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Lago de Atitlán

Written by Jared on February 28, 2012

A panoramic view of Lago de Atitlán.

Start: February 9, Ciudad Vieja
Finish: February 20, Ciudad Vieja
Construction Projects Completed: 3
Volcanoes Seen: 4
Liters of Beer Consumed with Fellow Overlanders: 12

This past weekend we took a bit of a break from the daily grind of Spanish school and working at the volunteer office. For two and a half days we were officially tourists again, visiting the towns of Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna on Lago de Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is certainly one of the must-see places in Guatemala. It's a part natural wonder, part tourist trap and 100% Guatemalan.

Our Spanish classes are progressing very well. Every day it starts to make a little more sense. And then we move onto conjugating verbs in tenses that don't exist in English. Poco a poco.

We've also found the time to wrap up several projects at the Global Visionaries office. Finishing the shelves we began our first week here, building a compost bin, and re-roofing the outdoor patio area next to the office.

A shot of the complete set of shelves we built at the GV office.

After a week of working on the shelves for GV's storage room we managed to wrap things up. The mountain of bins are now neatly organized!

Blue goes to Guatemala City for a service.

Two Saturdays ago we took Blue into the Toyota dealership in Guatemala City. Via the internet, we diagnosed a leaky rear axle seal and after a couple hours of waiting our suspicions were confirmed. Unfortunately they couldn't get to the work that day and so Kobus and I had to return the next Tuesday.

The cause of the leaky rear axle.

We arrived at 8am and spent roughly 9 hours waiting for the repairs to be completed. The shot above shows the culprit - something got into the axle and scored a piece of metal that allow oil to leak around the seal. Fortunately the bearing did not need to be replaced, although we did have to change out the oil-soaked rear brake pads. Total damage: just shy of $250.

Blue gets his first wash in 4 months.

The folks at the Toyota dealership were nice enough to hose four months of dirt off of the car before we left. That lasted all of three days before Blue returned to his usual brownish hue.

The main tourist street of Panajachel.

Fast forward to the weekend - we're off to Lago de Atitlán. After turning a 1.5 hour drive into a 2.5 hour drive due to goofy GPS maps, we arrived at the town of Panajachel. Fully back in tourist mode, we could barely walk 10 feet down the street without being asked to buy something.

Sunset over Lake Atitlan.

Once we found out hotel we headed down to the lake for sunset and dinner. This was our first real view of the lake, we missed out on some beautiful scenery during the drive in due to cloud cover.

The lake sits in a massive caldera formed by a massive volcanic eruption over 80,000 years ago. It's currently surrounded by three volcanoes in varying degrees of activity. Above you can make out Volcán Atitlán to the left, which last erupted in 1853.

A shot of San Pedro La Laguna from the lake.

The next morning we headed down to the dock to jump on a boat which would take us across the lake to San Pedro La Laguna, a small town that sits in front of a volcano bearing the same name. Our plan was to meet up with several other overlanding groups who are spending some time in San Pedro learning Spanish.

A street in San Pedro.

Our hotel was located square in the middle of Gringolandia. The areas along the waterfront are developed for tourists, many places specializing in teaching Spanish, along with the usual hippie hangouts and international restaurants.

Dinner out with some fellow roadtrippers in San Pedro.

That afternoon we met up with three other couples with the goal of driving to South America. We had a delicious dinner of pizza, arguably the best I've had since leaving the US. Many liters of beer were consumed, and the night ended with a 45 minute discussion about balls. Specifically, eating cow testicle ceviche at the local market. Around the table, James and Lauren of Home on the Highway, Paul and Susie of Head South, and Zach and Jill of Anywhere that's Wild, joined us a bit later in the evening.

It was awesome to meet up with others doing the same trip, comparing notes and joking about the weird shit that's happened in the past months. Hopefully we get to meet up again down the road. ¡Buen viaje amigos!

Jared and Jessica wait for the boat back to Panajachel.

The next morning we slept in. A lot. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to chow down on some cow balls at the market - we had to catch the boat to Panajachel so we could make it back to Antigua in time to do our Spanish homework. I guess there's always next time.

Volcanoes rise over the lake.

That day brought much improved weather. The lake was smooth and you could actually see the tops of the volcanoes...well, mostly. The ride back to Panajachel took less than a half hour. We returned to our car to find it in one piece after surrendering it to an overnight parking lot.

A shot of Panajachel from the road above the city.

Climbing the road out of Panajachel rewarded us with the views we'd missed on the way in. This shot overlooks the town and lake, with Volcan San Pedro in the background.

A shot of Lago de Atitlan from above.

A couple more stops for pictures along the road and we were ready to head back to Antigua. Leaving, I do feel a bit cheated that we only had two nights around the lake. It would have been very easy to spend a couple weeks exploring the smaller Mayan villages around the lake rather than shacking up in the two most heavily touristed towns.

Blue's first river crossing.

On the way back we took the other squiggly line on the GPS. The road was decent, but we did have to cross one water feature. This is Blue's first "river" crossing. Luckily this is dry season!

A compost bin we built at the GV office.

Back in Cuidad Vieja we return to Spanish school Monday morning, and head over the GV office in the afternoon to wrap up our two most recent construction projects. Above is a compost bin we built using scraps salvages from our second project - re-roofing the patio outside of the office.

A before shot of the roof we rebuilt at the GV office.

Here's a before-shot of the roof. Our job was to re-enforce the hurricane-stricken structure and add sheets of corrugated tin roofing so that visiting groups of volunteers could seek shelter during the rainy season.

The roof after we finished.

After four days we finished the project. This was a first for me, but it turned out alright. Blue even gets to chill in the shade during the rest of our stay in Ciudad Vieja.

Jared and Kobus attach the last piece of metal to the roof.

Kobus and I attached the last sheet - it took as long to do the last two as it did to do the first twelve. We had to bust out our best third-world improvisation techniques to get everything lined up. It's amazing what you can accomplish with a ladder, a hammer, a drill and two hours spent debating the final design.

The view of the volcano behind Ciudad Vieja from the roof.

Here's a view from the top of the roof overlooking Ciudad Vieja and the volcano we live below. Not a bad work environment. It tends to be cloudy by this time in the afternoon - I think mother nature was punishing us one last time before letting us relax under the roof. In any case, it's beer o'clock, bring on the Gallos.

Up Next: We dip into Honduras for a weekend visit to the Mayan ruins of Copan, and continue our Spanish schooling and volunteer efforts at Global Visionaries.

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