Guatemala, Part 3 of 3

August 7 – September 19, 2016.

After our grandkids Eva and Noah returned home with their parents on August 7, 2016, we decided to stay another month at Pasaj Cap in San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala. Then we extended our Tourist Visa in Guatemala City where we stayed with our friends Julie and Ricardo. We had to wait a week before picking up our extended visa so we drove to the remote area of Semuc Champey before crossing into El Salvador on September 19, 2016 after 3 incredible months in Guatemala.

Pasaj Cap or Casa de Pierre

While Silver was securely parked, we rented a one bedroom apartment with a killer lake view and all the comforts of home. Pasaj Cap is located on the shores of Lake Atitlan, it’s a fifteen minute walk to the quaint village of San Marcos La Laguna. It is the 15+ year labor of love of a French visionary whit a keen eye for design and a sense of hospitality we have yet to encounter anywhere else. There is a variety of accommodations available from apartments to cottages to camping space for overland rigs! The grounds are immaculate, stone walls and walkways, bougainvilleas covered gates, fruit trees, abundance and varieties of plants and flowers, covered areas to relax with comfy cushions, hammocks  and  barbecue pits. There is no restaurant on site but you can buy wine, beef, shrimps, patés, honey or order fresh chickens from Diego the gardener.

Pierre the owner and Domingo the property manager are always available to make sure you have everything you need for a memorable stay! Pasaj Cap is our Coup de Coeur in Central America and we would definitely visit again for an extended period of time.

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Pasaj Cap from the dock where we catch lanchas (water taxis) to go to the nearby villages

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Our incredible rental!

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It came with a rooftop terrace where we had our morning coffee, read books, did yoga or just hung out and enjoyed the view!

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Rumor has it that the lake has healing properties! Well, all I know is when I got there I could hardly walk because of bad knee pain and my lower back hurt like hell! After 7 weeks of swimming, yoga, fresh air, healthy food, lots of sleep and a few parties I felt AWSOME!!!

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A couple of 90 minute massages by my friend Carolina also contributed to my wellness!

Our friend Mark borrowed our oven to make bread in exchange for a loaf! Paired with the local peanut butter it was the best breakfast a Canadian girl can ask for, specially while looking at a volcano!

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Pierre is the master mind behind Pasaj Cap.  He is the most genuine and attentive host ever! We are now proud to call him our friend!

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Pierre’s three German Shepard’s never leave his site!

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The only other dog allowed to roam around the property is Beagle, Diego’s dog.

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I took one week of Spanish classes. My teacher Cristina, third from the left, came to Pass Cap everyday from 9:30 to 12:30. This photo was taken at the school in San Marcos for graduation day! The majority of Women in the highlands wear their traditional colorful clothing: huipil (top), faja (belt) and corte (skirt). Each Mayan village has its own style of weaving and they are very proud of them.

Pasaj Cap Parties

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Now that we had a house, we could invite our friends Julie and Ricardo who came from Guatemala City for the weekend! Perfect opportunity for a party!

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It was also Mandi’s birthday and Carolina made her a cake!

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Friends for Life: Pierre, Ricardo & Julie, Mark & Saskia from Dream Drive Repeat, Carolina, John & Mandi

San Marcos La Laguna

There are 11 towns and villages around Lake Atitlan. We visited five of them:

Panajachel (Pana) is the largest town and where we would go for specific groceries or just to walk around town, try the many restaurants and our favorite coffee shop: Crossroads Cafe.

San Pedro La Laguna is very popular with backpackers and also offers many restaurants, an ATM, a market and on Sunday a bunch of us would go to Smoking Joes for American style barbecue and drinks, the best deal in town.

Tzununa was the smallest village we visited, it was a nice walk from Pasaj Cap. Atitlan Organics and Bamboo Guest House are located in Tzununa and definitely worth a visit.

San Juan La Laguna another small village is home to cooperatives that sell traditional textiles, paintings, weavings etc. A great place to purchase souvenirs.

But our favorite was San Marcos La Laguna often referred to as hippie heaven, just a short walk from Pasaj Cap it is where we would get most of our fruits and vegetables from the same lady, general groceries at the small store next to the central plaza, visit Fe for pizza or hang out at Il Giardino. If we had to much bags to carry we would get a Tuk Tuk back to Pasaj Cap. After 7 weeks it really started to feel like home.

