Well, we’re down to our final few days at Lake Atitlan this year after being away for nearly 2 full years. Before returning January 1st of this year we hadn’t set foot on (or in-) the lovely lago since the end of February 2020. If I remember correctly, we left here to journey to Portugal, keeping vague tabs on the surprising way this new “coronavirus” had managed to jump from China to Italy.
“Jeez, that’s really unfortunate for Italy”, we thought. Well… enough said about that. The point is, we made it back to Guatemala, to our usual spot at Pasajcap, if not our usual apartment, and it has been quite eye-opening. Partially because being away longer gave us new appreciation for some things (and new derision for others), and partially because the travel landscape has obviously changed everywhere in the world, Lake Atitlan included.
So, before we head off in a few days to spend a month in Newfoundland (yes, in April, there’s a chance we miscalculated this) here is a recap of our last 3 months in Guatemala.
Here you can check out our Complete Guide to Lake Atitlan
Pasajcap 2022: The Same
Laynni does yoga on the roof at sunrise everyday. And I do mean everyday. Except once. She couldn’t force herself up the morning after our “stomach irregularities” (more details to come). And she is still pretty annoyed about it.
We still have Happy Hour at 5 pm everyday, forcing me to decide daily between one beer or two, then we discuss, well, pretty much nothing important, ever, especially considering most of the time we also spent much of the day together to that point.
Of course, Happy Hour: 2022 Version is typically much smaller than the chaotic 20-person fiascos we routinely had going back in 2020 (and 2019, and 2018, etc). Usually 3-6 people, only occasionally “ramping up” to 10-12 when some particularly social overlanders are around.
We still hiked to Jaibalito every week, where we had lunch at Hans’ restaurant, patiently waiting for Bill to self-serve us a litro of Gallo beer from the outside fridge, then each of us ordering more or less the same thing every week – pollo arroz frijoles for me, käsespätzle for Laynni (yes, apparently she eats German food here).
Every Saturday we do a 4-village road walk from Pasjacap all the way around the end of the lake to San Pedro (10 km / 2 hrs) where we sometimes stop at the street market for fruits and vegetables but always end up at El Barrio for their good, very filling, breakfast brunch (fruit bowl, omelet, toast, potatoes, a salad nobody ever eats). Except once per year when Laynni and I branch off to Idea Connection for amazing pasta (made by real Italians) and a great avocado/bacon sandwich (also made by Italians, although that fact seems less important in this case).
Then we do at least one other hike per week, trying to mix it up (not our specialty). Ridge hikes, Panajachel, Santa Clara, San Juan, etc.
On days when we aren’t walking somewhere far away, we head down to the dock for a morning swim. I used to kamikaze into the water from the dock but with the water down considerably over the past couple of years I apparently no longer have the cojones for a daily 5-metre jump so now I join Laynni in easing gently into the water “like an old man into a warm bath” (which I suppose is a relatively accurate description of the scene).
Those afternoons we do an exercise/head clearing walk to Tzununa and back (3 km / 30 min).
When we need groceries we get Laynni’s favourite heavy homemade bread from Circles, then either go to the usual tienda in San Marcos or Johanna’s in San Pedro. Whichever we choose, the milk is always hit and miss, I can’t always count on finding the crappy, processed Bimbo bread I’m partial to and our favourite salsa only appears once a year, just enough to get our hopes up in vain for the next 2 months.
Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ still (again) takes place every Sunday in San Pedro. People still (again) go there to eat obnoxiously large portions of meat and drink a bunch. We still only go once in awhile.
Pasajcap Apartment 2022: Different
Due to “vacancy constraints” (i.e. COVID and burgeoning remote work leading to a large number of semi-permanent Pasajcap residents) we got bumped to a different apartment than the one we’ve been in for the last, oh, lots of years.
Adios, Ushuaia, also known affectionately known as Apartamento Tres. Hola again, Copacabana, mind if we still call you #4? We aren’t so good at remembering your names.
So, a new apartment, at least in recent terms, although this was actually the place we stayed our first few years visiting Pasajcap (back in the heady days of the early 10’s – Obama, Breaking Bad, Cesc Fabregas). So it wasn’t so much new as retro.
Now, for a quick list of changes this seemingly small move entailed:
Pro: Laynni now has legitimate access to the rooftop palapa that belongs to #4 and, she claims, is the best place on the lake to do yoga at sunrise. It sounds plausible but I have never made it up there that early so can neither confirm nor refute.
Con: Apartment #4 is narrower than #3 so the view isn’t quite as expansive.
Pro: The kitchen is better.
Con: It takes forever to get hot water. In fact, I need to run the water in the tub to get hot water in the kitchen just to do dishes.
Pro: Walk-in closet.
Con: Having such a huge closet makes my meagre clothing selection look even more pathetic than usual (especially the raggedy-ass t-shirts that have lived here for nearly a decade).
