We arrived from Xela to Panajachel which is one of the small towns on Lago de Atitlan. Panajachel had a similar feeling to Cancun in that it was overrun with gringos and the whole town was geared towards hustling tourist dollars. The saving grace of this little town was that on the outskirts was the Reserva Natural Atitlan. It had a great interpretive centre, some trails to hike and some cool wildlife to check out.
A full day was more than enough time spent in Pana so we caught a boat across the lake to a smaller town called San Pedro la Laguna. The vibe in San Pedro was much more pleasant and has quite a mix of Mayan and other folks from all over the world who have settled here. The town itself has a 'peace and love' groove to it with tons of folks offering holistic therapies for whatever ails you (including stuff like Reiki). There are also tons of hotels and restaurants with great atmospheres and excellent prices.
We decided that the time had come to take some Spanish lessons so we rented a room for a week and signed up with one of the local language schools. This gave us the time to soak up what life is like in one of these little towns (which is definitely at a much slower pace than we're used to).
The best way to get around town in a hurry is on one of the tuk tuks that cruise around from dawn til dusk. The drivers take great pride in their rides and soup them up with paint jobs and assorted bling.
There are many an artist in town as well and in a effort to brighten the town up, there are murals painted everywhere.
We lucked out and were in town for an annual festival called La Dia de la Virgen Maria which kicks off the Christmas season. The whole town comes out to watch the Virgin paraded through the streets before she's set to rest in the town square to watch over the rest of the evenings festivities. Fireworks are set off before her to clear the way of bad spirits and to celebrate the passing of the Immaculate. It's absolute madness as the fireworks (ALOT of them) are set off randomly in the streets and you have to watch out for debris hitting you.
A sad state of affairs for San Pedro is that the lake has become very polluted in the last couple of years. Apparently, the towns sitting on the lake used to have sewage filtration but an earthquake damaged them all a few years ago and the government hasn't repaired them. As a result, raw sewage is now being dumped into the lake causing all sorts of cooties to grow making the lake inhospitable. Needless to say, this has had a big effect on tourism. The locals are left to eke out a living growing maize and coffee which you seen strewn out to dry between the various hotels.
With a little more Spanish under our belts, we're going to brave the chicken buses again and head onward to Antigua.