Posts Tagged With: San Pedro la Laguna

Saying goodbye to San Pedro

It’s amazing how quickly you can grow to love a place and think of it as home. As my last week of classes drew to an end, I found myself with a growing pit of dread in my stomach: I was not at all looking forward to saying goodbye to San Pedro. The festivities of Semana Santa provided a bit of a distraction, as did special events like celebrating my teacher Elizabeth’s 21st birthday by going out to dinner:

Elizabeth enjoying Wiener schnitzel at Cafe Atitlán

Our class also took a field trip to local beach after school that Thursday, which involved catching a ride to get there:

The last day of classes was a tad anticlimactic: while the other students finished their lessons that morning, Elizabeth and I had moved our class to the afternoon due to the early Good Friday processions… but by the time school time rolled around after lunch, we were exhausted, hot, and burned out. The town was swamped with tourists (mostly from Latin America), and the heat wave made it difficult to concentrate. I convinced Elizabeth that our last day together would be much better spent enjoying a licuado (smoothie). Sooo much better than attempting to squeeze in another verb tense! 🙂


There was no fun-filled karaoke farewell party, as I had been excitedly planning. My group of friends climbed the stairs of Alegre Pub on Friday night – their normal karaoke night- only to be greeted by horrific dance music, a smoke machine, lasers, and the scantily-clad Brahva girls (picture your typical group of young, attractive beer-or-alcohol spokespeople) dancing up a storm. I guess the pub had tried to up the ante for Semana Santa weekend. We spent the remainder of the night at the decidedly more relaxed Sublime, where we could enjoy the bonfire along the water.

With Max, Lauren, and Paul (who is both completely amazing and potentially insane to be biking from Alaska to South America. As in, on a bicycle. Check out his spectacular website at The Ride South).


The next day, Saturday, was my last in San Pedro. I spent the morning running around: finishing errands, buying a thank-you carrot cake at Cafe Cristalina’s for my homestay family, buying souvenirs, and failing in my final attempt to attend a yoga class in San Pedro. (THANKS FOR THE NOTIFICATION, SAN PEDRO YOGA, THAT YOU NEVER SEEM TO OPEN YOUR DOORS). Part of me knew that I would need to keep busy to avoid thinking about the inevitable: leaving my new family and the people in town that had come to be my neighbors and friends over the last month.

I’ll admit it: the last lunch with my family was very emotional for me. It’s hard to say goodbye to people who have shared their home, their meals, and their lives with you for four weeks. I loved my homestay family, and I hope that I will be able to see them again.


I also bid farewell to many of the other new friends I had made:

Rene, the head of Orbita Spanish School (with Elizabeth)

Josefina, who runs the best licuado stand in San Pedro (also a favorite of Nadine and Miguel!)

I only walked past Manuel’s storefront about fifteen times a day. When he wasn’t busy playing his xylophone, he would always give me a friendly “Buenas.”

When I boarded the lancha to Panajachel for the last time, it was with a heavy heart, which will always fondly remember my time in San Pedro.

Leaving paradise

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A hike to Nariz del Indio

The day after Domingo’s birthday, he and his friend Samuel guided a group of us on a hike to Nariz del Indio, or Indian Nose, which is the hill on the opposite side of the lake that is visible in just over half of my photos. (What can I say? It’s picturesque).

There are several options when attempting this relatively easy hike. Some people opt to start in the wee hours of the morning in order to see the sun rise. Others start from the lake side of the hill and complete the 2-3 hour hike from there. Still others take some form of transportation to the town of Santa Clara on the other side of the hill from the lake; from the town, the hike to the top takes just over an hour. Because I A) wanted to sleep in on Sunday, and B) am a wuss, an hour’s hike seemed sufficient for me.

We took a shuttle to Santa Clara, where we did a quick stroll through the town to get to the head of the path. At one point, a group of local schoolboys accompanied by their chaperones walked along with us on their way through the woods.

Entering Santa Clara

Sex ed mural outside a community clinic



Our last few steps near the summit were interrupted by the sound of a woman wailing. Just next to the path, a small group of local people were worshipping; I could not see if there was a small shrine, but the women and men there knelt with their hands on the ground, loudly crying out in voices that oscillated between singing and sobbing. Domingo explained that the people were preparing for Holy Week.

At the top, drenched in sweat (or maybe that was just me), we took our obligatory landscape photos. While we could see some amazing views of San Pedro and some of the other towns, the weather was unfortunately very cloudy and obscured much of the lake. A local family of a father and two elementary school-aged children had reached the summit at the same time. Content, the dad proceeded to take the Sunday paper out of his pocket, sit down on a tree stump, and read while his kids scoped out the view. Now that’s the way to spend a Sunday!


Overlooking San Pedro

Domingo and Max enjoy the view

Samuel, our guide, scopes out the lake

Dean, looking majestic

20140427-102423.jpg Check out those steps!

