|Our hotel in Panajachel.|
We rose early, packed our bags, and found a place for breakfast. Panajachel is on the north eastern part of Lake Atitlan, and is well shaded to the east by mountains, so the sun doesn't peak through until later in the morning. I have a theory that this late-rising feature is one of the reasons Gringos flock to this town more than others, but it probably has more to do with road access. Either way, not much was happening at 7 and only one spot was open for breakfast. I actually don't think they were "open" per se, rather their restaurant doubled as their living room, so when we walked up, they were there and welcomed us and our money.
|Another dark blue diesel Toyota. |
I want to drive one.
Our route takes us on the Pan-American Highway, Route #1, and it is amazing. Much of the road is four lanes of smooth concrete. Occasionally it drops down to two lanes, or even just one lane, when we encounter a landslide area. The road is consistently and constantly curving around mountains and reminds me of I-70 though the Rockies in Colorado. The surrounding mountains, however, are all green, all the time. Not much exposed rock or earth. And even the steepest of slopes can have signs of agriculture, the most obvious crop being corn which is dry and brown at this time of year.
|Layers of mountains provide for a twisty ride.|
|The UPC office and|
|In some steep parts there might be strips of concrete.|
We head down highway 1 and soon hang a right onto a tiny one lane gravel road that soon turns to rock and dirt. I can see our driver getting a bit nervous, this is 4wd territory, not a road for tourist vans. As we pass people they have a look of surprise - I'm sure they don't see a vanload of gringos on this path often, if ever.
Up some impossible inclines, occasionally skidding out on the rocks, we crawl up and up the mountain. From about 900m to over 1500m in a matter of minutes. Eventually we arrive at Jacinto and Amanda's homestead. It's incredible, and I'm hit with the overwhelming scent of fermenting coffee and the associated decaying discarded fruit. The vistas of nearby mountainsides were incredible, shrouded in puffs of clouds. This is where you want your coffee to come from, believe me!
|Their house roof, on right, and their coffee drying|
patio, middle. Coffee grading on the roof.
|These beans are drying. If you look closely, you can see the papery husk cracking open on some of the beans. As the beans dry, this husk is loosened. While on the patio, it is a great time to sort beans and pick out any foreign material.|
|Will the woman who grew this coffee please stand up? Amanda!|
|Their farm was surrounded by barbed wire like this, and had amazing views of the mountain forests.|
|I grabbed this picture of the dump truck before|
I knew what was coming...
It's a surprise to find a hotel so big in this tiny town, and learn it is a stopover for businessmen in the area. It appears we're the only ones here. Two of our As Green as it Gets companions need to extend their visas, so they ask the driver to take them to the border with Mexico. I decide to hop in for the ride. Thirty minutes later we arrive to the border town, and almost a half mile of tents and vendors selling all manner of goods line the streets. We crawl past, barely enough room to pass.
It's hard to believe this is the Pan American Highway. Eventually we see the "Bienvenidos" sign welcoming us to Mexico. We pull off the highway to park and walk to the Guatemalan border office. While they get their visas worked out, I stand outside and people watch. There are a lot of people to watch. I stand next to two guys standing with dollies selling tank tops. People walk back and forth, most of them carrying bags of goods. I'm offered money changing services several times by the guys with fanny packs and calculators. I consider entering the office to have my passport stamped, another country officially marked in my book. But I get a little nervous and decide not to. The guys leave the office and head for the border, and ask me to come with. "No, I think I'll stay here and wait" I say. "You don't have to do anything, you just walk over. It's an open border!" they reply. Hmmm. We walk under the arch and enter Mexico. Wow. We wander through the other border town, which is much less busy than the Guatemalan side, then just walk back over into Guatemala.
We rejoin the group in La Democracia and pick them up to go to dinner at Hotel Texas. It's a fun meal and we celebrate Jody's birthday by laughing with her sister who makes some pretty hilarious mistakes with the spanish language. Empty when we arrive, the restaurant fills with travelers. When we return to our hotel, the lot is full and the hotel seems quite busy. The rest of the group gathers for cards and wine, I head to the room and collapse into deep sleep around 9:30.