Traffic. Closed roads. Detours. Our car judders over the cobble stones as we try to negotiate a path out of the city. Brightly painted ‘chicken buses’ hurtle down narrow streets spitting black clouds of smoke into the air.
All of these things remind us that Antigua is a walking city, not a driving one. We have been lost in its one-way labrynth and diverted due to religious processions for lent enough times to appreciate the fact that sometimes, having a car can be a hindrance rather than a convenience.
But not today.
Today we are heading to Lake Atitlan, famed for both it’s natural beauty and cultural richness. Images of it are what drew me to the country initially and our original plan was to base ourselves there, rather than Antigua.
But we all know how plans go.
Today, however, I’m excited. And also a little nervous. Our Guatemala experience has gotten off to a rather shaky start (if you consider depressive episodes, melt-downs, arguments and emergency landings shaky); my expectations of how things would pan out have been consistently turned up-side down, causing me to recalibrate on an almost daily basis.
That’s the trouble with expectations. I’m not sure if or when I will ever accept the fact that they are huge waste of energy, both in the making and the readjusting.
Going to the lake for just a few days, rather than the few weeks or months we had initially planned fills me with anxiety for just about every imaginable outcome. If it’s not what I’d hoped, then my dreams of this natural and cultural jewel will have been just that, a mere fantasy I have busied myself with these past few months. I almost don’t want to like it too much though, since we won’t be staying longer than a few days.
I know. Even positive outcomes can fill me with fear. Brene Brown calls it ‘impending joy’ – the fear of good things not lasting.
We emerge from the city past a military check point like no other I have ever seen. Armoured Jeeps converted into tanks line the side of the road; weapons of medium destruction ‘manned’ by fresh faced boys in crisp uniforms. I shudder, still not used to the hangover of crime and violence which carries into the present day from the not-so-distant civil war.
Once on the Pan American highway I can feel the stress of Tyrhone’s engine trouble and halted paramotor career melt away. It’s just me, him, a couple of small backpacks and the open road again. Ain’t nothing much better than that.
We need this. A change of scenery and a chance to catch our breath.
After about an hour the highway is cloaked in a thick mist. We crawl along, unable to see more than a few meters in front of us. It’s crazy. I roll down my window and stick out my arm, surprised by the chill of the air. We haven’t come very prepared for cold weather. I’m not wearing closed in shoes, but I am grateful for the hiking pants and fleece I thought to bring, just in case. Tyrhone perennially wears shorts and a t-shirt so he’ll be fine.
We turn off the highway and wind down into the town of Solola. It’s cold and grey and a light rain falls over it. We follow the road through the town and around the mountains, imagining the view which is hidden by thick mist.
“It’s the Great Wall all over again!” Tyrhone laughs, remembering the fog which comprised our biggest memory of that day.
It was a great day, I think to myself, realising that the wall itself had very little do with it.
We pull into Panajachel, a rather unremarkable town with the standard Pollo Campero (Guatemalan KFC, but better) and a few dodgy looking hotels. We drive down to the waterfront lined with deserted tourist restaurants and can almost but not quite make out the outlines of the three volcanoes presiding over it as the wind picks up and the rain falls harder.
After checking out a few overpriced and underwhelming hotels, we head towards one we read about, El Sol, owned by a Japanese family with good reviews. It’s spotlessly clean and surrounded by flowering trees with a view of the green hillside behind it. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen so far, and it has parking.
We wander through the neighbourhood on the outskirts of town, gathering supplies for the evening. The weather is going to keep us indoors, with hopes that tomorrow will bring some sunshine. We walk into a store which is almost pitch black. A bare bulb flickers on. The friendly shop keeper emerges from the darkness with a smile that lights up the place more than the 60 watt.
He assists us with selecting a nutritious swag of Cheetos, chocolate chip cookies, ice ream and soda. Traditional Guatemalan fare, basically.
I balance it out by purchasing a few bruised bananas from a kind local woman.
Our experience of Lake Atitlan is nothing like I imagined so far, and yet, I’m having fun. It’s just me and Tyrhone on another adventure, staying at a Japanese hotel in Guatemala (with resident bunnies!), eating junk food and watching Parks and Recreation on his lap top.
Living the dream. Not the one that I concoct in my mind about how things should be, but how they really are.
Blessed. Happy. Fun.
Because travel stories are like life stories, you have to live your own.