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One day we were walking to San Marcos when we came across this lady carrying an insane amount of fire wood and a super heavy back pack plus another heavy bag on her right harm. We asked if we could help and she did not hesitate. Joe took her backpack and I took her bag and we could not believe how heavy they both were. I’m not sure of her age but she was well into her sixties maybe more. We carried her bags until we came to a cross road and were going in different directions. Another couple of tourists were walking by in what seems to be her direction so we asked them to take over and gave them her bags! Guatamalan women are some of the most resilient and dedicated we’ve seen.

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Main Street San Marcos! All along the main path from the dock you can find hostels, restaurants, yoga and massage studios, coffee shops, souvenirs …

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Il Giardino, one of our hang outs!

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New friends

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Kathleen, a full time resident of Pasaj Cap, introduced us to her friend Joel. They meet at Fe restaurant, a popular hang out in San Marcos, where they enjoy a beer and a couple shots of Tequila while Joel displays his books for sale. Joel is a retired stock broker turned author who also made his home in San Marco la Laguna.

After leaving San Marcos I purchased two of Joel’s ebooks on Amazon. Phoebe & Earl, A True Story, the story of Joel’s parents, I could not put the book down. I was captivated by Phoebe, an independent young woman going through life in the 20’s and Earl, a young boxer full of potential. Cotton, One Hell of a Woman, was totally different but also a good read, the story of a Basketball Player who ends up in Russia entangled in the underworld of fame, money, sex and drugs.

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Joel invited us for diner and drinks at his beautiful lake front house, just a Tuk Tuk ride away from Pasaj Cap! We had a magical evening filled with laughter, stories, good music, delicious food and plenty of booze! Thank you Joel!

More parties

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Kathleen and I had a good time food shopping in the town of Panajachel to get what we needed for a pizza party! She is hard at work in her kitchen preparing yummy pizza sauce!

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Kathleen’s 2 bedroom Cottage at Pasaj Cap! This is what I call indoor-outdoor living! A retired nurse from California, Kathleen decided to leave the US for a better life abroad and San Marcos is now her home.

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The day before the party I helped Kathleen prepare pizza dough! We made 8 and hate them all!

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The pizza party took place at Pierre’s beautiful house! Kathleen and I getting the pizzas ready!

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Carolina had to flip the dough! She knows how to get a party started, it must be her Colombian pizzazz!

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Mark and Pierre in deep conversation!

 

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Happy group of Travelers, Overlanders and Expats!

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Badass Women

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My very dear friend Saskia is a Raw Food Coach, Author and runs a successful online business called Raw Freedom. We first met in Mexico but we really got to know each other in Guatemala and later in Panama. While I am writing this blog she is Overlanding Solo in Italy! Where will we meet next?

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This dynamic duo Sunny and Karin are the Vagabroads. They left their successful careers to Overland the Pan-American highway from Nashville to the end of the World! They have become very well know in our Overland circles and are now writing a book called “I Can. I Will: Women Overlanding the World” and it looks like I will be part of it. How exiting is that! If you would like to learn more about it or order your copy, visit their web site vagabroads.com

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This is their overland rig: a 1997 80-Series Toyota Lancruiser with a Roof Top Tent.

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Saskia, Josée, Sunny and Karin at Pasaj-Cap!

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Rika who we first met in Belize came to visit us while we were at Pasaj Cap. She has been a Solo Overlander on and off since 1997. She left her native Japan and drove through Russia, Mongolia all the way to Europe. Then all through Africa in a small van. Always alone! Now she is driving the Americas in her Japanese right hand drive Toyota Landcruiser. She sleeps in her car or uses Couch Surfing to meet people along the way! My favorite quote from Rika: “I do everything: driving, navigating, mechanic, planning, logistics but I don’t cook” but she does carry a rice cooker and she loves to eat!

On September 6, 2016 wether we were ready or not we had to leave Pasaj Cap and move on because we had to extend our Tourist Visa for another 3 months. Guatemala is part of the C4 countries along with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Since we were staying 3 months in Guatemala we had to make sure that our Visa was extended before we continued to El Salvador. We left San Marcos and headed for Guatemala City to meet our friends Julie and Ricardo who once again welcomed us in their house. The next day we went to the Immigration office to renew our Tourist Visa. We had to leave our passport and come back to pick it up in a week.

On September 8, 2016 after stocking up on groceries at the Walmart we left Guatemala City direction Semuc Champey. It’s a 300 km (185 miles) but it takes 8 to 10 hours.

