We left Guatemala City and we planned on bringing in the new year at Lake Atitlan. Just as we got into the outskirts of the city, we found ourselves in an interesting town with many steep streets. I only realized that we were lost when the road became a big dirt path going uphill. We continued to ride around until we found our way back to the highway. The traffic wasn’t too bad and the scenery was worth any stops we needed to make. Guatemala wasn’t much different from Mexico, it was an incredibly beautiful country, filled with culture, breathtaking scenery and exotic natives.
We rode throughout many tall rolling hills and a thick sheet of fog greeted us every time we reached the top. Children formed groups on the edge of the highway and they would waive and chase after us as we rode past. We eventually noticed that the cars riding past would throw candies or treats at the children, if they waived. I wish we had known that before, we would have definitely gone prepared. After riding on a beautifully paved road for most of the day, it eventually turned to dirt. It was in such bad shape that I was excited once we were off of it. Rocky told me that Lake Atitlan was close by but since there is no road that circles the lake, we weren’t able to catch a peek of it until we reached the top of the mountain.
It was a great introduction! The view was more enchanting than I could have ever imagined it to be. Lake Atitlan is large and recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America. It is ringed by volcanoes and shaped by deep escarpments that surround it. Volcano San Pedro is the oldest of the three, Volcano Tolimán began growing after San Pedro stopped erupting, and Volcano Atitlán remains active, with its most recent eruption having occurred in 1853. Freshly paved switchbacks lead the way down the mountain. They were very steep and the corners were extremely tight. I was kind of scared until large buses filled with passengers, zipped by and seemed to turn corners on two wheels. Traveling by bus seemed much more dangerous than the motorcycle.
We arrived safely in San Pedro, an extraordinary town. Since New Years was around the corner, we had planned on staying at a hostel. The streets were packed with tourists and as I got off the bike to find out some sort of direction, a local offered to help find us a place for cheap. I followed his lead and after a five minute walk he found us a room in one of many small hotels. It was three stories tall with open corridors that overlooked the entire lake. Decorated with a few hammocks, lawn chairs and a beautiful garden, it was more than awesome, especially for $14 per night.
After a nice hot shower, we planned on going for a walk. It’s amazing how much a hot shower is appreciated, so much so that I even risked my life for it. Only cold water runs through the pipes, and in order to get hot water, an electrical shower head is used to heat the water. In hindsight, a hot shower was not that important.
San Pedro was a really awesome place to visit. I usually don’t like tourist filled places but this was definitely an exception. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many villages in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel. Often, when people of one culture assimilate to another culture, the traditional style of dressing can quickly become obsolete. This is certainly not the case with the descendants of the Mayans in Guatemala. These proud people boldly wear their traditions on their sleeves.
The native dress of the Mayans, which is called Traje, may vary by village and language group. But the intent of native dressing remains the same, to preserve the rich culture. To Guatemalans, their native costumes are their identity. The women honor their ancestors by wearing a Redcorte (skirt) held up by a woven Faja (belt or sash). The women also wear a Huipil (a traditional square-cut blouse) made with embroidered designs. A shawl drapes over one shoulder, which can be used to carry a baby around. I was very curious to dress this way and the kind ladies in one of the boutiques were also curious to dress me.
The following day was New Year’s Eve and we had a few errands to run. We were in desperate need of clean laundry and Rocky’s hair needed a cut. Laundry cleaning is a common business throughout Mexico and Central America but aside from a few dry cleaning items, I have always washed my own clothing. I don’t know why I felt nervous, my clothing was cleaned so well that it smelled fresher than I’ve ever know possible. The extra pair of foreign underwear I found washed and folded amongst our belongings wasn’t necessary but we got a good laugh from it.
As we walked down a few alleys, we read a sign that said Barber Shop. The barber was a hippy with long dreads and blood shot eyes, but he did own clippers and scissors and Rocky thought that was sufficient. We were invited into a room with a mirror, a chair, a small desk and some crazy paintings on the wall. As Rocky’s hair was being cut, the barber kept stopping to take a moment to run his fingers through Rocky’s hair while constantly complimenting, “Wow man, your hair is so soft! I can’t believe how silky it feels. Dude, do you know that your hair is like silk.” It was obvious to me that the guy was very high on something and my thoughts were proven to be correct when he said, “Just so you know, I can get you anything you like. Do you like acid, man? I’ve got really good shit!” I have to admit, I was very impressed with the hippies’ ability to cut hair while ridiculously high. He did a great job.
We were ready for the celebrations and considered hitching a boat ride to a town across the lake but Rocky wasn’t feeling too well. Instead, we decided to stay in San Pedro to attend a street party. We had grabbed a few of joints from the local who helped find us our hotel room and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a couple 40’s of beer. A large stage was placed in the middle of a main street and huge speakers thumped bass. It was such a fun party that the MC even forgot the countdown and introduced midnight a little bit late. Everyone yelled Happy New Year, kissed, toasted and lit fireworks. Guatemalans love their fireworks!
We spent another two days admiring the culture of the town. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of playing a game of tag with the locals at a park and taking pictures of our memories at San Pedro La Laguna. We drank delicious coffee that was grown locally and ate inexpensive meals. Lake Atitlan was a wonderful place to visit but we were ready to continue our adventure and leave one of the most beautiful, colorful places I have ever seen on this earth.