Our time at Lake Atitlan was peaceful and calm. I really wasn’t sure what the hell I would even put in the blog. Then yesterday happened. The biggest travel scare I’ve probably every had. First let me back up a few days, and we’ll get to the insanity shortly….
Sunday, December 25 – Wednesday, December 29, 2016
Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah from lake Atitlan, Guatemala. On the agenda for Christmas: Carly and I’s second annual Christmas sunrise kayak, followed by a lazy day in the sun. We were up bright and early to catch the sunrise over the lake from a tandem kayak. Last year, we did a Christmas morning kayak in Koh Sok National Park in Thailand, so we figured we would make it a little tradition. We paddled along the lake, still as glass, to the next town with the sun rising behind us. Back at our hotel we did a quick circuit workout, had an amazing breakfast, and threw on our suits to reward ourselves by spending the rest of the day in the sun. I read through an entire book, because that’s how little I moved.
A few other girls came over on a boat from another town to lay out on our deck and have lunch. This lake is apparently the type of place travelers visit and just end up staying for a while. And by a while I mean a few months. And if they are really big hippies, a few years. The pace is slow, the native people are friendly, and the livin’ is easy. There is definitely a vibe here that forces you to chill the fuck out, turn off your mind and mouth just and enjoy the view. Which is probably why this blog is so boring. We had an awesome three course dinner at our hotel restaurant and an early bed time.
On Monday we actually left our hotel. Crazy, I know. We woke up early, got a quick workout in, had breakfast and then hiked to the next town over, which is home to a little day club with a pool. I use the term “day club” here very loosely. It’s really just a big Guatemalan restaurant with an infinity pool that looks over the lake. Except the pool is fucking freezing, so you would rather just jump in the lake. We got a few hours of sun and then hiked back, stopping at nearby hotel, Casa del Mundo, for lunch. The hotel and the view was amazing, but the food was mediocre. We instantly regretted eating even one meal away from our hotel.
As soon as we got back I realized that I’m a fucking moron and left my sandals at the club. So I spent about $3 to catch a shuttle boat back to and from the pool to save my $45 rainbows. Our friend Whitney, that we met on our shuttle from Antigua, was teaching a sunset yoga class at the hotel. Carly and I lucked out and got a private yoga class in our hotel’s amazing yoga studio overlooking the lake as the sunset. I’m not much of a yogi, but it was one of the most relaxing hours of my life.
Tuesday we had most of the day at the lake before catching our transfer in the late afternoon. We caught a shuttle boat to San Juan, a small artisan town around the lake, and did a little shopping. We then took a tuk tuk to San Pedro, the next town over. San Pedro is one of the bigger towns on the lake where all the backpackers go to get shit faced in hostels. Not that there is anything wrong with getting shit faced in a hostel. Lord knows I had my fair share of that. Oh, the hostel stories I could tell…but I won’t. I’m sure my 22 year old self would have fucking thrived in San Pedro de Laguna. But for today, a quick hour walk around was plenty. The best way I can describe these lakeside towns is if Rosarito, Mexico and Cinque Terre in Italy had a Spanish speaking baby. We headed back to our hotel for lunch and a few final lazy hours before catching a boat back into Panajanchel to catch our transfer.
Here is where things start to get a little dicey. We had a shuttle bus from the lake to Antigua, where we would transfer to another shuttle to Guatemala City, at which point we were catching an overnight bus to Flores, Guatemala. Our first shuttle driver drove like a fucking mad man. There was traffic, it was raining, he was trying to make our connection. But crazy driving when traveling internationally isn’t exactly new to anyone. He also refused to stop to let us pee. One of the other passengers started yelling at him “I’m a human too!”. He apparently didn’t get the “don’t piss off the Guatemalan man with our lives in his hands” memo. After some uncomfortable commotion, the driver called up his homie who owned a restaurant and had him let us use his toilet. Our transfer to the next shuttle in Antigua was seamless.
I thought the worst was behind us…until we were dropped off at the fresh version of hell that is the Guatemala City bus station. It looked like a fucking refuge camp. I seriously considered whether or not the station had been bombed prior to our arrival. We braved the bathroom. Unwise choice as it was already occupied…by roaches. It was dinner time, and there was even a McDonalds a block away, but I settled on a can of Pringles from inside the relative safety of the bus station. Multiple people were literally getting the shit kicked out of them on the street about twelve feet a way. I’ll do a lot for a french fry, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’d venture to guess my odds of getting mugged on a mission to that McDonalds were about 50%. Lets not forget, I’m blonde now. We fair haired women are like target practice for Guatemalan gangsters.
