Wanting to cram as much as possible into the short week that Arnaud was traveling with me in Guatemala, we decided to try and get from Lanquin all the way to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan in one day. It’s a long journey. Though it was one that made me reconsider my earlier opinions about shuttle buses! They are not necessarily faster or more comfortable than chicken buses. But more importantly, they are far less entertaining!
I was happy to note that we didn’t even have one cocky ex-pat hostel owner running his errands on our shuttle for the return to Antigua. There was, however, one extra person on the shuttle already present when the other twelve of us piled in from El Retiro. This was of no consequence until we reached Coban. There, we were approached by a hostel owner and was told that the shuttle had been overbooked, and since he had two paying customers waiting to get onboard, would the person who bought their ticket last please own up to it and get off the shuttle? His question was met with silence at incredulity. I mean, come one! How is it that person’s fault that their hostel took their cash for a seat when there weren’t enough?
Just when I had visions of having both of my butt cheeks slammed by a fourth person in our already crammed three person row, Francesco, a lovely Italian traveler we met, piped up and set the owner straight: “No, nobody is getting off of this bus.” Surprisingly, the owner relented.
After nearly 2 hours on the road and not having eaten anything since waking at 5am, I am not even the slightest bit guilty to tell you that I have never been happier to stop at a McDonalds as I was when we subsequently pulled into its parking lot. In Guatemala, the drive-thru is called “McDrive” which I thought hilarious. The quality of the food is also much higher than back home, and I thought it was apt that they also had “Desayuno Tipico” on the menu!
On our approach to Guatemala City, Francesco suggested that it might shave an hour or two off of several of our journeys if we elected to transfer to Chicken Buses for the rest of the journey to the Lake. The driver kindly agreed to drop us off in Santa Lucia because it was more “seguro” than Guate for a bus change. Since my McMuffin was but a distant memory at this point, I decided to run over to the market and grab us some street food, which consisted of corn tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, and chicken. Standing with two backpacks and one purse attached to me, I tried to balance my tortilla sandwich carefully as I took a bite. Delicious.
Not one minute later, but Francesco’s bus to Chichi pulled up and we all yelled our goodbyes and see you in Pana’s! As the bus pulled away, one of the luggage workers yelled at us for our destination, which we’d already told him three times, and when we replied “Panajachel” – a whole bunch of Guatemalans started yelling for the bus that was pulling away to stop while the worker started yanking at my backpack to throw it up on the roof. Unfortunately, my purse was wrapped over my mochilla’s straps, so no matter how hard he yanked it wouldn’t come free. My plated lunch subsequently flew in the air destined to become the best meal a stray dog had eaten in weeks on the street. Amidst the chaos we managed to get aboard while running alongside the bus and being dragged in by a flapping arm.
Once inside the bus, we relearned the meaning of “packing them in tight”. Just getting past the conductor required bodily contortion, and then once standing happily in the aisles, we were ordered to sit on one of the people who were seated two to a seat. So the next two hours or so consisted of balancing half of my rear end facing out toward the aisle on the seat, trying to ignore the pain in the other half, listening and smelling the drunk guy next to me who kept swilling corn liquor and talking to me in Mayan, holding onto the seat bars in front of me like my life depended on it while the driver cranked the engine to maximum tearing around sharp bends at such velocity it was more excitement than Space Mountain.
Yes, this was far more entertaining than a shuttle.
As a whole, Guatemalans are a relaxed people and they usually operate on Guatemalan time. Well, this societal norm was given a strict kibosh on this chicken bus. It was hilarious the way people would squeeze their way to the front, yelling at the driver that this was his or her stop, and then watch in amazement at how the driver would slam on the brakes, the doors would open, and the person was literally flung from the bus mid-air so that the driver could begin accelerating once again.
After having only had one bite of my lunch I eagerly bought a bag of papaya from one of the many vendors who board the bus for a couple of stops to sell snacks.
The hurrying bus paid off, and despite having to change buses two more times, we arrived in Panajachel in about 1 ½ hours less than the scheduled shuttle. Sore asses and blistered hands (from holding on for dear life) aside, I’m committed to mass public transit moving forward!
On arrival in Pana, Arnaud and I walked the streets looking for a hostel. Upon observing the crowds of backpackers and seeing the souvenir-lined streets, we looked at each other and we both knew that we were heading for the lake to catch a boat to San Pedro instead.
As if our butts had not received enough punishment, the boat across the lake this late in the afternoon proved to be rather choppy, and we had stupidly decided to sit at the front of the boat where we could see all the pretty scenery. Dumb decision. The front of the boat lifted clear out of the water and smacked back down taking us with it on a seat-losing agonizing 45 minutes during which the wooden benches continued to whack us in our pained rears.
We were so relieved to fall down on our beds at the lovely Gran Sueno guesthouse that evening, a full twelve hours after leaving Lanquin.
And despite the long journey, turned out the only bad thing that happened was that I dropped my lunch.
Where: Gran Sueno Guest House, San Pedro La Laguna
When: March 12
How: see above!