A Three-Hour Tour

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, December 01, 2007 was originally posted on December 04, 2007.

DAY 12:  I met a girl from Arizona at the Bagel Barn that morning who I struck up a conversation with.  As we waited for the next brew to finish, I told her about my coming day trip to Lake Atitlan.  “Have you been?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she told me. 

“How is it?”

“It’s nice.  It’s different from here,” she told me.  “It’s not like tourism here; it’s a lot more poor.  People will keep coming to you.  You’ll see.”


Aside from the standard volcano tour, the other to-do in the Antigua area is to see Lake Atitlan, a picturesque lake surrounded by volcanic mounds about two-hour drive from Antigua.  It was such a “to-do” that Camilla had postponed her flight to see it; she figured she was down there already, what’s another couple of unpaid days at the office?

The main tourist hub of the Lake Atitlan area is in the village of Panajachel, another backpacker haven on the lakeshore, where hippies have been coming to since the 60s — it’s so overridden with tourists of every level now, it’s sometimes referred to as “Gringotenango.”  It was there that our transport drove us from Antigua, but not without a couple of stops on the way to admire the view of the lake — near some souvenir stands.  “I’m going to get this,” Camilla told me.  “Isn’t this funny?”  It was a wooden heart carving to hang on the wall, with a picture of the lake in the middle.  It read, “RECUERDO DE PANAJACHEL” in hand-written letters and there was a little Lego-like wooden figure of a woman.  I really found no appeal to it, other than its kitsch value.

While the gringos in our bus all head on a ferry to San Pedro, the other Gringotenango on the other side of the lake, Camilla and I kept it on the local tip, hiring a private boat offered by a desperate but friendly man who had boat of his own.  Camilla tried to arrange a tour price of three villages along the lakeshore.

“[We’ll return by two,]” said the captain, Bernardino.  I looked at my watch; it was about eleven in the morning.  A three-hour tour.

“A three-hour tour?”

“It’s a three-hour tour.”

That was about the extent of any reference to Gilligan’s Island.  The weather didn’t start getting rough, and our tiny ship was never lost.  The only thing we did have that could have come close was the fact that we found coconuts at our destinations — although no one fashioned them into radios or anything.

OUR FIRST STOP WAS SANTIAGO DE ATITLAN, one of the bigger villages of the indigenous Tzutuhil people, where the women wore traditional women blouses and dresses, while the men traditionally wore cowboy hats, a shirt, pants, and a traditional woven sash around their waists.  The men of the island came to us immediately after we’d docked, touting their services.  One rather aggressive moto-taxi tout tried to get us on a tour of five places of the local interest.  “[Forty minutes for the tour.]” 

A forty-minute tour?

“Help me make a decision here,” Camilla told me.  She was more tourist-looking than I was, and was always the target of touts and hawkers. 

“Well we should go, otherwise, we’ll just be here,” I said, referring to the dingy dock area. “Cuanto es?”

“Ciento quetzales.”

With that expensive fee and our lack of cash, the decision was made.  “No, gracias.”

Instead, we used our time to walk around town, and have a lunch of horchata and freshly grilled lake fish.  Another tout followed us into the restaurant, desperate to take us around — on foot — for a hundred quetzales too.  In desperation, he haggled it down to ten, but we kept our stance due to lack of time.  “No, gracias.”  Instead, Camilla used her cash on a traditional women’s blouse she had her eye on.  “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s okay.”

LAKE ATITLAN WAS BEAUTIFUL, reminding me of Lake Baikal in Siberia and the lakes of Switzerland.  Bernardino took us across its blue wavy waters to the next destination, San Antonio.  Right off the dock, we were approached by more hawkers trying to sell us woven goods — the village’s specialty.  One woman even went so far as to offer, “[Do you want to come to my house and watch me work?]”

“No, gracias.”