As we descended, the weather started to cool. By the time we walked through the town -seeing some awesome medical and dental clinic facades along the way- and back to the road, it was downright cold and a slight drizzle began to fall. I envied Dean, who had brought along his windbreaker, as we waited in vain for another shuttle. After a time, a truck approached us on the road. Domingo briefly consulted with the driver, and we hopped in the back of the truck bed. This is a totally typical event here in Central America: trucks with entire families in the back or, even more commonly, about 25 men standing and holding onto the added metal barriers, drive down the roads and highways. It’s just a more basic local version of a taxi or bus, yet it has still taken me a while to get used to seeing it, because that just does not happen where I’m from. Still, despite what felt like possible damage to my tailbone from my awkward sitting position on a corrugated plastic truck bed, the ride back to San Pedro was reeeeally fun.

This lab tech literally thinks he’s God’s gift to dentistry 😛


What was supposed to be a mutual thumbs up ended up with me wearing a rubber nipple on my head

20140427-102527.jpg Bwah hah!

What’s not to love?

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I fell in love with San Pedro

[4/26: Many thanks to all my follower friends who emailed this post back to me after the original mysteriously disappeared into the ether. I have reposted and updated it with larger photos: are these too large, or do you prefer the detail? Any opinions? Please share: thanks!]

I wake up at about 5:30 in the morning to the sound of a man singing. It’s disorienting at first: what’s happening? What’s going on? As my eyes open, I realize that it’s a local pastor preaching in the streets. I hear him once or twice a week. I fall back asleep.

The next time I wake up before my alarm, it’s to the sound of clapping. Not applause, only an unfamilar, syncopated clapping: Linda is making tortillas upstairs in the kitchen. I close my eyes and fall asleep one more time.

My alarm goes off at 6:00. I’m supposed to be meeting my friend Ken for our morning walk in ten minutes, so I throw on my clothes and hiking shoes, slip a bottle of water and my camera in my backpack, and head out from the house. I’m staying with a local family, and although they’re already up, they won’t expect me for breakfast until 7:30.

My walk takes me down a neighborhood road that runs parallel to the shore of the lake. San Pedro la Laguna is just one of the many pueblos along Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala. It’s a bizarre mixture of indigenous people and hippie expats, but so far, I’m really liking it. I pass by a number of tiendas which have yet to open, and I avert my eyes to provide some privacy to the women who are standing waist-deep in the lake in their bras, already busy bathing and doing laundry at this early hour.


I can see Ken waiting for me at the corner near the dock where the lanchas leave for Panajachel. (The locals have coined this area between the docks “Gringolandia,” a term not always used affectionately). I’m glad that he suggested these walks: he wants to prepare to climb the volcano in San Pedro again this weekend (his last attempt was successful but painful, he says), and I need to break in my shoes – and my feet- for the Camino in Spain next month. I know that otherwise I wouldn’t be getting up this early! Our walk is just less than an hour, but it’s a great workout, because the first half is entirely up the steep hills of the town. We pass the local people heading to work, women carrying baskets on their heads, kids in their white polos and navy pants or skirts on their way to school, and men in straw hats holding their machetes. The majority greet us with a friendly “Buen-os diiiiii-as” in a singsong voice.

The first part of the walk is torture for me, but we talk the whole way. The views of the town and the lake when we arrive at our summit make the trip worthwhile. On sunny mornings, the sky is clear, the lake is blue, and I’m pleased that I dragged myself out of bed.



Ken is not at all disturbed by the effigy hanging from the tree



Then it’s back home to stretch, do some situps (be gone, spare tire!) and quickly shower before breakfast. Nadine and Michel (or Miguel, now that we’re studying Spanish), a German couple also living at the homestay, are already sitting at the kitchen table. The kitchen is located on the roof of the house and is open-air with a wood-burning stove. Our host family is a couple, Linda and Domingo, but we are usually joined by a number of members of Domingo’s family: his mother, Elena; his father, Juan, and his younger brother, Lolo, who drives a tuk-tuk. We eat three meals a day together in the house, except for Sundays. I am thrilled with the food here. Not much meat, but enough eggs, beans, cheese, and vegetables to keep me happy. (Linda has gotten used to me breaking out in spontaneous applause when I see what’s cooking). We speak only Spanish at the table. One lucky thing is that Spanish is not the first language of anyone at the table: our hosts’ lingua franca is Tz’utujil, a Mayan tongue. This means that the vocabulary used is easier for us learners to understand! The family switches back and forth between the two languages when speaking with each other.

Coffee beans drying on the roof

Linda roasting cocoa beans

After breakfast, we take the three-minute walk to class. We are studying at the Orbita School, where our morning classes last from 8:30 to 12:30. Sometimes it’s hard for me to concentrate, because our “classrooms” are open-air and overlook the lake and the surrounding hills. I see a boat or some kayaks or a fire on the other side of the lake, and suddenly my mind is not on Spanish. Oops. But it’s preferable to being stuck indoors on a beautiful day! Elizabeth, my teacher, is the younger sister of my host Linda and keeps me in line.


