Well, as you can see, my ability to access the internet on the rest of the trip was pretty much non-existent, so I didn’t get to keep up. I’ll try to catch up now that I’m home (with a cold!).
My last night in Antigua, the power went out. It had been flickering quite a bit the whole time, so not too surprising. Now I know why they have candles everywhere – the beauty of the city really came alive. Candles in heavy glass holders casting their warm glow on the paths, on the floors, on the tables, ledges, hanging from the ceiling, it was lovely. Antigua is known for its ironwork, and there were wrought iron chandeliers and wall sconces everywhere.
I went out to a restaurant called Meson Panza Verde – if you’re ever in Antigua, you must go there. Especially if you’re a foodie… this has to be one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to, anywhere. And beautiful – dining in a courtyard filled with lush greenery, candles hanging at various heights from the ceiling as if they were floating there. I had duck in a chocolate, port, and plum sauce… mmmmmmmmm. A little sweeter than mole, fabulous. And even the tabouli salad that came with it – perfect. Added bits of olive made the flavor distinctive. The whole meal was perfect, down to the last touches.
The next day I took a collective bus up to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, where I would be spending the week. I kept waiting for the scary Guatemalan bus ride that everyone talks about – and eventually it did arrive, though not through any fault of our driver, who was quite good. Just aggressive enough to get us through the insane mishmash of city intersections, while no more so than was safe. He even honked going around curves and stayed mostly to his side of the road.
I did not have the nerve to take the “chicken buses” – the brightly painted, diesel-belching, colorfully-named testosterone driven buses that most locals ride from town to town. There appears to be no such thing as traffic lights or lanes – everyone just crowds into the road or the intersection and shoves their way forward. The chicken buses usually have someone that hops down and directs traffic long enough for them to get through the intersection, then the free-for-all resumes.
Anyway, back to the road. Things were going along well enough until we got to the mountainous areas. It wasn’t the driver, or the bus. And the roads were even in relatively decent repair, and there wasn’t a lot of traffic, nor any rain. The roads themselves were just scary, even terrifying in places, in a thrilling sort of way. Full of switchbacks, extremely steep up and down, narrow, no shoulders, amazingly abrupt drops to one side and boulders and rocks dropping into the road on the other. At one point we were high on a ridge, with cliffs falling away to either side. One could certainly see how if a driver were passing recklessly, death could certainly ensue – a fact which the crosses at various points along the road reinforced.
It’s hard to describe how incredibly steep all the landscape here is. And this is where people live and farm, their little houses precariously perched on the hillside, walking stoically up and down the hills with heavy loads of wood or food on their backs (men and mules) or heads (women). The people here are hardy and weatherworn, and used to hard labor in ways that I can’t even imagine. And the women all wearing their bright, cheerful, handmade clothing, which seems a good reflection of the Mayan temperament.
I found out later we came up the back way because the main highway was under construction, leading to long delays that the drivers weren’t willing to tolerate. So, that meant we would be taking that way down again too – something I filed away and decided not to worry about for a week :) At last, we reached the lake – much larger than I imagined and ringed with conical volcanoes. From a scenic standpoint, the one disappointment about that week was that the air was quite hazy most of the time – only once did I have a clear image of the mountains at sunset (and of course, didn’t have my camera). Still, they were quite beautiful and the ever-changing light on the volcanoes and lake was fun to watch.