After leaving the market in Chichi we once again brave the chicken busses. This time though we take a smaller van before meeting up with the big bus at a different stop. We are all crammed in…the van should seat 9, but they have added jumpseats so it will fit 13…and in true Guatemalan style we fit 22 adults plus babies and lap children. The babies here amaze me. They are so quiet and observant. They are slung over their mothers shoulders in a hand-woven sling, and until they are older the only thing that gives them away is the odd bulge in the fabric. I never heard one cry. Once they are a little older, you see solemn eyes watching, and absorbing the world. The mothers are not lugging strollers, and diaper bags, instead they carry baskets with things to sell, or tonight, on the way home, things they’ve bought.
This ride is shorter, but more perilous with a combination of fog and extremely twisty narrow road on the faces of mountains. I guess this is one way to overcome my side-seat driving! I’ve never felt more out-of-place and obviously a tourist than on these chicken busses…children stare and I start to wonder if I have multiple heads sticking out. Even though the busses are crowded, people seem unwilling to crowd onto our seat (which is a bit of a blessing) but it makes me very aware of how much we stick out. After we get to Panajachel (the main jumping off point for the villages of lake Atitlan) we look for somewhere to eat, I’m getting “hangry” at this point and it’s definitely time for food. Passing multiple very obviously tourist restaurants we decide on a taco place that is filled with locals. It is amazing. And yummy and (mostly) filling. At this point I have been in a state of almost constant hunger since we’ve left LA, and it’s really starting to wear me down. (That constant whiny hunger in the pit of my stomach, is unfortunately starting to translate into me being whiny and snappy too.) After the tacos we start to head to the boat to catch a ferry to Santa Cruz which is the village we will be staying in. On our way there we get waylaid by a man offering to “help” us to the docks. So we head that way, soon it becomes apparent that he is trying to get us on his own private boat, that he’s using as a shuttle. Here’s the thing….I had read that you had to be careful, and have exact change because the boat operators in Panajachel are notorious for cheating people. Now I do enjoy bargaining, it’s one of the things I really like about Central America. I do not like feeling cheated or almost worse: pressured. In my everyday life I will completely freak out, RUN away and try to escape like a rabid animal when I feel the slightest bit of pressure, real or imagined…it’s one of my bigger character flaws. So while I enjoy haggling I do NOT like it when people chase me through markets, or down docks. We finally managed to agree on a fair (or so I thought) price, and we loaded up and pull away from the dock. The ferryman’s small son rides with us, and seems fascinated by both us, and our phones (the only cameras we brought along for the trip). He waves and sits on the floor of the boat. Later he clambers into my lap and when he starts playing with my bag and it’s zippers, I am instantly suspicious but he seems to just be curious. (I feel like the worst kind of person in the world for that) We learn his name is Lucas and he is four. He cuddles into my chest and slowly falls asleep, lulled my the rocking of the boat.
Once we pull up to the dock, we say our goodbyes and head into the tiny town of Santa Cruz. My boyfriend actually knows someone who is working at the hostel here, a Brit he met in Amsterdam. We check for vacancies and get a wonderful room overlooking the lake. The lake is beautiful and peaceful, I could have very easily spent a few weeks there, exploring all the little towns. The actual town of Santa Cruz is up a the mountain. The very,very very steep mountain. However with a dog from the hostel that adopted us, we make the slow and scenic hike up to the top. Children run full throttle through the streets as I wheeze for breath.
Later we have dinner at the hotel next to our hostel. (Dinning options are extremely limited here…as in there are two choices.) The server and cook, who we later learn are the managers are both sweet and accommodating, even though they speak almost no English. (This is the one time, when food is involved, that I’m better at Spanish than my boyfriend.) The view from the terrace where we eat is breathtaking, especially as we watch the sunset. After our meal, which was fabulous, (I am finally full!) we meet the owner of the restaurant and spend some time talking to him. Finally, much later we slowly amble back to our hostel. There seems to be an active group of expats here, and they freely share their stories. (This is where we learn that the ok deal I though I negotiated for the boat ride was anything but. We paid $30 for what should have cost us $10…) In the morning we wake up slowly, eat breakfast overlooking the lake, and doze in the hammocks near our room. Later we will be making the long (12hour) trek to another unesco site, the ancient Mayan city of Tikal.