Now, for our next phase of “all the boring day-to-day crap of Lake Atitlán” – transportation. The place we stay is kind of out of the way (inadvertent rhyming, honest) just past a small bay (advertent rhyming) and generally we don’t leave often during the day (just getting stupid now). All of which means that whenever we, very occasionally, decide to rouse ourselves for something more demanding than a reluctant shower, or struggling to remember characters in the final Wheel of Time book we were first introduced to way back when The Barenaked Ladies were taking the world by storm, we have to employ some form of transportation.
I’ll start by telling you straight away that I will not be talking about buses so you don’t go getting your hopes up and all. Surprising, I know, especially considering how I normally spend so much – so very, very much – time blathering on and on about buses during most of our travels.
How long this bus took, how late that bus was, what the guy next to me was eating on the last bus, how many stickers that said “God will protect us… so, therefore, it follows that there is no need to abide by the rules of the road, pay attention even a little, or, heaven forbid, stop texting with my right hand long enough to finish eating this giant burrito with my left while steering with my knees”. The last part of that sentence in usually just implied, but it’s still fairly obvious. Anyway, although there are a few infrequent buses that pass through San Pedro, San Juan and San Pablo, they still don’t actually venture as far as San Marcos, and definitely not past it to where we stay. Which, since we rarely have any pressing place to be, is mostly a good thing as it means fewer loud vehicles polluting the neighbourhood with their carbon monoxide and whimsical customized horns.
1. On Foot
The village of San Marcos is about a fifteen minute walk from Pasaj-Cap, wonderfully downhill on the way there, sweatily uphill on the way back. The rugged and rocky dirt road requires constant vigilance and attention while walking, and enough dogs will suddenly appear thrashing madly against fences barking savagely and alarmingly as though it were you were a vehement lobbyist for mandatory canine castration that you will want to ensure you fully emptied your bladder before setting out.
However, the people are friendly enough, and here at the tail end of the rainy season the dust has yet to become the pervasive and all-encompassing life form it eventually will, so all in all the walk is pleasant enough, I suppose. It is a similar walk in the opposite direction to the village of Tzununá, but that one is strictly reserved for exercise and/or clearing of the head after a long day of typing and napping since the main reasons to go there are either to observe mangy dogs in their natural habitat (i.e. sleeping in the middle of the road) or to discuss the correct pronunciation of the town’s name with a local inhabitant.
2. By Boat
The main form of transportation around the lake is by medium-sized motorboats, called “lanchas”, captained by bored-looking young fellows who stand at the back manning the wheel, occasionally changing gas tanks while barely slowing down or looking peeved when less mobile people take too long getting on or off, but usually just smirking from behind knock-off sunglasses. These boats have a large outboard motor, a roof, 4 to 5 benches, some tattered and almost aggressively ineffective rain and splash tarps and, inevitably, three to five local women wearing large unwieldy dresses and draped with bags of produce and swaddled children determinedly monopolizing the front row and successfully blocking off the rest of the boat from any and all newcomers.
The ride can get pretty rough at times, especially in the afternoons when the wind picks up and the Capitanes get less and less patient, knowing that the sooner they finish up their last trip the sooner they can join a group of their friends on the steps of some tienda or another to discuss the latest trends in faux-hawks, followed by some serious, no-holds-barred loitering.
The ubiquitous lancha is by far our most common form of conveyance, especially for me, seeing as all my favourite activities happen to have water between us and them. Lazily returning after a short hike and bacon and cheese sandwich in Santa Cruz. Playing soccer in San Juan. Watching soccer in San Pedro. Drinking beer while watching soccer – in San Pedro. Bi-monthly haircuts in San Pedro. Grocery shopping and sulking, simultaneously, in Panajachel. Fortunately, the lanchas are cheap ($1.25 to San Pedro or San Juan, $2.50 to Pana, although the price does go up in direct correlation to whether or not you ask the price or just knowingly hand over the correct amount and, of course, how much grey hair you have), are relatively frequent (usually every 20 minutes to half an hour) and there is always room since never has one seen fit to decide that a certain amount of people, say 30, is too many people, even if some of them have to ride on the roof and we end up sitting so low in the water that it looks like we are making a very poor attempt to sneak up on an enemy U-boat.
They aren’t entirely predictable but do more or less follow a schedule at the beginning and end of the day, although in the middle things start to get pretty haphazard and unpredictable, not unlike the availability of ratty, damp lifejackets.
3. In a Tuk-Tuk
These are essentially small, enclosed three-wheeled motorcycles used to transport anything from 2 normal-sized foreigners, to a diminutive farmer and the 147 pieces of firewood he managed to successfully collect throughout the day, to a Guatemalan family of 9 returning giddily from church dressed in their Sunday best – extravagantly colourful traditional dresses for the women, more or less clean jeans and the least battered of numerous cowboy hats for the men. Interestingly, in a relative sense, in some of the villages they are referred to as tuk tuks but in others simply as taxis. Sure, they only cost a fraction of what we are used to paying for a taxi, they certainly don’t have meters and, well, no doors or anything like that, but they serve essentially the same purpose and, just like at home, none of the drivers speak much English.
Sometimes back from San Marcos if it is too hot (too much sun), or too dark (not enough sun).
From San Pedro to San Juan for soccer (since the boats only sporadically detour over there – in my experience seemingly dependent on the length of the skirt of the gringa doing the pleading), and, least fun of all, all the way back from San Juan to San Marcos after soccer (which usually ends just after the last boat departs), a half hour trip in the fading light bouncing and jolting our way along the gravelly craters and slimy puddles Guatemalans so whimsically refer to as “roads”, struggling up the steeper hills in first gear as though me and the 110 pound Guatemalan kid driving amounted to a momentous haul of cinder blocks or fancy cheeses, and somehow feeling especially fortunate as long as we don’t end up spending 10 minutes hugging the rear bumper of a large truck belching enough black smoke to choke the Marlboro Man, or the Italian guy who manages our team.
4. Via Truck Box
There are a number of trucks that haul passengers back and forth between villages, mostly labourers on their way to or from the fields and construction sites, although not nearly as many as there were the first time we came here over a decade ago, presumably due to the rapid influx of tuk tuks. This is not something we make use of any more (unless you count the times when a dozen of my teammates and I pile into the back of the truck of one of the five Miguel’s on our team, inexplicably choosing 10 excruciatingly uncomfortable minutes over spending a dollar), mainly because they are absolutely terrible at crossing deep water.
However, they are still a pretty enthralling sight when filled to bursting with several dozen uncomfortable-looking passengers, from women balancing large baskets of goods on their heads to machete-wielding men to the numerous children hidden from view among the legs and bundles of kindling.
So that about does it for our transportation edition. As I said, we don’t go far. Next time, we’ll learn a bit about the typical resident of each of the villages on our part of the lake. Plenty of borderline insults and semi-offensive generalizing. Mark your calendars.