20140426-161539.jpgThe view from my desk


Every day at 11am, we take a snack break. (Not gonna lie: this is my favorite part of the school day). We’ll have coffee or tea with something like guacamole and tortillas or chuchitos, which are dumpling-like snacks made of cornmeal wrapped around a piece of chicken in tomato sauce and then boiled in a corn husk packet. (The teachers have also gotten used to my spontaneous applause upon seeing chuchitos. They’re so crazy good).

Buying bread with Elizabeth for our snack break



After classes, we have the rest of the day free between lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7pm. The first week of school, I was wiped out by a horrible stomach bug, but since my antibiotics kicked in, I’ve been able to do a lot of different activities in the afternoons. Many times, it’s just going to a cafe or restaurant with wifi, grabbing a coffee (Guatemalan coffee is phenomenal), and finishing my homework. There’s a pool near the dock to Santiago, kayaks for rent for 10 quetzales (less than $1.50) per hour along the lake, and plenty of rocks to jump off into the water. One of these days, I’d like to try horseback riding. I’m on a futile quest to find a yoga class in San Pedro that’s actually open as advertised. Also, many of the local bars have free movie nights and activities, which makes traveling on a budget MUCH easier.


20140426-162049.jpgTuk-tuks in Gringolandia

20140426-162059.jpgKen, Linda, Nadine, and I at Cafe Cristalina’s, where Linda tried her first cappucino

The evenings are mellow for me and most of my friends here. San Pedro definitely has an intense party scene, and it’s very obvious that any assortment of drugs are available for the taking if you just ask. As this is TOTALLY not my scene, I’m grateful to have met a lot of friends who are also students. Most of us still like to go out and be social but not take it to the extreme that we frequently see around us. (I can’t remember the last time that I had to forcibly decline tequila shots from other bar patrons). Megan from Seeking Somewhere joked, “Yeah, I can’t stay out. It’s my bedtime in San Pedro time.” I completely get where she’s coming from. Here, it hits 9pm, and I am tired.

I let myself back into the house in the evening. Usually, a handful of family members are watching TV – most likely soccer- in the living room (although they all live in another house). After a chorus of “Buenas noches!”, I return to my room, read a bit, and go to bed. Tomorrow’s another day of school.


Dusk at Indian Nose

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Religion in San Pedro

One of the first things that you notice upon arriving in San Pedro la Laguna is the ubiquitous nature of all things religious. Signs and banners with Psalms, Scripture passages, and religious messages cover the streets. Even the buses and tuk-tuks are labelled with things like “Cristo es El Rey.” There are thirty-seven churches in San Pedro; of these, one is Catholic and the rest are evangelical. As mentioned in a recent post, it was not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning to the sound of preaching. Singing can be heard throughout the day and evening from any of the churches in the town. Most of the music is very pleasant; however, one church in particular across the water from our school (you know who you are, little green church with the star!) employed a cantor who was less than skillful in terms of pitch. Nearly every morning, our lessons were accompanied by the sound of the church band’s bass and guitar and their warbling singer. I tried hard, without much luck, not to be distracted.





I attended Mass with Elizabeth, my teacher, the first Sunday after I had arrived in town. I was happy that I had brought a pashmina to cover my shoulders, because the vast majority of the women in church covered their heads with woven scarves during the service. Not that this helped me blend in at all, mind you, as I was about a foot taller than most of the people in the room. I decided against covering my head: with my hair in a top-knot, any additional height would have turned me into an awkward mountain of many colors in the middle of the pew.



As the Mass continued, I was pleased to realize that I could follow along and understand much of the readings in Spanish. Sweet, I thought, I *have* learned a lot so far. Until the homily, where the flow of Spanish was interrupted mid-sentence like music on a scratched CD. For a minute, I thought I might be going crazy, but then I remembered that Tz’utujil is another language used in San Pedro. I asked Elizabeth why the sermon was bilingual. She answered that since many of the older people in town speak very little Spanish, the homilies are given in Tz’utujil, but since this language lacks the vocabulary to describe certain people, events, and places (especially Biblical), the priest fills in the blanks with Spanish.

My entire time in San Pedro occurred during Lent, and there were countless processions and celebrations in the town during this time. I will write more in a future post about the more elaborate Holy Week processions with their alfombras, or carpets of flowers, in the streets. This procession, however, occurred on a Friday night two weeks before Easter:

Before the procession, men and boys holding large noisemakers called matracas (thanks for the info, Max!) parade the streets, paving the way for the ondas, or “floats” with sacred images.

A reading from one of the Stations of the Cross (in Tz’utujil!)

Processing to the next station

Processions galore in upcoming posts!

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