3rd March – We are heading for Guatemala’s highland area that stretches from Antigua to the border with Mexico. We pass through Solola, making our destination the very beautiful Lago Atitlan, a fresh water lake formed by a massive volcanic explosion and still providing excellent views of the nearby volcanoes. It has no river outlet and at approximately 400m at its deepest point, it is one of the deepest lakes in Central America. The lake is surrounded by small villages, where traditional customs and traditions of Guatemala’s indigenous people, are still strong.
The nearby town of Panajachel with a lakeside setting has busy, crowded streets full of bars, cafes, restaurants, tour guides and agencies and streets lined with handicraft shops and stalls for the many tourists. We drive to a quieter side of the lake to Hotel Vision Azul, where they have camping in their large, lake-front gardens. We are at just over 1500m, so it’s a bit chilly early morning and at night, but we have wonderful views of the incredibly blue and still lake and beautiful sunsets.
The ablution block could however, do with some attention and we decide to find somewhere else after a few more people arrive and toilets and drains begin to block and overflow.
4th March – We move a little further along the lakeside to try Tzanjuyu Bay Hotel. We are the only people camping here, are given a bathroom each in the hotel area and still have electricity and water. It’s very peaceful, with views of the lake and only 5 minutes to walk into town.
5th – 6th March – Checking the engine this morning, Bill notices that the heat shield on the manifold has broken away. By a stroke of luck there happens to be a mechanic in the grounds of the hotel who has a little workshop with welding equipment. In one hour he makes a complete new metal part for us, carefully matching the holes and it fits perfecto! What an amazing guy!
We leave Lake Atitlan, returning through Solola and on to Chichicastenango, where a big, indigenous market is held every Thursday and Sunday, one of Guatemala’s largest markets. At just over 2000m, Chichicastenango is surrounded by valleys and mountains and it’s quite cold as a strong wind blows up. No camping that we know of here but Posada El Arco has excellent, secure parking behind big gates, which we can just fit under after some tight turns from the narrow, cobbled street outside. Very welcoming people here in this big old house built around a lovely, courtyard garden plus another garden at the rear with a huge avocado tree. Our room is spacious and decorated with Maya weavings and wood carvings, sharing a balcony that overlooks the garden, with the room next to us. We even have a fireplace, a bundle of wood is brought up for us and we soon have a wonderful fire! As we walk down into the town later for something to eat, Maya traders from outlying villages are arriving to erect their stalls using long poles and tarpaulin covers. Tomorrow their tables will be full of goods to tempt the many tourists but also for the hundreds of locals that descend on this small town.
Market day is full of sunshine and it is soon easy to forget how cold it was the night before. The main roads are closed off and the steps in front of the Iglesia de Santo Tomas, are full of flower sellers, smoke and incense wafting down from the front door of the church.
The Maya traders spill out over the streets with their colourful stalls full of brightly painted wooden masks and animals, blankets, clothes, toys, bags, lengths of embroidered cloth, jewellery and so much more.
Hot food stalls, fruit and vegetables, live chickens and delicious, fresh fruit stalls can be found amongst the maze of streets.
Certainly a market worth visiting, not just for the handicrafts but to see the women and children wearing their traditional dress according to the village they have arrived from.
Before the market closes in the afternoon, the weather changes. Thunder rumbles and the traders have to pack up their stalls in heavy rain, shouldering bulging sacks or blankets tied with their belongings, or pushing loaded handcarts up the steep, cobbled hills. How lucky we are to be able to return to the comforts of our room.
7th March – We are given a bag of avocados that have fallen from the big tree in the garden before we leave the Posada. We have really been touched by their kind hospitality and I think that the girl who works here and has shown such an interest in Moby and our journey, would love to come with us!
There are steep, hairpin bends now all the way up through the highlands.
We take a wrong turning and get tangled up in the narrow, market streets and stalls of Santa Cruz del Quiche and in San Pedro it is also market day. On a small piece of land on top of a hill we come across the animal market. Somebody is purchasing some hens which are then suffering the indignities of having their legs tied as they are put head first into a sack. A large, black pig on the end of a rope is being pulled up the hill, protesting and squealing, whilst another lady is leading a more willing sow, a number of little piglets all trotting along behind. It’s such a different world!
At Huehuetenango, we spend the night at Hotel San Francisco where there is a guarded parking area. It’s a typical local town at just under 2000m. Tomorrow we will be heading for the border with Mexico.
8th – 10th March – We are leaving Huehuetenango by 7.30 a.m. but there are already men on the roads with heavy loads on their backs and women walking with covered bowls on their heads, babies wrapped in colourful blankets and tied on their backs. A boy is pulling along two stubborn sheep on a rope and another is leading a donkey carrying bundles of wood. A local lady appears from her house carrying a bunch of beautiful flowers, whilst other women behind their hot food stalls at the edge of the road, are making sure that the lorry, bus and moto taxi drivers are well fed at their long tables before they start their day.
Dwellings line the roadsides and climb the hills, but this whole road seems to be full of ‘tumulos’ across the road. The colourful buses, many with their chrome and brightly painted bodywork gleaming, bundles piled high on their roofs, all travel at tremendous speed on these roads, only slowing for the tumulos and to let people on or off, throwing down their belongings from the top.
Dogs are everywhere of course, drinking from the puddles and preparing for another day of scavenging for food amongst the rubbish. Others are stretched out, enjoying the warmth from the sun.
The river has followed us all the way, winding its way through a deep gorge now as we near the border. Stacks of wood are for sale at the roadsides, such an important and necessary commodity. We pass a man having his shoes shined, a lady sitting in front of her house with her loom, weaving a length of cloth, women squeezing oranges to sell as fresh drinks and of course, the huge piles of enormous green melons for sale, that we have seen right through Guatemala.
We arrive at the busy town of La Mesilla, the last town on the Guatemala side and where we will cross the border into Mexico. We leave behind another fascinating country and prepare for a new one.