Occasionally, when traveling, it’s good to look at a map. A good, local map, with actual roads penciled on it. We got around to doing this the other night, before leaving Lago de Atitlan and it totally changed our route. Funny how knowing where you’re going does that!
It was with with great sadness that we crawled slowly up the side of the volcano and took one last look at Lago de Atitlan. We’ve got the seeds of plans to return in less than a year and spend a great deal more time on it’s shores. Looking at an apartment advertised for $150 a month that was not fancy, but surely adequate, got our wheels turning. It is our new favorite place in the world.
We made better time than we expected, heading south toward Guatemala City. It’s not nearly as big as Mexico City, and it seems a little better organized, but without any more than a map of the big highways, we were solidly lost within about fifteen minutes of entering the city. It seems straightforward enough in the atlas: take CA-1 into the center of town and hang a left on CA-9. Right. We stopped three times to ask directions. Each time we were told basically the same thing, “Turn around here, then ‘recto, recto, recto….” (straight, straight, straight) then left at the sign.” It didn’t matter which direction we were facing, we were assured it was a left turn, and as for signs, we didn’t see one, not ever, in the whole city. The fourth stop was under an overpass, where a bunch of taxis were parked, waiting for who knows what. Taxi drivers always know the best way around, so I hopped out with my map and increasingly plastered on smile. The driver I asked gave me the same set of directions, sending me in yet another direction. And then he was there, halo shining gold in the sunlight… or maybe that was the gold that decorated his four front teeth that blinded me with the reflective glare… our Virgil, waiting to show us the path out of purgatory. I showed him the map and told him the directions. He shook his head. “No, no, that’s all wrong. It’s this bridge here, overhead, and then curve right, then left, then the round about…” his words all blurred into one long foreign strand. I kept smiling. “If you like, I can take you there, clear out of town to the CA-9.” “How much?” I ask, nothing’s for free, not even from Dante-esque characters. “75Q” he replied with his golden grin. Tony looked at me dubiously. “I don’t think so. I think we’ll just go with the other guy’s directions and the map, it seems like we’re close.” I looked at him hard, mustering one more fake smile, “As the girl who has to get out and ask fifteen more times in my third language, nine bucks is cheap. If you have any love for me, you’ll pay up and follow this guy out of town.” Tony saw right through the smile, winked at me and stuck out his hand to the cab driver: “Deal. Naturally, we’ll pay after we get there.”
It was a long, snaky path through the national capital before we finally saw the sign, not for CA-9, as the map indicated, but for “Ruta Atlantico”… the route to the Atlantic Ocean, that was roughly where we were going and a cheer was raised from the back seat. The cabbie pulled us over, gamely made change for the 100Q note we had (we were sure he was going to fleece us for that extra 25Q) and pronounced a blessing and God’s grace over our trip before waving us with much fanfare into the intersection, shouting after us, “Recto, recto, recto! Don’t turn until you see the ocean!”
Tonight finds us in San Felipe, on the shores of Lago Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala. We can’t get over the temperature difference between Lago de Atitlan and here, at sea level. It’s almost unbearably hot, even at six in the evening, and humid as well. Our hotel is within walking distance of the Castillo San Felipe, an old fortress built to stave of the pirate attacks that were rampant in this part of the world in the 1500-1700s… very ‘Pirates of the Caribbean-esque.’ We toured the Castillo this afternoon, in the hottest part of the day, dripping with sweat and the children were delighted to be its only inhabitants, hooting and hollering and firing the ancient cannons with delight.
The sun is setting now. We’re still sitting by the pool. The children are eating dinner. Tomorrow morning, while the air is still tolerably cool, they are going to draw the monkeys, macaws and kinkajou that are in captivity here into their journals. Gabriel, foolishly, touched paws with one of the monkeys, he is lucky to have escaped without a bite. Tomorrow we head north toward Flores, and then Tikal. We have no schedule and will simply go as far as we can and stop when we find something interesting to look at, just like we did today.