During the weekdays in Xela I dedicated myself to studying Spanish, trying to get the most out of my classes. However, the weekends were free and I found myself either relaxing at the lake or climbing volcanoes. Lake Atitlan is a high mountain lake surrounded by volcanoes. It is approximately 8km X 18km and averages about 300m deep. Atitlan, like most of the Highlands, is very rich in Mayan culture. It's a unique mix of people at the lake: local Mayans and Guatelmaltecos meets lots of Gringos and wealthy Guatemalans on vacation at the lake.
My first lake experience was at San Pedro la Laguna. It's a small backpacker/hippy getaway at the base of Volcan San Pedro. I went with a group of Irish guys from the school whose sole intention in life right now is to get drunk. The most remarkable experience on this trip was the bus ride down to the lake. We were in a chicken bus. It was not as packed as it could be, but it was still full. We descended between 500m and 1000m down a very steep hillside with many hairpin turns that the bus could not make. Numerous times, the only thing separating us from tumbling off a steep cliff was the guard rail up against the front tire as the driver tried to maneuver his way through a 3 or 5 point turn around. A little nerve racking, but the view was nice.
My second experience was much more relaxing. The previous weekend I had gone on an overnight trek halfway up the side of Volcan Santa Maria to watch Volcan Santiaguito erupt throughout the night. On said trek I met an American couple who is on quite the journey themselves: they are driving from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina in a very round about fashion. They have everything they own in a Chevy truck with a custom made utility box on the back. I think they have been on the road for about 4 or 5 years now, I´m not sure. They only intended on staying in Mexico for 8 months, but 14 months later they finally moved on to Central America. Anyway, she is a journalist and he is a photographer. Every now and then, they receive an invitation to stay at a resort for 3 or more days for free. They, in return, post a review of the resort on their website. If you are interested, here is the website of their epic journey: http://trans-americas.com/ This was a bit of a stroke of luck, but I bumped into them in the central park in Xela on a Thursday and they gave me an invite to come join them on one of their 'research/writing assignments'. The next day I found myself riding in a new Chevy pickup (a bit of culture shock after acclimating to the chicken bus experience) on the way to a lakeside resort near Panajachel, also known as 'Gringotenango'.
This lakeside resort has 4 or 5 bungalows for rent I use the term ‘bungalow’ here lightly). These ‘bungalows’ were immaculate resort houses with all the amenities and each has a spectacular view of the lake. The smallest one rents for $150 US a night while the largest costs only $400. We were given the middle of the road, the Bamboo bungalow, usually priced at $300 a night. All I can say is that it was a sweet place (and an even sweeter deal). I highly recommend them, that is, if you are going to be at the lake for a few days and you have a few grand to burn. Then again, I can think of much better things to do with a grand, like ‘gift’ it so some Columbian debit card thief, but I will touch on that a bit later. Check out this place’s website if you’re interested: http://www.panzaverde.com/balamya/en/index.html
The bungalow had an extra bed and bathroom downstairs, so I had my own space. I cannot say how happy I was to take a comfortable, hot shower again. It was the first time in over a month that I was warm during and after a shower. I pretty much spent my time relaxing in hammock, enjoying the beautiful view off my deck, or reading in a beach chair on the lake’s edge. The location was just perfect to watch the sun set behind the volcanoes, with a mirror image reflecting in the lake. It was a very pleasant, warm, and budget travel experience (I did have to pay for food). However, all good things must come to an end and three days later I found myself back on a chicken bus Xela bound.
By the way, I will try to get a few pics up of the lake soonish. Keep checking back.