We found a bench and met a nice British girl. As the other buses left, one by one, all the white people huddled together in the same area. Strength in numbers. When they finally called our bus I literally sprinted to it. As far as I was concerned this bus was my fucking lifeline. Carly and I had booked first class seats, so we had giant leather loungers that reclined all the way back. Other than the fact that the bus was freezing cold, I was actually pretty impressed and got a decent nights sleep. Apparently they keep it cold to keep the driver awake. So it’s hard to complain too much about protocols put into place so you don’t die. Don’t worry…the crazy is still yet to come. We haven’t even hit the iceberg yet.
Ten hours later we woke up in Flores, Guatemala and caught a taxi to our hostel. I’m sure you are all wondering what the fuck I’m doing in a hostel. It’s just one night, and they have cheap and easy tours to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, so I figured what the hell. It’s also a damn nice hostel. Since we missed the 8am Tikal tour by about an hour we decided to have breakfast and shower while waiting for our room and the noon tour to the ruins. And this is where shit gets really fucked up. We got to our room and Carly realizes she left her purse on the overnight bus. Her purse with her passport in it. The passport she needs to get on our flight to Belize tomorrow to then meet our boat that leaves the following morning. We are fucked.
The hostel manager calls the bus Company and they tell us that the bus has already left for the Belize border, and they called the driver and he did not find the purse. Some google searches and phone calls reveal the following:
1. The only way to get into Belize is with an actual passport. They will not accept a photocopy.
2. The only way to get a passport is to go to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, which is the desolate shit hole we just spent ten hours on a bus getting away from.
3. The only flights that could possibly get us back to Belize City from Guatemala City are completely booked up.
At this point we realize we aren’t just fucked. We are double fucked. Double fucked in Guatemala. We are crying. We are asking ourselves what horrible things we did in our past to deserve such shit karma. Pity party of two. We pull ourselves together and go next door to a travel agency, where a very sweet girl is doing everything in her power to help us. A Guatemalan man walks in and overhears what is going on. He immediately takes up our cause, without having been asked. With nothing to personally gain by helping us. Our night in shining levi’s tells us to follow him to the official Guatemalan tourism office around the corner. He has the man at the tourism office call the bus Company again and demand the purse be found and returned. We are told to wait, and if nothing happens, return to the tour agency where our hero will then take us to the Police station and make the Police go with us to the bus station to demand they find and return the purse. Sure, it’s a hail mary, but it’s all we’ve got. While we wait, we formulate our plan, which requires a 10 hour overnight bus to get back to Guatemala City to get an emergency passport, and then a private 12 hour, $1,000 car transfer to our boat in Belize. A we still might not make the boat. Feeling defeated, we tell the man at the tourism office that we will come back shortly to see if anything came his phone call.
We head to the hostel to begin making our horrendous travel arrangenments. We walk into the hostel with a jolly giant Guatemalan man. Turns out, that Jolly Giant works for the bus Company and was there to return Carly’s purse to her. They not only found it, they brought it to our hostel, with everything, including her passport and credit cards, sans a little cash (whatever). We start screaming and jumping, hugging the Jolly Giant, and thanking him profusely. I burst into tears. They were happy tears. Tears of two hours of pent up anguish, terror and frustration. I quickly whip out my wallet to give the man some cash for his good deed. We go next door to the travel agency to tell our hero the good news. We went around the corner to tell than man at the tourism board the good news. At this point, half of the fucking island of Flores knew about our little dilemma. Not only was our trip saved, but my faith in humanity and the genuine kindness of people was restored as well. The amount of people that went out of their way to help a few chicks from California get out of a sticky situation was nothing short of heroic.
I bet you think that’s the last of it, right? Think again, my friends. The worst is over, but the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. In our frantic celebration of the returned passport and rewarding our benefactor with some cash, I lost my clutch with the last of our Guatemalan money in it. It somehow just did not make it back into my purse. Very unlike me, as I am typically diligent about that shit. I was caught up in the celebration and just fucked up. I’m assuming I dropped it and someone swiped it. The only thing in there was the equivalent of about $40 USD. So we chalked it up to our payment to the travel gods for our good fortune and kept it moving.
It was now 2pm and there was only one thing to do. Get completely shit faced to the point of passing out so that we could wake up and get the fuck out of Guatemala. So that is exactly what we did. While it did end on a low note, I must admit that Guatemala surprised me and far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Guatemala City, however, can go fuck itself.