Lake Atitlan

Posted on January 2, 2018


After leaving Antigua the colonial centre of the New World, I was curious to see how Lake Atitlan would stand up to it. The lake is set in the central highlands and the drive is epic. The winding road is not for those who suffer from car sickness.

All foreigners tend to take a shuttle as it is shared, safe and direct. All luggage travels on the roof, which is less safe. One, it can fall off but two, if you decided to travel cheap and local taking the ‘chicken buses’ means you risk losing personal belongings as thieves make no bones about rummaging through it.

Chicken buses incidentally are aptly named because everyone is stuffed inside the bus like battery hens. It has nothing to do with transporting birds. It’s cosy to say the least.

After three hours my shuttled pulled up along the lake shore an hour before sunset. I am staying in Panajachel a town which is best described as a “gringo magnet” but it does offer the best transportation links out of the town, which is why i opted for it.

I checked into my digs (Casa Colonial). It’s owned and run by a charismatic Californian surfer in his 40s. Curly salt and pepper hair circle his ears and when sat in reception bent over his laptop he his friendly and helpful. The large surf boards act as decor as well as advertising for the paddle board business he also runs Pana Surf. More on him later.

I dumped my bags and headed down to the water to watch the sky bleed like a watercolour painting turn pink and purple with a splattering of gorgeous orange hues.

The whole of the shoreline is rammed with stalls selling churros (long, sugary, donuts covered in cinnamon) served up hot, like gigantic french fries; grilled chicken, sausage, steak and fish. Then there’s the colourful garments and an array of beaded jewellery, shoes and general tact that baffles me, the world over, the same shit, that I never see anyone buying!

I ate that night at Los Pumpos. A recommendation from my guide book. But it’s the kind of place you would run screaming out of if a date took you there. It has a white Christmas tree with blue flashing lights at its entrance. A young girl who looks no older than 14 at the door doing her best to pull in the punters. Different crafts of sea creatures are suspended from the ceiling on bits of wire and spin like a toddler’s sky mobile. Then there are the mosaic murals which adorn the walls and the random music. The service is Fawlty Towers. No one makes eye contact. I lost count the number of times my gay waiter dressed head-to-toe in white (including tight jeans) cocked his head to one side and said “que?”. But what arrived was magnificent.

Fish gently sliced open from the side and stuffed with garlic and spring onions and grilled until so tender the flesh fell off the bone. It came with spicy, fried potatoes and guacamole and fiery chile sauce.

I walked home past the town’s only winery and gazed longingly at the bottles stacked asleep in their shelves and moved on fast. My drinking days feel like a lifetime away. It’s only been 47 days and counting!!!! Tomorrow would be my first of many sober New Year’s Eve.

The main drag Calle Santander is like running the gauntlet past travel touts and stall sellers. But once you ignore the calls and pleas it’s fine. They are just trying to make a fast buck but it aint aggressive selling.

I’ve booked a tour of the lake the next day as I want to visit some of the other towns around the lake and just get out onto the water. If I am likely to have a quiet nye night and be asleep before midnight, I may as well make the most of the day and tire myself out.