Saturday, July 16, 2011

Kayaks, Vocanoes and the ADD Dog

San Pablo La Laguna
With the bike sorted out, we headed back west for Lake Atitlan. My friend Katy's photos of Guatemala, and Lake Atitlan in particular, had a huge influence on my desire to take this trip in the first place. She described hanging around the lake, climbing volcanoes and kayaking to neighboring villages - all while living on a few dollars a day.

We set out for San Pedro, in search of Hotel Peneleu, Katy's lodging of choice in San Pedro. The last part of the ride was really amazing, as was the most intense switch-back descent I've ever seen. As with most roads in Guatemala, we were sharing it with everything from livestock to semi trucks, so a quick blip of the horn let people know to expect us around the next blind, steep 180 degree turn. The above photo is a shot Jill took from the top of the mountain, and here's a shot of part of it on Google Earth:

It was scary steep
When we arrived the town was busy setting up for a festival, so most of the main streets were blocked. We stopped to try and figure out where we were in town, when a woman asked us, in English, if we needed help finding something. Jill said that we were looking for Hotel Peneleu, and she said, "Oh, ok. That man is the brother of Peneleu, he's going there now." He was the brother of Peneleu, and he led us to this view, on the third story of his brother's hotel.

We agreed to three nights at $4 a night, and went out for this amazing dinner:
$5 red wine marinated steak and hand cut fries
The next day we rented some kayaks:

We got the boats for five hours and had a great time paddling around the lake, but found out that three hours was plenty of time in a kayak... Paddling in still water is work, and the lake is huge!  Another meal at the steak restaurant and we headed back to our hotel to rest up for our six AM climb up San Pedro volcano.

When we booked the volcano tour, Maria told us to bring some water, and maybe a snack.
"Will we need raincoats?"
"No, no raincoats, just be here at six."

We arrived at six and met Francisco, our guide. He was 17 and didn't speak much English, but managed to explain that he goes to high school and climbs the volcano twice a week to make money. We figured that if he climbs it twice a week it can't be that hard, but we quickly found out that this was more of a reflection of his physical condition than the difficulty of the climb. We started in the middle of town, and spent the first hour of the hike on the road up to the volcano, which was probably a 5-700 foot increase in elevation.

Hmmm...winded at the base of the volcano, not good.
From there the trail is narrow and steep, alternating between log staircases and craggy rock and dirt inclines. About an hour and a half later you reach what Francisco described as the "halfway point," but according to the map posted there it was the one-third way point. And the point where it got difficult. We were both on the edge of passing out, but managed to get these pictures:

We rested for a few minutes, and started up again. After another 30 minutes of slogging along, we came around a corner and saw row after row of coffee plants. So, we could barely get up there, and local people were coming up, planting crops, harvesting them, and taking them down. The altitude at the lake is around 6,000 feet, so by this time we were at about 8,000. It was pretty amazing, but we were more amazed that we still had 1,000 plus feet to climb. On the last third of the climb the jungle was pretty dense, and the clouds started to roll in...

Jill is at the base of the tree in the center
 And then it started raining...
And after about 4 hours of climbing, we reached the top, home of the best views It's cloudy, here are the pictures we got at the top. 
Soaked, exhausted and "smiling"

Francisco: "I could do this every day!"
Rain and exhaustion are a wonderful combination when descending a 9,000 foot volcano. Muddy, slippery, and quad-busting. Francisco earned every bit of his pay and tip - he waited hours for us to slide our jiggly, weak-in-the-knees gringo bodies down every inch of that god-forsaken volcano, and had the grace to act like he didn't mind a bit. We had hoped to catch a taxi at the base of the trail, but, when you stop to think about it, why would there be an empty taxi sitting at the bottom of a trail in rural Guatemala. At least we had ADD dog, a young husky/lab mix rascal who had been traveling with us most of the way down. Random dogs are a dime a zillion in central america, but this lady found us around 8,000 feet, and stuck faithfully by our side ever since. We trudged down the road, in heavy rain, back to San Pedro. We tipped Francisco at the edge of town, gave him our sincere thanks and headed toward the steak place with our new guide, perro sin nombre (no name dog). As we neared the restaurant we were worried that she had formed some sort of deep attachment to us, as she went wherever we did, and never strayed more than 50 feet from our path. We had conversations about the fact we couldn't possibly keep a dog, we couldn't ship her home, etc... 

We go to the center of town, and a guy in a tattoo parlor shouted "ADD dog, what's up!?" We were relieved to find out that she was the town dog, and habitually found new friends to follow around. She kept following us until we got close to the restaurant, and then left down an alley as inconspicuously as she had appeared. I never thought I would be so sad to see a stray dog wander off. 


  1. Awesome pictures. Looks like you guys are settling back into the trip nicely.

  2. Oh my goodness, i know what you mean about the dog. I still have flashbacks to the hungry little three-legged kitty in Samos, Greece. Perhaps you willprovide me a few photos for my cats of the world calendar. :)

  3. HOLY CRAP!! those pictures are breathtaking!! and I want that puppy! Sounds like you guys are having so much fun... xoxo