Friday, December 18, 2015


We didn't have much more that we wanted to do in Antigua, so after returning from the volcano hike we started planning our departure to the next location: Lago Atitlan. San Pedro had been on my list of places I wanted to go since the beginning of the trip, for the amazing stories I'd heard from Bryce's blog, and from everyone else who was on a similar route and had been through there. Excited to get there, we started looking at what we could do once we arrived.

Well, first, we hopped in the Jacuzzi for a few hours. After all the hiking up the volcano, the Jacuzzi was amazing for our muscles, even if the water wasn't that hot (they'd just turned it on a little after we returned). But it was still nice to just relax in the water and let the jets loosen things up a bit.

Mylène and I then took the afternoon to wander around town again, taking a little more time to head through the market and explore the food stalls and fresh food vendors, and then headed up to an open square where she'd seen a bunch of street food. She'd explored the town a bit while we were up on the volcano, so I let her navigate and just followed her lead. We also got to talking again, and I could feel my French improving more and more every time. I even attempted telling a few stories in French - I feel like telling stories well is really the only level of fluency I care about in any language, and I was beginning to get it back in French.

That night we all relaxed at the hostel and enjoyed the musical duo that played up on the rooftop terrace. They were a lot of fun, and played a lot of old Beatles songs and classic acoustic covers that I really enjoyed while we relaxed with a few beers. The volcano that we'd seen erupting the night before from so close was actually visible from the rooftop as well, so we could sit and watch it shoot lava up in the air (though none as big as the one we'd seen the other night).

In the morning I finally pulled my bike out of the entryway of the hostel - I think they were happy to finally have that space back - and packed up. Because Mylène had bought her bus ticket to San Pedro before Dan and Delphine, due to them being on a volcano, she had gotten the 8:30 bus while they were only able to get the 2:30 bus, so I tried to get moving relatively early in order to meet her there when she arrived. I did decently well, and hit the road not long after 9:00 - finally with a GPS once again.

The roads to San Pedro were absolutely amazing. Two lane highway for most of it, well-paved, good signs, and not much traffic. I even missed a turn at one point but wasn't at all disappointed because it led me down a wonderful set of sweeping turns, which I then got to turn around and do the other direction to get back to the turn I'd missed.

Finally, I reached the road I'd heard about from other motorcyclists: the steep switchbacks down into the valley that the lake sits in. I'd heard the road was pretty bad a few years ago, but it was pretty nice most of the way down, with only a bit of dirt and potholes down at the very end of the road.

The view from the top of the road. Stunning.
After heading down the switchbacks, through one of the other lake cities, and over to San Pedro (so thankful I had a GPS for that part), I pulled into town and stopped to look at the map and figure out where my hostel was. Where I stopped, I immediately noticed something that I'd read on Bryce's blog: there's definitely a part of town that's, as he called it, "Gringoville." Restaurants, bars, and hostels that are all geared towards the travelers coming through, and the only locals to be seen were the ones selling locally made crafts to tourists, or helping out at the hostels or restaurants. There was a significant portion of the population with dreadlocks and flowy pants as well.

As I was looking at my map, I happened to glance up and saw Mylène standing on the side of the road with her backpack on! Her bus had just dropped her off right there in front of where I was parked. We chatted really quick and I showed her where I thought the hostel was on the map, and then I took off on the motorcycle and she started walking. Unfortunately, Google Maps was wrong (I'm finding it to not be super reliable in Central America) and after asking some directions and doing a very tricky U-turn in a very narrow alley, made my way to where they directed: literally the same exact spot that I'd met Mylène on the street when I'd arrived. We simply hadn't looked up to see the sign there.

We checked in to "Mr. Mullets" hostel (yes, like the haircut, and yes, they have a wall full of pictures of people who have gotten mullets while they were staying there), but unfortunately there wasn't any parking, so I went down the street and found a little parking area where I paid $2 for 3 days of parking for the bike. It was still early afternoon, so after my usual shower, Mylène and I headed out to explore the town together.

San Pedro really is a beautiful town, and when we got outside Gringoville it seemed even more beautiful. You didn't have to go far up the hill to escape the constant music and tourist shops, but apparently not many tourists do that. Mylène and I had fun taking pictures and comparing, and we decided she's better at taking portraits, but I'm better at taking landscape pictures.

