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Arnaud on our bike ride to San Marcos

Lake Atitlan, at 1573 meters/5238 feet, is a volcano fringed high altitude lake that is dotted around its shores with a series of villages that contain largely indigenous populations. Arnaud and I were very fortunate to have great weather on the morning we awoke at Gran Sueno, and we decided to forgoe the extremely expensive guided bike tours (at $55 a person) and just rent a few bikes and make our way along the northern “road” towards San Marcos where we planned to stop for lunch. The bikes were not the most modern, but they worked ok. What was a little cause for concern was hearing a grave warning about the road between San Juan La Laguna and San Marcos. Apparently there was a stretch of this route where tourists can be targeted and robbed by bandits. We were given two options: either get a pick-up to drive us through that section, or, if we saw shady looking characters, we could just ride extra fast to get by them.

Hmmmm…?

The "Las Rocas" Jumping Platform

As it turned out, we didn’t see any shady looking characters, just a bunch of farmworkers and locals walking between towns. Maybe they were bandits, but what exactly do bandits look like? More importantly, however, the road was full of very steep inclines that I struggled to push my bike over, sometimes being forced to jump off and heave my bike uphill on foot. If I were a bandit, I’d pick a nice spot at the top of one of these inclines, and then robbing me would be a piece of cake.

“Ride fast through these sections.” Yeah, right. This person had obviously never ridden a bike to San Marcos.

We made it  without any issues other than being exhausted and a little sunburnt. Dropping our bikes and our daypacks off at a hostel for an hour, we set out in our swim wear to find a spot on the lake where we were told it was possible to jump off the rocks into the lake. It was called “Las Rocas”- and it doesn’t appear in any guidebook. Sure enough, just to the right of the boat jetty, we found several wooden platforms, one of which had a “gate”, that you could open if you dared make the easily 30 feet/10 meter jump into the Lake. Arnaud jumped with no fear; I needed some more time to work up the courage. It was a long way down! After Arnaud made his second leap, he waited in the water below shouting encouragement. Someone said to me: “You can’t look, you just have to do it”.

So I did.

The road to San Marcos

What a rush! Not to mention having to re-assemble my bikini after hitting the water. After buying some yummy empanadas on the street, we elected to continue heading east to the last town accessible by the “road”, Tzununa, and then take the boat back to San Pedro from there. Cycling back to San Pedro was not an option for me, I was spent. The next section was unpaved and made the ride a little more fun and challenging. Plus it was mostly downhill. Score. On the boat back to San Pedro I was pleasantly surprised to meet up with a group of travellers from Poland, and I happily chatted to them in Polish about their trip. It always astounds me just how I always run into another Polish person no matter where I am in the world.

On our second and last day, we elected to climb Volcan San Pedro. We paid 100 quetzals each including entrance to the National Park and a guide. We were told that it was a 3 hour steep ascent, however, that didn’t include the hour it took to walk steeply uphill through San Pedro La Laguna to the park entrance! The climb was primarily in forest and it was unrelentingly steep. After 3 hours since departure, I was seriously feeling pain and hunger (especially since we hadn’t had a substantial breakfast). However, once emerging onto the rocky outcrop at the summit, the pain became all worthwhile as the vista revealed itself. The shining lake and surrounding mountains, thankfully free of clouds. We stayed on the summit until clouds rolled in about twenty minutes later, and completed the knee-jarring descent to the park entrance in two hours. Having adopted another hiker to our group, Nico, from Switzerland, we opted to pay for a tuk tuk directly to the Zoola restaurant to down some seriously needed nosh. After a quick shower, it was time for Arnaud and I to grab a shuttle and head back to Antigua in time for his flight home (sniff sniff) the following morning.

At the summit of Volcan San Pedro, 3020 meters

When: 13th and 14th of March

Where: Hotel Gran Sueno, San Pedro La Laguna and Casa Amarillo in Antigua

How: Shuttle from San Pedro La Laguna to Antigua.

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