Our bellies still full of pupusas and Mister Donuts from El Salvador, we arrived in Guatemala on December 5 via international bus. We had to change in Guatemala City to get to Panajachel, our ultimate destination on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Western Guatemala.
Guatemala City is divided into numbered "zones," and even though we were just one zone number away from the bus to Pana (as it is called), it was impossible to figure out how far away it was or how to get there, so we had to pay a taxi a slightly usurious price to take us there. We then squashed onto a school bus for the three-hour ride west.
But finally, we arrived. The highlands were refreshingly chilly after weeks of Caribbean heat, and the clothes that the local people (descendents of the Maya) wore were very fun. The women (almost all of whom still dress traditionally) have these beautiful embroidered shirts and patterned wrap skirts, and the men who dress traditionally (fewer than the women) wear colorful shirts, big hats, and three-quarter-length pants.
On our first night in town, we did little other than wander around and eat some dinner. But the next day (which happened to be our 6-month wedding anniversary), we took a boat out on Lake Aitlan to the village across the lake, San Pedro. The boat charges tourists 3 times the price it charges locals, and this is just accepted by everyone--it annoyed us some, but the views of the two nearby volcanoes were pretty excellent.
Here's a shot I took from the shore, including my favorite flowers, azaleas: And here you can see both volcanoes in one shot.
Looks pretty peaceful, right?Well, when we arrived back in town that afternoon and were wandering around the souvenir stalls, we saw some locals suddenly running down the street toward the lake, and then suddenly it seemed like every vendor was racing to pack up his wares and close up shop. Our first thought was "Oh, CRAP, a volcano must be errupting." But we asked people what was going on and finally were made to understand that there was a problem with some thieves in the marketplace, which was in the other direction from the lake, back near our hotel.
"Why is everyone down here freaking out about a couple of theives on the other side of town?" we wondered. Well, soon enough, we had the full story. The problem wasn't exactly the thieves--it was the fact that an angry mob from the marketplace, incensed that the police would do nothing to stop the thieves, was rioting, overturning police cars, and attempting to set the thieves on fire in the square."Oh," we said, as black smoke began to rise from the direction of our hotel.
So we did what other tourists seemed to be doing, and slunk down toward the relative safety of the lake to wait out the situation. About an hour later, with me still rather rattled, we were able to get back to our hotel, where we holed up for a while (Andy offered to play cards with me to calm me down and I beat the pants off him at euchre). We heard some helicopters overhead, but otherwise things seemed to have calmed down. At night things were very calm, some restaurants were open, and we were able to get dinner. We left town on an early bus the next day (yes, the buses were running), and on our way out of town, passed several truckloads of national guard troops rolling in in their SUVs.We read the news that day and learned that a thief had been killed. And that was our introduction to Guatemalan mob justice (happy anniversary!), which apparently has been a growing trend lately--there had been a similar incident in the next town over the week before, with two people killed. Probably none of you read this in the American news, but it did merit an AP article the day after the Panajachel (or "our") incident.
We were never personally in any danger, and that the only signs of the violence we witnessed in person were people running down the street and smoke in the distance. Also I will point out that all of the people we talked to who lived in the area were squarely on the side of the rioters--apparently, the police are completely corrupt and do nothing about crime, forcing people to take the law into their own hands. Most people seemed to be of the "I don't like violence, BUT...this situation is out of control" mindset.
I will also add that it seemed extremely ironic to us that we basically skipped visiting Honduras because we were concerned about possible civic unrest there, and then this happened on our second day in a very touristy town in Guatemala!Anyway, our next stop was Antigua, a very peaceful colonial city (so don't worry, moms!) and definitely the tourist capital of Guatemala. Apparently Andy didn't upload any pictures of the city, but it had pastel buildings and big churches and overpriced tourist restaurants and all that. (Honestly, after Cartagena, Granada, Leon, and now Antigua, we're getting a little cute-colonial-citied out.)
The coolest thing about Antigua (and we've agreed, Guatemala as a whole) was the trip we took to the nearby Pacaya Volcano, where we were told we would have a chance at seeing flowing lava.
Then, suddenly, fire in the hole! All around us, we could see 2000-degree molten lava glowing just feet away through cracks in the not-so-old dried lava rock. We also noticed that it was getting kind of hot around us...
Happy couple with hot lava and fluffy cloud backdrop. Note my hiking stick, btw--our guide borrowed it, lit the end with some lava, and used it to light a cigarrette to general applause. Also, some people brought marshmallows up the volcano and toasted them over the lava, though I have heard that that just makes them taste like sulfur and can make you sick.