Here's a few of my pictures from the day:

This was right next to a big gymnasium where the "big boys" were playing soccer.

The lake level has been rising, leaving a lot of the edges of towns underwater.

San Pedro hiimself.

The girl loved having her picture taken. The boy wasn't too sure about us.

There was a bit of nice street art around. I found this one interesting due to the building in the background.

The mountains are a constant background as you walk around, and it's a pretty stunning experience.
And here's a few of Mylène's:

I bought some nuts from this girl.

She enjoyed this, once I translated for her.

See, she does the portraits better.

Another good shot of a local.

It helps when you have such an easy-to photograph subject.
As we were walking through an alley, I heard someone yell "Eric!"

One of the things about traveling with the Belgians is that I'm traveling the "usual" route that most of the backpackers are taking, which means I end up in a lot of the same towns as the same people, around the same time, even if we're not traveling together. This time, it was Toby, the girl who had been on the same tour with me for the ATM caves and had done the sunrise at Tikal with me as well.

Mylène and I stopped to sit with her and talk for a bit, and she said that she'd thought about going to Mr. Mullets, but after seeing it, she ended up going to another place, Hotel Mikasa, and it was way better. We'd picked Mr. Mullets on a glowing recommendation from someone in Antigua, but Mylène quickly pointed out that she'd mentioned Hotel Mikasa and tried to convince us to go there, but we hadn't listened. She was... well, correct. Usually, I'll accept a recommendation from a person far easier than I'll pick a place based on online pictures (people are really good at taking misleading pictures), but after following Toby to the hotel and checking it out, I admitted I'd been wrong in this case. Hotel Mikasa was right on the lake, had parking for the motorcycle, and had Jacuzzi's on the deck where you could watch the sunset over the lake.

Apparently the laundry area is just over the edge of the balcony too.
Mylène and I made plans to switch in the morning, said our goodbyes to Toby, who was going to be heading off to her next destination soon, and then continued exploring. Finally around sunset, we headed back to Mr. Mullets and started talking to a couple of the people there. Dan and Delphine arrived as well, and I was put in charge of the fire in the fire pit back by the bar.

I'm no Oliver, but I've got okay survival skills.
As the night wound on, I spent quite a bit of time talking with Mylène and two French people she had struck up a conversation with. It ended up being a little bit of a challenge, as the guy's accent was pretty difficult for me, and he spoke fast, but with the practice I'd gotten with Mylène the past few days I was able to keep up, and spent quite a bit of time telling them about Burning Man in French. Burning Man is hard to describe in English, so I was pretty proud of how well I handled it in French.

Eventually, someone called out that everyone was heading to Buddha Bar, and that there was an open mic. Open mic, you say? I'm not going to pass that up. So we polished off our drinks and headed out to the bar with the whole crowd. Navigating San Pedro's streets can be tricky, it turns out, especially since Google Maps shows a road where there's just lake. But we managed, and after grabbing some street food and cutting down the narrow alley that turns out to be one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares, we walked into Buddha Bar to see a guy playing guitar and singing.

As soon as he finished a song, he started talking about the open mic, and asked if anyone wanted to play - apparently it had just started, and he was the guy running the thing, so he was just filling time until someone wanted to play. So up I went immediately, and pulled out a few of the mashups I'd been working on back in San Diego: Superbass/All About That Bass/Pompeii, Pumped Up Kicks/Wonderwall/Shattered/Feel Good Inc, and No Diggity/Drive/Thrift Shop. When I started out with Superbass I got people's attention, and when I started switching songs people really started watching. It was a blast to play, and was one of the first times I've played in front of people in... well, years, now that I think about it. Luckily I've found enough guitars at hostels over the past few weeks that I hadn't gotten rusty and was able to pull them off pretty well despite having a few beers under me already.
Photo courtesy of Dan
The rest of the night was a blast. We met some guys from France, including a guy who shaved his head too and looked a bit like me, and had a blast hanging out with them, Toby, and everybody else in the bar. Apparently San Pedro is small enough that there's generally only one or two big bar parties going on in a given night, so everyone in town seemed to be there. We finally wandered our way back to the hostel pretty late and fell into our beds, happy with our hostel choice for that night but ready to switch to something more relaxing in the morning.

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