I woke at 2, and having planned to leave at 4, decided to get an early start, because undoubtedly something would slow me down. It was supposed to be a 2.5hr trip, but like any big city, traffic can throw a wrench in your gears. I got to the outskirts of Guatemala City at 5ish, and the traffic was already humming. Stop and go traffic on a busy 4 lane highway is not ideal for a sleepy driver, but I made it through and got to the airport with a few minutes to spare.
Meeting Alex at the airport went flawlessly. After 20 something hours of travelling, she arrived with one small backpack and a big smile on her face. This would be her first time backpacking, and first time in Central America. My plan was to go to Earth Lodge, an avocado farm in the mountains North of Antigua, to let Alex unwind for a minute. Then we would head to Lake Atitlan to chill for a week and take Spanish classes. Alex insisted that Earth Lodge would be her treat, and choosing the best cabana on the property, I gladly accepted. After being a beach bum for the past few days, getting up into the mountains was a breath of fresh air. I sought out a trail map for the area, hoping that something would be rideable after getting skunked in Antigua. Alex opted to join me, which was probably better anyway because we could hike and see if it was worth bringing the bike out for. We took photos and guessed which plants grew what as the trail led us higher into the hills. Eventually jetlag caught up to Alex and we came back down, but I was eager to get back out on my bike and ride the full loop.
We ate bunches of avocados and met some nice folk from all over the world during a delicious communal dinner. In the morning I followed a yoga sesh with a fun bike ride on the trails above Earth Lodge, while Alex visited a local school. I hope they will advertise mountain biking at the lodge because the singletrack trails are perfect for it.
In typical garmin fashion, my GPS directed us the long way to the lake. It was scenic, and gave Alex a good taste of the countryside, but for about 3km the road was absolute hell. The perfect paved road abruptly turned to dirt and became littered with potholes. My poor van kept bottoming out on large rocks and I eventually had Alex get out and push to help us up some slippery slopes. As night began to fall, we drove down into the lakeside town of San Pedro in the nick of time. We took directions to the first hostel with parking and stayed there. Cristalina’s ended up being a great spot with good wifi and free breakfast for 75q pp/night.
The next day Cecilie told me on facebook that they were changing hotels so Paul and Hector were looking for a new one. Minutes later Paui walks in and decides they will stay there. Meanwhile Alex was wandering the streets and met a local guy that offered homestays with Spanish classes, so we went to check his digs out. Jose Garcia has a big house just a couple minutes walk up the hill from Cristalina’s where his wonderful family lives. We jumped on the opportunity. For 3 meals a day, 20 hrs of Spanish lessons, and accommodation in a private room at 1200q/wk, it was a steal. My teacher Graciela, who visited me at the house every morning for private lessons, was fantastic. Despite not speaking any English, we got on great, and with her quick wit and humor, we’d spend half the class laughing at how bad my Spanish was.
Afternoons we’d spend kayaking around abandoned homes on the lake, climbing trees and staking claim to islands hopped up on space cookies, and swimming and jumping in the lake at the trampoline in San Marcos. We saw a fantastic bluegrass band on Cecilie’s last night in Guatemala and we danced up a storm. One morning we all got up at 4AM, and led by my homestay brother, Salvador, we climbed up el Nariz de Indio to watch the sunrise.It was a remarkable experience. From the chilly mountain air upon stepping out of the bus, then warming as we tripped over each other in the dark on the trail up the mountain, to huddling together for warmth at the summit we got the full spectrum. At the peak we could see the lights of the 7 towns surrounding the lake, and the stars in the sky. Then as the sun started to ride, the lights on the ground were replaced by cotton candy lit up sky. At that altitude, the clouds scream by, shape shifting around the contours of the land. We shared mango-peanut butter tortilla sandwiches for breakfast and then went back to catch the bus to school. Minutes after getting to the bottom, I realised I had left my gopro taking a nice timelapse at the top of the mountain. I ran all the way back up and down to retrieve it and caught the bus before it abandonned us. When it was time to leave the lake, Paul, Maja, and I loaded the van and hit the road leaving Alex to catch up on her Spanish lessons and get healthy after being sick for a few days.