

Oh Oscar, you are hilarious!

We drove into Panajachel, one of the larger towns on the lake, and quickly found a beautiful campsite in front of an empty hotel. February isn’t a big tourist season in Guatemala so there was plenty of room for Oscar to settle right in and drink in the views. The sunset came and went quickly so Mark built a warm fire for us to wrap ourselves around while they shared their captivating travel stories (Oaxaca, I’m coming for you!) and I filled them in on what was happening in the news. The cheap wine we’d found in Antigua went nicely with the leftover multi-coloured marshmallows from Pacaya and the night felt reminiscent of post-dinner, backyard hangouts at the Edmonton house in the hood.

OscarAtitlan

Roasting marshmellows and smoking away the busRoasting marshmallows and smoking away the bus

We had a big travel day the next day, moving Oscar 500m (one campsite over) to even better views (and bathrooms) for less Quetzals. We spent the day walking around town, playing cards, sipping on Gallo (Guatemalan beer), and finding the best taco stand. Bec has an innate ability to suss out the best street food, even in a town she has never been to. I was blown away by the delicious, cheap little tacos and appreciative that the bus folks were far from tired of eating them.

Cute outfit

Cute outfit

Tacos and fried chicken. The best of both worlds!

Tacos and fried chicken. The best of both worlds!

We woke up early the next morning to get a start on hiking Volcan San Pedro. Because there is not a direct road between towns, long-boat shuttles, operating every hour, deliver people across the lake to their destinations. Riding on the calm water, watching the mist lift itself from the base of the volcanos, is not a bad way to wake up.

Our new friends posing in front of San Pedro

Our new friends posing in front of Volcan San Pedro

We met our guide, Manuel, on the shores of the hippy town of San Pedro and started the long climb up the inactive volcano. This hike was closer to the earlier exaggeration of ‘child birth’, and much more difficult than Volcan Pacaya. Manuel set a scalding pace up the volcano, all the while teaching us words in his Mayan language of Tz’utujil (one of the major Mayan ethnic groups in Guatemala, still adhering to traditional culture and language). The trail wound through small coffee plantations and even though the harvest had just taken place, there were still some small berries on the trees. Manuel picked them off the branches and showed us how to pop out the beans from the berry for an energizing treat.

Coffee beans and fetching sun hats

Coffee beans and fetching sun hats

When we reached the top, the view was interrupted by some light clouds that had rolled in, but we could still make out the town below. The volcanic crater is apparently very deep but has been filled in with huge, blossoming trees and Tarzan-esque vines since becoming extinct.

Swinging around

Swinging around

Resting tired legs on the way down

Resting tired legs on the way down

We left Lago Atitlan the next morning with sore legs, many mosquito bites, and lots of new dog friends. Now off to town of Sipacate to find surf and beach time!

Hasta Luego Oscar!

Hasta Luego Oscar!