Con: The only thing we use the fireplace for is storing cords out of the sun. Not really an even trade for ¼ of our view.
Pro: More comfortable bed.
Con: Windows on east wall next to the bed mean that since I won’t go to it, the sunrise generously comes to me instead.
Pro: Far fewer flies. Like, from 30/day to maybe 3. You have no idea how important this is for my mental health. Plus, we have so much extra time now that I’m not spending hours every day on manic killing sprees.
Con: Way more ants. We have some industrial ant-killer we brought from home years ago that used to work like magic. Now it seems age has reduced its effectiveness from “scourge of colonies” to “tasty candy the ants enjoy slurping as they pass by”. Or possibly overuse of it has effectively mutated them into some type of super-ant oblivious to our puny human poisons and bent on world domination. Either way, I spend a lot of time wiping down counters.
Pro & Con: Scorpions. There are still scorpions in #4, probably more, but only about 10-12 have shown themselves (+3 that appeared the very night after I wrote this), we think because Laynni rigged up an ingenious door-sweep. When we first announced it to our Happy Hour crew we thought this amazing “bottom of the door contraption” had literally been invented by one specific AirBnB we stayed at in Crete. However, we were soon informed that “door-sweeps” have, in fact, been around for centuries. It still works well, though.
Meanwhile, Laynni got stung in rather shockingly symmetrical fashion on the back of both thighs when a scorpion stowed away in the dress she throws on to go down to the dock, then didn’t react well to her frantic flailing. Nobody won that battle, I assure you.
There were only two other noteworthy scorpion encounters (most just wander by on the floor at night and meekly submit to death-by-fly-swatter) – one the length of a finger I caught near the bed, rather disturbingly heading away from the bed like he’d just finished a nap and was off to start his day. The second that appeared while we were watching TV, nonchalantly sauntering down the leg of my sweats like he didn’t have a care in the world. Down! Where the hell was he coming from? How did he get there? And what had he been up to? We may never know. And we do NOT love that.
General Pasajcap 2022: New Stuff
Fewer old friends around. By Feb 2020 almost every person at Pasajcap was a returnee who we knew very well for any number of reasons – well, actually just three reasons. Either we hiked together, drank together or they were Laynni’s parents. Sometimes all three.
This year it was just us, Bill and Jan (USA), Bruce and Arlene (Can), Norm and Mimi (USA) for little while and, eventually, Leigh (Eng). And Pierre (Fra/Gua), of course, since he’s the owner and, let’s face it, if he doesn’t spend all day standing around the office smoking and making small talk, who will? And his girlfriend, Aska (Pol/Gua), at least until she went back to Poland for a family visit.
For the most part now, the place is filled long-term residents, many working remotely, others simply entranced by San Marcos hippie scene of spirituality, enlightenment and parties where you pay 100Q to touch strangers without risking criminal charges.
We’ve gotten to know a few of the new residents, although they typically aren’t much into hiking or drinking 5 o’clock beer with old people, which are really the only two things we have to offer. For the most part, they seem to prefer three things: dogs, playing guitar (ukuleles and lutes seem acceptable as well) and public nudity, be it while doing yoga, sunbathing or even moon-bathing (unfortunately, this one apparently needs to be done on the cushions of OUR lounger, no less, but that’s another story altogether).
The overlanders/vanlifers/bikers passing through, on the other hand, are often into just about anything. Especially if it involves drinking beer or eating insane amounts of meat at Smokin’ Joe’s Sunday BBQ.
Much to the excitement of both us and all the long-term residents, Pierre was able to upgrade his internet at some point in the past two years. It still maxes out at 10 MB/S, which is essentially dial-up back home, but in Guatemala that is the equivalent of time travel. Now I can actually stream soccer games (although they still work better on replay than live), which has meant less time spent drinking and watching sports at Alegre Pub.
Pro: No long boat rides back and forth.
Con: Less time spent drinking and watching sports at Alegre Pub.
Another COVID-era development is the weekly arrival of a produce truck – often saving us the inconvenience of hauling unwieldy watermelons and annoyingly fragile bananas all the way across the lake.
Pierre (much like almost everyone reading this) also added a couple of new COVID dogs. Two large German Shepherds, one of which is delightful, the other which… well, isn’t. She’s friendly, and she means well. It’s just that her “means well” translates to jumping up, digging her nails into back, stomach or ribs (we like to mix up our evasive tactics) before settling into a fun routine of biting our hands and arms. She also practically shits herself in fury if we jump into the lake. Which, I must admit, I find very satisfying (and I also don’t care how petty that sounds).
There is a large crew working on the property below us building… something… so each day I wake up to the oddly soothing tap-tap-tapping of Guatemalan dudes literally breaking rocks with small hammers and chisels. The birds seem strangely loud and raucous this year, too, which Bill claims is because it is mating season. Personally, I’d prefer a less icky reason than imagining a tree full of little bird boners, but he’s Dutch, so he probably knows about things like that.
