I realized this week, I need to roll back the clock, arrive in San Marcos, and relive that first day. Finally we have found our groove so let’s start over.
We came to Lake Atitlan from Antigua by shuttle to the town of Panajachel (or Pana to the locals know it). Distances are deceptive and transit times highly variable. Our two-hour trip took three-hours and we arrived shortly before the last ferry left the harbor at five o’clock (although nothing here runs on a precise schedule).
The main street through Pana to the dock was dusty and crowded–charmless. I had considered using this as our base given it is a hub for transportation options across Guatemala but after seeing this sliver of town, I was relieved I had changed my mind. The shuttle driver stopped thirty yards short of the water, opened the van door, and a frail, older man materialized. He grabbed my bag and said simply, “San Marcos” so I followed him.
Four identical boats—all scuffed and faded white with wooden tops and pale blue interior–rocked along the dockside. They were smaller than I had imagined and with names painted on the side. One was the Titanic (which seemed to me a branding snafu). My helper pointed to our boat, threw our bags into the bow, and extended his hand, “Ten quetzals.” His willingness to toss my too heavy bag onboard was worth a dollar plus change.
The boat drifted to and from the dock presenting a challenge to step onto the rim, down to a crude step notched into the side of the hull, and onto the uneven bottom with no stationary item to cling to. No one offered a hand or seemed terribly concerned if I hit the boat or the water. I made it, ducked below the wooden top past Mayan women dressed in beautifully woven shirts and floral tops, and took a seat on the second bench. Within ten minutes, the captain started the outboard motor and we set off.
The wind blew across Atitlan creating a harrowing chop. (At the time, I felt safe, assuming the captain knew his job. Since then, our friend Julie told us that on a single day, two ferries flipped over). I held down the tarp to stay as dry as possible as our boat crested each wave and slammed down into the gullies. We watched our bags waiting for one or both to fly overboard. We stopped at private docks and small villages, with no announcement or signs, and people left or joined us. After asking five or six times if this was San Marcos, a local family promised they would tell us when we arrived.
Lake Atitlan is a volcanic lake surrounded by towering green cones–at least one of which occasionally glows red in the middle of the night or shoots off a plume of smoke during the day. The lake is seven miles by three, which creates a tight and dramatic scene. A handful of villages rest on the shoreline. The water is turquoise and at the center over 1200 feet deep hence perpetually cool. Explorers have called this the most spectacular lake in the world. As we bounced along the shore, I had to agree. That first glimpse was fantastic.
The boat pulled into a small dock and we were told this was San Marcos. A group of boys grabbed our suitcases. One shook my hand and introduced himself as Michael. Our landlord was waiting on the dock and assured us that an hour late was “right on time”. We followed the narrow stone path into the jungle, past hostels, restaurants, and holistic healing centers. In the main square a row of tuk tuks awaited; we paid the boys 10Q.
Children played basketball in a large, open-air gym; a man gathered up firewood and placed it on his head; and elaborately dressed Mayan women balanced baskets on their heads. We climbed into a tuk tuk and headed to our house. The only pavement in the village stopped after a few hundred yards. This was surreal–unlike any place I had ever seen. It was a long day. We were happy to be home.
Categories: Central America