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.
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.
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.
Roasting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!