Sunday, February 8, 2009

San Pedro la Laguna

Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

The trusty Kia once again carries us over even larger tumolos and up and down the most severe mountain switchbacks yet after crossing several ridges on CA1. It takes us 2.5 hours to cover what might take 15 minutes in a corporate chopper. Our final descent to Lake Atitlan features deep ravines covered with coffee plants. Just around too many bends there's a family or a solitary farmer sitting on huge sacks of coffee beans barely far enough off the pavement to avoid hurtling steel. Yes kids you can take a chicken bus here or a tourist van but I'm old and I'm wondering if the long route through Panajachal arriving by launch might have been less stressful than direct by car. But it's worth it. After many thousand feet the gut wrenching twists start to moderate and Lake Atitlan starts to caress your eyes, ears and olfactory glands.

Downtown San Pedro has an older centro replete with a small but well stocked mercado, churches old and new, and nearly vertical cobblestone streets. A few blocks away, near the docks that host the launches from Panajachal, is the touristy center. There are dozens of small hotels, restaurants, bars, and souvenir stands (selling earrings, textiles, flasks, bongs, pipes and what not) near the docks and strung out through an area that winds its way along the shore to the docks for Santiago on the other side of town.

San Pedro hosts the largest concentration of extranjeros I'd seen. (I missed Antigua and Panajachal). Many of the bars and restaurants are owned and operated by refugees from the US, Canada, Europe and beyond. There's a lot of Bob Marley mixed with a little Che and the weather, food, flowers, constant birdsong, laid-back attitude, and delicious local coffee may make this the location of my next spanish school. There are LOTS of them here but you could probably get by with very little knowledge of the language.

My clean comfortable room with private bath, forgotten amounts of hot water, and a million dollar view from the comfy rocker on the terrace was $10. At the foot of my hotel's steps was a killer coffee shop with Mayan ladies in the street out front selling fresh banana, nut, or chocolate breads and very american tasting cinnamon buns(12oz con leche $1.20, fresh pastry .50, tourist prices and change in your pocket too).

A few steps further from the docks another hotel had nice looking rooms with the same amenities, plus hammocks on the terraces, parking, and a pretty garden for Q50/pp ($6.50). The tourist strip is a mile and a half of enticements. The pungent odor of coffee being processed mixes with smells from smoky meats, onions, garlic, and hot fat dripping off hamburgers. Its tough out there but even my stomach will hold only so much.  We settle on delicious fried fish and chicken near the Santiago docks served with fresh salad, hand cut fries, guacamole, tortillas, etc. for about $5 a head including drinks. Techno, rave, reggae, folk, jazz, and reggaeton drift out at varying volumes from bars as we waddle home down the strip. 

Walking San Pedro our warning cry of "tumolo, tumolo" is quickly replaced by, "tuk tuk, tuk tuk". The little three wheeled taxis purr along quietly on air cooled four stroke gas engines and can be on top of you in moments if you're not vigilant.  Many of the streets are too narrow for anything wider, and parts of the tourist strip are so tight that only foot traffic and motorcycles are accomodated.

We eat well, those of us with earplugs sleep well, and as always we revel in the massive daily doses of vitamin D provided by that big yellow thing in the sky that we don't see much of from November to March in my part of the world. The natives are friendly(when I try to order a round of drinks in spanish the bartender looks at me like I've got a third eye and asks in native american english exactly what I'm trying to say).  It's an idyllic place to spend a weekend or like a lot of gringos you might just forget to leave at all.

Breakfast Sunday morning is about $4/each but we don't eat lightly. Sergio has "the Gringo", eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, jam, and tortillas.  I opt for the "Mexican", a soft flour tortilla wrapped around scrambled eggs, beans, rice, and queso with fresh pico de gallo on the side, Gladis is more sensible and has homemade granola with fruit and yogurt.  Topped off by a nice dose of lakeside ambience and delicious fresh coffee, Cafe La Puerta makes a good launch pad for our return trip to Xela. 

The photos (as always clickable for much larger views) are, from the top :

After hitting bottom looking across to San Pedro at three o'clock

Two views from the rocker outside my hotel room.  To give you an idea of the scale those little light colored patches over the umbrella and next to the thatched roof are a good sized town on the opposite shore.

Launches arriving from Panajachal, Q25 with a little espanol or whatever they can get away with for the unexpecting.

Tuk tuk and a bar from the coffee shop under my hotel. The Pana dock is just down the hill.

Tasty beans drying in the sun soon to be roasted, brewed and cupped for your enjoyment

Breakfast view from Cafe La Puerta

Its not Florida but the oranges are ready for picking and no grumpy old people are in sight

Fried fish near the Santiago dock

Many hands make light work but not when you're freeing a huge boat thats been high on the mud for three months having an engine overhaul.  You should have heard the cheer when it finally floated.

Playing futbol with his brothers and juggling with his feet for the camera

My teacher/guide Gladis with her husband/driver Sergio

Yours truly on the roof of the hotel looking american in a shirt which combines beer and nascar

The facts

The fun

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