Days 123-125, Quetzaltenango and San Carlos Sija

After a very traumatizing (insert terrible motion-sickness here) car ride into Quezaltenango (also referred to as Xela [sheh-lah]), we realized that this was maybe the perfect Guatemalan city. It’s populated enough that there are things to do but not so touristy where you’re constantly approached to buy things. The sun was setting when we arrived so we quickly checked into one of the nicer hostels we had the entire trip. Xela had a definite Charlottesville vibe – not quite city but too big for town.

The morning after we arrived we had several places we wanted to visit, most of which was a little coffeeshop (can you tell we like coffee? We really like coffee) called Café La Luna. It was known for its chocolate/coffee inspired drinks, which were definitely not disappointing. Mayan chocolate has a distinct flavor that blends well with coffee and boy, did they take advantage of that combination.

The walk to the coffee shop made Xela seem very European. Apparently, it had a lot of German influence since it was mostly built once the Germans took over and kicked the British out.

After spending the morning in Xela, we arranged to be picked up by my maternal grandfather in the Parque Central. To say I was nervous to see him would be an understatement – but I really had nothing to worry about. My maternal grandparents have visited the States several times so it hadn’t been as long as with my other relatives. I had vague memories of their house but I didn’t quite realize that it was so isolated. They live in a very untouched part of Guatemala’s country-side, a town called San Carlos Sija. They literally live off their land (crops, animals, etc) and pretty much keep to themselves. Having been living in the US for as long as I can remember, the peacefulness of the country surprised me. There wasn’t much to do, not many people to talk to. Determined to not become bored, Chris and I found several things to keep us busy (read, play with the animals, walk around, nap, eat) but it was a complete shock to our system. My grandparents went to bed at 8PM that night and we didn’t have a choice but to follow suit shortly after. It was the quietest place I’ve ever been.

My grandparents also have a gazillion photo collages occupying their walls – photos of their nine (yes, NINE) children and their endless number of grandchildren (note: my mother was the only one to have only one child). Speaking of which, wasn’t my mom a total fox? She’d kill me if she knew I put this up on the internet but I can’t help but be in awe of how beautiful she was and still is.

Note: baby chicks are fast little things. And they do not sit still.
Like many Guatemalans, my grandparents sustain themselves by selling their own crops – mainly corn. The morning we were there, my grandfather got up at 5AM (when the sun rises), put on this hat, and started working on the fields.
After spending the morning and afternoon with them and several other family members, my grandfather dropped us off back in Xela. Feeling the need to be a part of modern society, Chris and I ventured back to a restaurant where we had dinner a few nights before: El Sabor de la India – seriously, best Indian food I’ve EVER HAD. I can ever forgive the serious carb-overload because it was just that damn good.
The next morning we got up early to attend a yoga class in Xela, which was actually pretty good. The instructor was a bit of a hardass but in a good way. I also discovered that I’m incredibly inflexible – gotta work on that. After some delicious breakfast and some damn good coffee, we headed back to Cafe La Luna for more coffee (and chocolate)! We had booked our 13-hour bus ride to Flores (with a connection in Guatemala City) for that afternoon so we spent the rest of the afternoon being silly Americans and drinking too much coffee.

Days 121-123, Panajachel

After Antigua, we booked a shuttle to Panajachel, a town alongside Lago de Atitlán.

The lake itself it surrounded by three volcanos, all of them majestic. The town we stayed in (Panajachel) was filled with street vendors and cute comedores. We arrived in Pana in the morning, with empty bellies so our first mission was to find food.

Example #1 of great food in Guatemala. This place was called Jasmín Deli, and the dish above was the standard desayuno chapín (Guatemalan breakfast). 

After filling out bellies, we went in search of a place to stay. After turning down a really nice but expensive hotel, we found one we thought would be a good fit. We were wrong. Our room smelled like sewage, no hot water (they said they had it), and it was right next to a chicken coup (roosters crow at all hours of the night). I had been prepared for an experience like that but still. Even their in-house parrot had it in for me. Regardless, it gave us even more reason to be outside and explore the town.

Again, lots of street vendors with beautiful things to sell. The textile market in Guatemala is incredible. There are beautiful fabrics and material all over the place; however, it can be a bit overwhelming. Everyone wants you to buy their things and the constant bombardment of vendors can be draining.

The next morning, we got up early so that I could go on a photowalk while the streets were still quiet and so that Chris could do a workout next to the lake. It’s a complete different place when there aren’t a lot of people. It’s tranquil – almost serene. 

This particular picture reminds of the flash-fiction piece by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The only way of traveling from village to village is by boat, apparently, there is no road that circles the lake. These boats (lanchas) are incredibly cheap though never run on time. 

The volcanos really do serve as an incredible backdrop. You almost wouldn’t know that they were there, especially if it’s a foggy day. Later that same day, we went on a mountain-bike tour that ran along the lake (hills, towns, fields included). Our tour guide, Rogerio, made the entire ride look easy, while I was sweating and panting like a dog any time we hit an ascent. We went through several towns and were able to witness what non-tourist Guatemala was like. 
While recovering from our grueling mountain biking experience, we heard drums outside and (of course) had to investigate. There were two secondary schools holding a parade to celebrate an anniversary of some sort. We just watched them warm up but it was fun seeing the kids enjoy themselves. 

The morning before we left Panajachel for Quezaltenango (Xela), we explored the north side of town, which included the church below. Nearby, we found a fantastic coffeeshop called CrossRoads Café. The space was really tiny but it made up for it in atmosphere. (I’m currently drinking coffee that I bought there). It was a nice send-off into our next location.