Guatemala City, Antigua, Panajachel

by Amy

Guatemala might smell better than any place I´ve ever been. I´m on a ¨shuttle¨ride (read: really old van) going from Antiqua to Panajachel and the windows are down and the air has that clean post-rain smell, combined with some sort of flower, pine and grass. It´s an incredible freshness that´s really in contrast to the poverty we´re passing on either side of the van.

I got to Antiqua by taxi with a French girl I met at the airport. We chatted intensely the entire hour long ride from Guatemala City and discovered we´re the same age and appear to have the same deamons gnawing at us. I guess this means either nobody is special or everyone is, depending on how you look at it.

She´s one of those people whose mouths seem to be set in a permanent and subtle grin and she´s incredibly bubbly – a trait I sometimes question, but is so obviously genuine in her that it´s immediately disarming and we talk like old friends. We part ways in Antigua – she confidently in the direction of her hostel, me clumsily looking for any bus that might take me to Pana. We don´t exchange last names or contact information and that´s okay.

There are tiger puppies (whatever you call a baby tiger) caged and for sale along the side of the road on the way to Pana. I see at least three of them. There are also five people in the van. A spanish girl taking up the entire back seat and sleeping, the driver, myself and two women who are also from New York but were born in Argentina and Ecuador. It turns out all three of us are trying to get to Santiago, which is a small town on the other side of Lake Atitlan from Pana. It takes about four hours – two longer than we were told – because of a landslide on the only road that goes to Pana. They haven´t closed it, but have simply blocked that piece of the road and when we pass, the earth is still falling. It´s falling so harshly that at first I think it´s water.

We get by without incident and arrive in Pana near the docks in the dark to learn that the boats don´t run past dusk. It turns out, though, not surprisingly that you can bribe a captain to take you out. We confer quickly and decide we´re definitely doing it – I had been traveling for sixteen hours at that point and really wanted to arrive. They felt the same.

We end up flying across the lake, which is enormous, in a tiny motor boat. We look out into an absolutely pitch black night, but we happen to be crossing during a lightning storm that lights up the sky purple behind the volcanoes that flank the lake. So as you feel like you´re flying into nothing, every few minutes you get the sillouettes of the mountains. They get closer and closer, and we´re going so fast that it seems like at the next strike of lightning we might find ourselves about to crash into them. We appear to be the only boat on what is the largest lake in Central America.

Upon arriving we have to scale a fence to get to the road that will take us to our hostel – a fairly good sign that we may have been lost – but we make it and decide to have dinner together. After nearly 20 hours on the road, the negro modelo I´m served is entirely delicious.