The last day we had in Antigua was spent wandering to those parts of town we had not spent much time exploring. We were staying in the Tourist Police Campground which turned out to be but a block or two from both the bus terminal and the central market. And this just happened to be Market Day.
Even with an overcast sky the color of the Guatemalan markets is just amazing, with as much of it coming from the clothing of the women as the fruits, vegetables, and other goods they are selling.
And what with Mom busy, child management is turned over to an older sister.
This is a common sight in Guatemala and we think in part the reason the Guatemalan people are so physically strong for their small stature and the altitude at which so many of them live. They start carrying heavy loads at a very young age.
Adjacent to the Market area is the bus terminal if one can call it that. There is no building per se, just an enormous area covered with a huge array of buses from all over the countryside. Now you have to understand something about these buses.
First of all, they are called “Chicken Buses” not because they are afraid of anything since they rule the roads, but because very often chickens are part of the huge cargoes they carry in addition to people.
They are all converted American school buses that were too old for further service in the U.S., so were sold into Guatemala. But don’t be fooled. Beneath the amazing paint and chrome they have undergone very extensive modification to their engines, suspensions and drivetrains so that they absolutely blow anything else off the road when you encounter them on the highway.
They move, they corner, they climb up the mountain passes as you would never believe, and their drivers give absolutely no quarter to anyone. Given their paint and decoration they certainly have cousins in other countries–Pakistani buses are a famous example–but frankly are unmatched for power and maneuverability anywhere we have been. They are absolutely awe-inspiring!
From Antigua we decided to go to Panajachel on famous Lake Atitlan, a beautiful lake surrounded by three volcanoes and often described as one of the most beautiful places on earth. The usual route is one of major roads and through several cities, but one of them held Market Day when we planned to go and the town is apparently nearly impossible to cross when that is happening. So instead we decided to take a back road for the fifty miles between Antigua and Panajachel.
We did manage to encounter women marching on International Women’s Day but fortunately it was going the other way so we were not held up for very long. Note the protection they are provided immediately in front of us.
But from just about this point on we were well off any beaten trail. Instead of the hour or so we anticipated it taking us we were three hours climbing and descending severe mountain roads, and midway through the journey had to traverse a river where the bridge had been washed out.
We did have some advance information on the road and the river fording from our German friends Uwe and Claudia who had done the route the day before, nearly destroying the rear bumper of their beautiful compact RV in the process, so there were few surprises but it was nevertheless rather arduous. Uwe and Dave gave it an afternoon of work and the bumper was soon back on and failed to interrupt their trip south to South America over the next four years.
Lake Atitlan is amazingly beautiful, however.
But the same smoke from farmers burning crops we had encountered on the drive had blown out onto the lake as well, so that by late morning each day the volcanoes were invisible from our campground just outside Panajachel and the winds strong enough to make crossing the lake a bit risky. So we cut short our stay and moved on to the low country and Rio Dulce on the way to the Caribbean side of Central America.