Take a break

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Your birthday excursion up a volcano didn’t go quite according to plan? You can’t really be too disappointed when one of the first things you see when you roll back in to town is a lady selling assorted pastries out of the back of her car.

With a face full of delicious car-pastries we checked in to a nearby luxurious hotel for a much-needed therapeutic dose of hot showers and cooked breakfast.

Before returning to our favourite local camping haunt to clean and dry all our soaked, muddy camping gear.

Our time camping was made all the better by the discovery that Guatemala in fact stocks New Zealand butter. Sure. I wouldn’t lower myself to eating Anchor at home. But after all that weird white tasteless goop that North America tried to pass off as ‘butter’ this little packet of semi-solid, salted, over-whipped cream is border-line miraculous.

We left the cloudy skies of Antigua behind us and began what we planned to be our final lap of Guatemala before crossing the border to El Salvador. Time to take in some highlights.

First stop, Chichicastenango market. This place is considered to be the ultimate market for textile shopping in Guatemala. It is a magnet for locals and tourists alike.

We’d describe it as a large, expensive version of many of the local markets we had visited. But we easily managed to lose ourselves in the shops, alleyways and food stalls of this bustling market for an entire morning.

From Chichicastenango, we relied on Javier—our consistently unhelpful GPS—for directions.

Ever the adventurer, he offered us some questionable guidance.

He then directed us through some increasingly narrow mountain roads through the back of small villages. We were met with confused looks from many a local. Guess they had never met Javier.

Don’t worry guys, our GPS has this under control!

But we soon found ourselves back on the main road.

Although it doesn’t always feel like a main road. Especially when one lane is blocked off with low budget, non-reflective road cones for miles on end.

Guess that is one way to keep half the road from wearing out.

But we soon found ourselves back at Lago Atitlán for a bit of what we considered to be well-earned rest and relaxation.

And we had found the perfect spot for it, this time down the opposite end of the lake, just out of Panajachel.

Ben found a replacement for Emma. He talks less, but drools more.

Guatemala might not be home to the fanciest beer in the world, but the scenic vistas somewhat make up for that.

In the late afternoons we watched a very forlorn looking party boat drift past for sunset. Blaring music and full of people who looked like they would rather be on shore.

The view from the shore was pretty spectacular.

See also  Back to the underworld

Even more so for sunrise.

As the day dawned cool and clear it we watched the sun gently paint the sky behind the majestic peaks of San Pedro, Tolimán and Atitlán.

An unforgettable sunrise view.

We only spent a few days by the shores of Atitlán this time. Just a fleeting visit. One stop in a round-about detour to get to the Guatemalan coast.

We said goodbye to Atitlán one last time. Even if it was for too short a time, we were glad we had dropped by. The volcanic views were every bit as spectacular as we had remembered.

Our final, parting glance of Atitlán was this panoramic view.

[There is a larger version of Lago Atitlán panorama in our panorama gallery]

A vista that still comes to mind every time our thoughts drift to Guatemala. Atitlán is place that we didn’t fully appreciate how much we would miss, until long after these blue water disappeared into the rear view mirror one final time.

We had one last stop in mind before heading to the coast.

Chicabal. This lake’s sparkling sacred waters fill the crater of an extinct volcano.

After climbing up the side of the mountain, the path then descends a number of steps down into the crater to the shores of this small lake.

The lake itself is sacred to the local Mam Maya, no swimming allowed in its protected waters. The area has a mystical, peaceful quality to it. Sheltered inside the crater the atmosphere only becomes more mysterious as the afternoon cloud swirls in and flows over the crater rim. Tendrils of mist reach slowly across the water’s surface.

There is a trail following a stretch of lake shore that weaves amongst various Mayan altars. The purpose of each altar varies. Each one a place to leave offerings or perform ceremonies for things like better health or success. Visitors to the lake either burn offerings at the altars or sometimes floral offerings are left in the sacred waters of the lake.

From Chicabal, it was only a short drive down to the warm coastal sunshine—our thoughts were starting to drift to the tropical beaches of Central America.

See also  Not quite Guatemala—Part 3

It was finally time to leave the volcanic highlands and enjoy the tropical coast.

The road carried us so rapidly down from the mountains to the coast that we had no time to adjust to the thick, humid soup-like air. It was hot. Really hot.

We thought we would spend a few days relaxing in the intense, coastal sunshine. We hoped to visit a zany adventure water/theme park for a laugh and to follow that with some time drinking beers and relaxing in hammocks. After that we would decide whether to continue south to El Salvador. Or if the weather was clear, maybe we would go back to Antigua one last time and make another attempt at climbing Volcán Acatenango.

We arrived at the theme park the day after it had closed for a week. It was way too hot to just wait around for it to re-open. We kept moving. It was decision time. Coast or mountains? Keep going south to El Salvador or revisit our unfinished business with Acatenango and Fuego?

There were some very tempting looking blue skies above us. The coastal air was dense, humid and uninviting. We were sure that if we were back in Antigua we would be able to see those mysterious volcanoes clearly.

So with that, we hastily completed our circuit around Guatemala. We found ourselves back in Antigua. It was as if we had never left. Except for one subtle difference.

The weather was perfect.

Finally. A proper look at Fuego (on the right of this image), it was now visible from the lookout at Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua.

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