The decision was made to rent a car and drive to Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Before I go any further I must warn you that I am a little apprehensive about driving in Guatemala. Also David and I do not make for the best driving companions as he seems to have difficulty in accepting navigational instructions. David also likes to go on the road less travelled, another concern of mine as we head into Guatemala.
We did share some experiences with the other cruisers and I decided to bend. At 0830 our rental car was supposed to be delivered. We finally got away at 1100. Normally this would not be an issue but I am getting nervous as it looks like our arrival time to Antigua could be in the dark.
Before we left I told David that I did not want to be driving at night and we must stay on major roads!
After a few wrong roads we finally made it onto our second border crossing option. We missed the highway turnoff to our first option. But this turned out to be a good one as the border was not busy. We went into the immigration office on the El Salvador side to get your exit slip. Then we got back in our car, crossed the border and went into the Guatemalan immigration office to get our passports stamped. It is really important to make sure that they stamp your passport and circle the Exit symbol. Then our trunk was searched and we were off. The entire crossing took about 15 minutes.
The road conditions were pretty good but the signage along with our maps were very poor. We had Google Earth and PocketEarth on the iPad but a lot of places and roads did not coincide. We could only hope that we were on the correct road. We had a surprise late lunch stop - Guatemalan White Spot! Great hamburger. And it was a good thing as that was our last stop till Antigua.
We were trying to find the cross road (highway 14) to Antigua in order to avoid Guatemala City! No such luck. We found out later why. The road is divided and the cross road comes off the East side of the road. We were driving on the West side of the road. What we were supposed to do was do a u- turn at one of the "returno's", get on the East side of the road and then we would have seen the sign for highway 14. Of course no one told us that and we found ourselves driving through Guatemala City at rush hour - and it is starting to get dark. I am getting nervous. David is getting nervous and tired. Not a good combination. But with poor signage and the help of the odd traffic cop we managed to stay on a main road that would take us to Antigua. Then David decided to follow the traffic instead of my direction to keep going straight and we ended up on the wrong road. Then we ended up in a mall parking lot and could not get out. We had to stop and ask directions three times before we got it right. And by this time I have had just a little meltdown!
But finally we end up on the correct road and in Antigua. We found our hotel and only had to ask for directions once. I should add - David also acts like the typical male - hates to stop and ask for directions. He would just rather drive around and around and take more wrong turns. Being apprehensive about conversing in Spanish makes him even less willing to ask for directions!
So we have arrived at San Jorge - a wonderful bed and breakfast type hotel. We can park on site. The rooms surround a beautiful garden and fountain.
Evelyn was the owner and our host and she was wonderful. We were both exhausted and a bit ( David would say a bit more than a bit) miserable so we just got in our room and went to bed.
The next day we had a wonderful breakfast of fresh orange juice, fruit, granola, toast and coffee and went exploring the town. All businesses and homes and hotels can be found behind brick walls. So you have to be very nosy as you go past open doorways. Quite often you will find beautiful courtyards and lots of shops within the interiors of these walls. I did help support the local economy which helped to get me out of my funk. It is a great city to walk around in. The shopping is great. But my favorite part was the colorful traditional clothing of the people - mostly the women and girls.
The traditional dress.
A different way to buy fresh produce
Me bartering! Who gets this scarf?
Getting ready for Easter and another display of carpets made with colored sawdust.
Another beautiful church.
We went for dinner at an incredible restaurant - incredible for the food as well as the decor. We felt like we were in the old home of some rich Guatemalan. Okay - I am now out of my funk!
Volcano Fuego is often letting off steam.
The next day we took a tour up the volcano Pacaya. I told David we were NOT driving! And it was a good thing because we never would have found it. The drive to get there was over an hour. Then one and a half hours to walk up and the same down. But it was incredible! It was like doing 5 Mount Doug's. Sure glad I have been swimming so my lungs could handle the climb. The quads were a bit sore for the next few days however.
We made it!
We were near them top when we noticed signs for the Lava Store. Yeh! David just shook his head. Leave it to me to find shopping at the top of a volcano!
We found a little souvenir for Sadie. But the best was our guide - Lionel pulls out a bag of marshmallows, directs us down to a place where the lava is still hot from a small explosion last year, hands us each a stick and points us to some openings where we can roast our marshmallows. That was just the coolest thing ever. I felt like I was five!
Back to town where we went for an inexpensive dinner recommended by a local. I had a traditional chicken stew called pelcain and David had Chile Relano's. I must go on line and find that recipe for the stew. It had lots of vegetables and chicken in a tomato type sauce with chilies, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon and other unknown spices.
Next morning we got in the car and started on our drive to Lake Atatlan. David won out again and we took the side highway! At least it was daylight. But what should have cut our distance in half doubled our time. Now I have to admit that the countryside was beautiful. We drove through a lot of farmland. But then we started through the canyon. Now I did not have a meltdown this time but I did spend the entire time with my fists clenched and stomach on edge. Oh did I tell you that at one point the road was washed out?
Only reason why I let David try it - two vehicles ahead of us managed it even though one was a small truck and the other a gas truck! The entire road must have been washed out with the rains. Now the road is sand. But then it is paved again with many potholes. Then we cross over a mudslide! But respectable vehicles are ahead of us and going the opposite way. I am sorry there are not very many pictures - no place to turn off and too nervous.
But finally we make it to Panejachel and our hotel. The lake is beautiful with weather changing from morning to afternoon to night.
My only disappointment was the lack of acceptable places to swim. Some of the hotels across the lake had docks that your could jump off of but in order to stay there yet would have to leave your car parked on the other side and take a boat across. We did not feel comfortable doing that. But shopping was great and we did manage another trek in the Nature Reserve which was great.
Getting there in our Tuk Tuk
Next day we got up early. After a wonderful breakfast with real home fries we started our trip back to El Salvador. The road was a bit better and we made fairly good time to the border. It was a good thing that we were warned about the border. The trucks are backed up for a good 10 kilometers.
We were told to just go in the oncoming lane and pass them all. You have to physically go into the immigration office on both sides but their was no line up and we were across in 5 minutes.
We stopped at La Liberstad for a wonderful lunch and a visit to the fish market. That was fantastic. We scored 2 kilos of shrimp for $24. And they were the big ones! Then we stopped at the grocery store to provision. We figured that we might as well take advantage of having a vehicle.
We made it back to the marina before dark.
I have to admit that I was glad that David talked me into the road trip. I am not sure when I became such a nervous backseat driver - might have something to do with never going more than 6 knots! And then there are all the stories that you hear about driving in Guatemala. But we had no issues. The people were all very helpful. What did I like the best? The colorful clothes that the indigenous people wear. They were truly beautiful!