Lake Atitlan 2022: New Stuff
The water level continues to drop, which would be worrisome if it weren’t so cyclical. In fact, the water has just about dropped to where it was when we first stayed at Pasajcap in 2010. In the intervening years it went up a full 5 metres (leading to a lot of flooded property and a whole host of frantic dock renovations). So, much like my clicking toe knuckle, I think that’s just what it does.
I took Spanish classes from the same Spanish teacher, Rebeca, which might make you think this is in the wrong section, except I haven’t yet told you that she made me read a bunch of Spanish poetry this year, which was definitely new. It was a tough call, but New Stuff it is.
As is the case all over the world, mask usage can be very different from place to place and is ever-changing. In the beginning (of January, not eternity) roughly 75% of locals masked up compared with just 25% of gringos, with the gringo number dropping to approximately 0% among braless females or barefoot males.
Despite pretty high COVID numbers here, though, those numbers have still been going steadily down throughout our stay, although in a couple villages (Panajachel, for one) everybody wears masks at all times, even on the street.
December to March is dry season here. Which, in this case, isn’t meant as some vague nickname or general description of what it’s like most of the time. No, dry season means dry. As in no rain. Ever. Yet, here we are, not quite at the end of March, and it has rained no less than 4 times. Twice it rained hard enough to not only soak up the dust but actually leave puddles. So there you have it, your Lake Atitlan weather report.
The lanchas – small public boats that ferry people between villages around the lake – are still around but apparently have been taken over by two new, competing companies. There seem to be more lanchas overall now, yet somehow the schedules are more erratic, they are often full (even overfull, as many an angry local has yelled while jammed into the crowd inside) and the capitáns no longer wear matching shirts, which, it seems, I used to find oddly comforting.
It is now definitely more common to see two lanchas recklessly race each other to the Pasajcap dock in order to be first to pick up two German guys heading for Pana, with the losing lancha captain furiously climbing over his roof to board the winning lancha and set about punching his competition in the face, one slow punch at time, interspersed with insults, while the other guy argues but never fights back. Then, eventually, they both drive off. I mean, that only happened once but that still makes it way more common than before.
Along those lines, one of the boats actually capsized this year. Luckily nobody died (most locals aren’t good swimmers, and the women usually wear about 50 pounds of skirts, blouses and tunics). They say the steering wheel got stuck turned and then it went faster and faster in a circle until it finally flipped. Why he kept the pedal to the metal, so to speak, for that long is anybody’s guess.
Also, just yesterday an American man died after getting run over by a lancha while swimming in the bay in front of Tzununa. We don’t know much in the way of details but it is a definite reminder for us to swim close to shore and keep a close eye on the boats.
Another disaster: a propane tank exploded in one of our favourite restaurants in San Marcos. No deaths but 5 ended up in hospital. Plus, one poor gringo from a nearby restaurant took her fire extinguisher over to help and three hours later… it still hadn’t been returned!! A fact she lamented in extreme annoyance on the community FB group (yet she somehow forgot to inquire about the man who was still in critical condition at the time). “Enlightenment” takes many forms, apparently.
A new bar opened in San Marcos. A basic place called simply La Sala (The Room) with an open-air set-up and the only draft beer around. We spent a fair bit of time there.
For the first time in years I didn’t play any soccer down here. Our Internacional team in San Juan finally lost their foreigner limit exemption (probably because so many foreigners left). I know people in San Pedro but their stadium has lights so the games are too late for me to get back across the lake. And I was just too shy to stand around the San Marcos field begging strangers to let play on their team. Maybe next year. I’ll bring treats.
We didn’t vary our hikes as much this year. The road between San Marcos and San Pablo was under construction the whole time, complicating hikes up on top of the ridges just enough to make us shrug and settle for doing the same hikes over again.
San Juan continues to separate themselves from the other villages around the lake with their cleverness and initiative, continually adding more street art, Mayan craft collectives and Instagram photo spots (let’s face it, if your town still doesn’t have a street draped in umbrellas it simply isn’t trying hard enough).
They even expanded their family amusement park and significantly spruced up their main mirador (viewpoint) – building a big colourful terrace, bringing in musicians and vendors and capping it off with giant plastic rooster. That you can pretend to ride, you know, if that’s your thing.
Lake Atitlan 2022: Health
I got another ear infection which, of course, is more standard than noteworthy. But I also got food poisoning… TWICE. Which is, first and foremost, extremely gross. Secondly, though, it is also pretty surprising since I can’t ever remember it happening here before, let alone twice a month apart.
The first one (Smokin’ Joe’s, maybe) was relatively tame, although only in comparison to the second one, since at the time I thought I was the unluckiest person on the planet.
