Antigua to Panajachel
9. April (Monday): There's a regular bus to Panajachel taking about an hour from Antigua leaving early every morning. So we strap on our backpacks and head in the direction of the bus-stop. I'm not yet used to the backpack since this is only the second time since Zurich that I'm wearing it to walk a distance. Later on in the trip it got better.
We find the bus and it already has lots of customers around it, a mixture of tourists and locals. We need to wait awhile, then the conductor lets us in. I manage to get the last two seats on the bus for us by exerting gentle pressure when getting in. But quite a few people are still waiting to get in when the driver signals the conductor, who opens the side luggage compartment of the bus and extracts some plastic stools. There are placed in the aisle of the bus and most of the remaining customers are told to sit down on them!
We start driving and after awhile the conductor collects the fares from everyone. We stop a number of times on the way to Panajachel and it's only locals getting on and off at each stop.
The drive is through hilly terrain, mostly uphill, and the fully packed bus make slow progress. At last we're driving downhill again when we reach Panajachel (altitude about 2000m), which is on the shore of Lago de Atitlan, which is actually an old volcanic crater. It's a very deep lake, supposedly going down more than 300m. Three large volcanoes surround the lake making an usual sight. Seeing the lake and the surroundings from above is very pretty.
We'd researched the LP for some places to stay and we mount our backpacks to check them out. They're all on the main street, called Calle Santander. The first one is booked out but the second one still has rooms, but only for one night. They're cheap but the rooms are basic. We decide to stay here.
After freshening up a bit we set off to discover the small town of Panajachel.
The lake is just steps away from the hotel and is beautiful.
We book two tours. The first is a boat ride on Lake Atitlan with stops at three small towns along it for the next day. The other is a bus trip to the town of Chichicastenango, famous for it's handicrafts market.
Panajachel is a hippie town, with a lot of foreign flower children and people with Rasta locks to be seen. It is also very touristy, with many handicraft stalls along the streets with their owners offering their wares to all the tourists.
Particularly striking is the number of very young kids (7-12?) who come up all the time asking to buy something or just money. This quite in contrast to Cuba, where no-one this young will come up to you.
Changing traveller cheques was something we needed to do. At the local bank we could walk past the long line leading onto the street, to where someone at a desk writes down our passport numbers and names on a piece of paper and calculates the exchange rate. Then we DO need to stand at the end of that long line to cash the money!
Later we look to find a place to stay for the next night. We first check out 'ATI tours', but the agent is not very motivated and the room he guides us to is bad value and off the main road.
A little further on we find something acceptable at 'Larry's Place', not too cheap but we know it's Semana Santa time and rooms are scarce, so we take it.
We spend the evening sitting at some street side cafes on Calle Santander, watching all the strange people going by while sipping coffees and beer.