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.
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!
Pasaj Cap Parties
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!