Coban

On the way we overnighted at Parque National Las Victoria in the small town of Coban. When we arrived the gate was closed but not locked so we opened it and drove through. The only person we saw was the friendly night guard! We gave him some chicken and one of our fans that we did not use. He was super happy! We had a good night sleep and hit the road the next morning. 90Q ($12)/night

Semuc Champey

The road to Semuc Champey is narrow, rough, bumpy, full of pot wholes, steep, curvy, slow and long! But we made it and it was all worth it!

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Appropriate name for this beautiful Hotel!

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We opted to camp in the parking lot of Utopia Eco Hotel. 50Q($7)/night

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The secluded hotel is surrounded by tropical landscape and overlooks the beautiful river Cahabon (hiden behind the trees) . We stayed 3 nights in this little paradise!

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Best stocked bar in the area!

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From the hotel we got a ride in the back of a pickup truck to get to the pools. On the way back we floated down the river on tubes for more than an hour! (sorry no pictures our camera battery died)

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Ranging from Turquoise to Emerald green, these pools were amazing to swim in!

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It can get pretty busy with tour groups but we made it early to avoid the crowds and we had the place almost to our selves for a while!

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The limestone bottom is responsible for these amazing colors!

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Hiking to the Mirador (lookout).

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View of the turquoise natural pools from the Mirador! This area of the river is 300 meters long.

Lanquin caves

On our way back to Guatemala City from Semuc Champey we stopped just outside of the little town of Lanquin to explore the caves. We camped in the parking lot for the night. 105Q ($15) to camp including the entrance fee to visit of the caves.

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At the entrance we got a guide for 100 Q ($14) which was well worth it because we had no idea where to go and it could have been easy to get lost in the huge cave system! The tour lasted about an hour and was quite interesting. The guide only spoke Spanish but he was mostly pointing out things to look at.

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The guide gave each of us a hand made candle, it was better then our head lamps!

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The guide book mentioned that when you visit the caves at sunset you can see hundreds of bats coming out of the cave when the sun goes down. Joe is patiently waiting for the bats but not to many came out which was a bit disappointing!

Guatemala City

Back in Guatemala City at Ricardo and Julie’s. The plan was to pickup our passport with our extended visa the next day and then head for El Salvador with Ricardo and Julie to spend the weekend on the beach. But apparently faith had other plans.

When we showed up at the immigration office on Wednesday September 14, we had to pay for our visa but the bank’s computer system was down, so we waited… and waited… and waited. Even though we were paying cash, only the bank could take our money. At closing time the system was still not back up so they just closed and told us to back on Monday because it was Independence day and they were closed Thursday and Friday and through the weekend! This is normal for latin America, if it doesn’t happen today it’s will be mañana! But no one really knows when mañana is!

Without a passport we could not leave the country. Ricardo had to be back at work on Monday, they also had reservations and were looking forward to a weekend on the beach. They told us we could stay in their condo while they were away. Once again we were amazed at their generosity.

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On Sundays in Guatemala City and in most large cities in Latin America, they close one of the main boulevards to traffic to allow families to walk, ride their bikes or just hang out.

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But here in this upscale neighborhood (Zone 13) on Ave. Las Americas, what they really like to do is parade their dogs. It is quite entertaining!

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They even have an adoption service!

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An infamous Red Coffin bus, definitely not recommended for tourist! 
 

When we were leaving the City we noticed this replica of the Eiffel Tower straddling a busy downtown intersection. A little research and we found out that it was completed in 1935 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of former president and reformer Justo Rufino Barrios.

 

Monday September 19, 2016 we got our new visa and and headed for El Salvador. When we left Guatemala our TIP (temporary import permit) for our vehicle was expired by one day because of the 5 day delay caused by the system failure at the immigration office. When I tried to explain that to the officer he would not budge and he kept saying we were at fault and had to wait for the supervisor but he did not know when he would be there. We finally settled for $40. We have not paid any bribes since we’ve been on the road but in this situation we were “technically” at fault, so we figured this was our best option!

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Goodbye Guatemala, Hello El Salvador!

Looking back I think Guatemala was one of our favorite if not our favorite country in Central America! Definitely a destination we would visit again specially Lake Atitlan.

Hopefully after reading our 3 part blog you feel the same way and will consider a future visit to this amazing country!

Next, El Salvador … Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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