Kids were the harder ones to resist; a young boy selling woven bracelets and a young adolescent girl trying to sell Camilla some scarves.  Two scarves later, and a dozen little friendship bracelets for me (for three dollars), we had our fill of San Antonio and headed back to the boat.  It was hard to resist the kids following us, with their haggles starting from two for five dollars to twelve for three — plus two extra bracelets.  Ironically, as we went back to the dock, a young girl guilted me in perfect English.  “You paid too much for those bracelets,” she said.  Another boy guilted Camilla in buying goods from another child when it was he “[who approached her first!]”

“Here, I want you to have this,” I told Camilla, giving her one of my woven bracelets.

“Give it to me later.  That boy is watching me.”

After a quick stop at a shoreline of hot volcanicly-heated water that we opted not to swim in (picture above), we went to the third village, Santa Catalina, which wasn’t so hectic with touts or hawkers — in fact it was Camilla who had to approach a sleeping local artist when she wanted to buy a painting in a gallery.

THREE-HOURS LATER from when we departed — give or take thirty minutes from our tardiness on the first stop — we were back in Gringotenanga to chill out the rest of the afternoon with a couple of rounds of Extra Bravha beers while we people watched and had deep conversations about travel and life.  “This was really good as a day trip,” I said.  Not surprisingly, it was there at the sidewalk table we were approached by more beggars selling the same goods we could have bought in any of the villages. 

Eventually we hopped back on a transport back to Antigua with a bunch of tourists, including two Asian guys decked out in Ed Hardy gear and blasting Jay-Z out of their ipods.  The minibus ride wasn’t as smooth as our three-hour tour though; traffic developed on the main road back to Antigua, and even with all the driver’s schtipping in, we were ultimately brought to a halt with the rest of the cars.  At dusk there was a long road block that kept us detained for a good hour while the area got darker and darker.  Camilla feared that it might be an ambush set up by highway bandits (she had survived a hotel robbery in Buenos Aires and it was on her mind), but our driver said that that was more common on the other road back to Antigua, which he had avoided.  “[There are many thieves,]” he told us.  “[Lots of violence.]”

Instead of highway robbers, we were assaulted by more vendors, going from car to car, selling goods through car windows.  It helped stave some hungers until we got back into Antigua that night. 

AFTER A LOVELY MEXICAN DINNER at Frida’s (named after the painter), Camilla and I chilled out back at our hotel room.  Camilla hung up her kitschy heart thing and sorted out the rest of her purchases of the day, feeling a little regret.  “Why did I buy that heart?” she wondered, only realizing its cheese factor just then.  “Why did I buy that shirt?”

“On Halloween you can dress up as a Guatemalan woman and sell people stuff they don’t need,” I told her.

“I must’ve been on drugs.”

“At least you don’t have a dozen bracelets,” I said.

Next entry: Disbanded Until The Bay

Previous entry: Nocturnal Eruptions

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Comments for “A Three-Hour Tour”

  • Almost caught up…  But right now I’m goin’ surfin’... hopefully.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/04  at  02:38 PM

  • Are touts just the same everywhere??
    Wait - I’m first, except for E! Yay! Maybe…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/04  at  03:29 PM

  • NOELLE - I gave you the honor of being first…i read this about 2 hours ago…

    Posted by markyt  on  12/04  at  05:27 PM

  • I love horchata!

    I’m spending new year’s on that Lake.  I like the idea of the halloween costume.

    Posted by sara  on  12/04  at  07:08 PM

  • Markyt - aww, you’re such a gentleman.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/04  at  07:36 PM

  • love reading your blogs!  guatemala (and especially antigua) is one of my favorite places… have an awesome time!

    Posted by samer  on  12/05  at  04:35 PM

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This blog post is one of thirty-nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: The Central American Eviction Tour* (*with jaunt to Colombia)," which chronicled a six-week journey through Central America, with a jaunt to Bogota, Colombia.

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Disbanded Until The Bay

Previous entry:
Nocturnal Eruptions


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