The second time (Appie Night – yet somehow just 4 of 10 got sick, all of us sitting at the same corner of the table, which could be a thing, maybe?), it hit both Laynni and I in the middle of the night. I’ll save the details for this summer some night after I’ve had a few too many drinks but, suffice to say, having just one toilet quickly became a problem. Especially after I collapsed, broke said toilet and then got myself fully stuck between it and the wall. You know, it’s possible I’ve already said too much…
The worst part was that I was supposed to be heading to Xela the next day to climb some volcanoes, eat McDonald’s and maybe even go to a real movie theatre but for obvious reasons that never happened. Okay, that wasn’t actually the worst part. Not even remotely. But still.
Lake Atitlan 2022: Ridiculous Arsenal Moment
Gabi Martinelli is shown two yellow cards (and a red) at the same time for two separate incidents 15 seconds apart (one of which involved trying to volleyball block a throw-in).
Lake Atitlan 2022: Excursions
There were a few notable days where we ventured outside our comfort zone:
We hired a private boat to do some blog research (it seemed weird to write as Atitlan experts when I had never set foot in the most colourful village in the lake) – hitting Santiago Atitlan (not for the first time, but I definitely paid more attention to the churches this time), San Lucas Toliman (only got lost once) and Santa Catarina Palopo (took me half an hour to figure out that the “hot springs” were underwater, right around where that young couple was lingering with weird looks on their face). Then I bought a beer for the ride home, nobody else wanted to keep drinking and Laynni spilled it on my leg. The end.
Meanwhile, we’ve been to Santa Cruz roughly, oh, 200 times. But never to the very top of the village (a steep climb up from the dock area). So we did that this year. There was an impressive non-profit shop/restaurant with amazing views. And a little church that was okay. And… well, that’s about it. Friendly, I guess.
Laynni did her usual couple of “girl’s trips” to Pana to shop and wander and come back slightly tipsy.
I finally hiked out to the legendary beach southeast of San Pedro. Okay, not so much legendary as “supposed”. But it turns out that “La Playa” (which literally just means “the beach”) is actually a real beach. Although I did get my pants and shoes covered in burrs when I foolishly went into the bush to piss (instead of just turning marginally away from view the way most Guatemalan men do it). 3 out of 5.
Thanks to a previous Pasajcap guest we learned about a completely new (entirely downhill) hike from Mirador Montenegro to the lake with completely different views than any of our other hikes. Outstanding angle of the lake and all three volcanoes, plus a nice approach to the colourful village of Santa Catarina Palopo. The only problems is keeping Jan moving when we reach the flower gardens.
We really toned down the birthday celebrations this year. Still played some Categories for Bill’s birthday. Laynni always suggests it despite the fact she is absolutely terrible at the Categories part of the game. Meanwhile, Bruce never really got a handle on the thumb rule and, in the end, the results of the game had very little effect on my determination to drink too much.
We kept up our annual Pub Crawl tradition. We started with several stops in San Pedro – cheap tequila and beer at Jaakuu, lunch and beer at some Mayan place, more tequila at Alegre, drinks of some sort at the Instagrammy bar in San Juan, then back to San Marcos to Tul y Sol, El Dragon and finished the night off at La Sala where Laynni and I shared “some chicken thing, I think, right?”. Felt a bit off the next day. Maybe something we ate.
Even more laid back for Laynni’s birthday – we discussed a hike up to a sacred point for sunset but quickly pivoted to fries and beer at La Sala. As the birthday girl, Laynni got to sit on the on plank floor and soon spilled beer on the heads of guys below. Happy birthday, baby.
Lake Atitlan 2022: Laynni as a Cartoon
While evading a huge bee in socks she slipped on the smooth cement floor and her feet made it above her head before she thudded to the floor in comical fashion. Although our opinions may have differed on the “comical” part.
So that’s pretty much it. Three months can really fly by when you’re in a place you love that you suddenly appreciate more because it was out of reach for a while. Looking forward to mixing it up for the rest of the year but returning right here next winter.
One Final Goodbye
Mike Jackson, one of my best Lake Atitlan friends, passed away last year and I didn’t even find out until I got back here in January. Not long into COVID, he passed his San Pedro restaurant over to his staff and moved to Puerto Escondido for a change of pace. He tragically drowned there last spring.
One of the nicest guys you’d ever meet, Mike was a Pep Guardiola look-alike (a comparison he downplayed but secretly loved) and the best midfielder and fiercest tackler on our Internacional fútbol team. It is still hard to believe he’s gone.
Sure, people often thought he was shitting them when he said his name, and for some reason he was emotionally invested in West Ham United, of all teams, but he was also one of the only people who actually read these blog posts all the way through to the end. But only if I promised he was mentioned. So here’s one last mention for you, Miguelito. Going to miss you, buddy.