The bus ride returning from Tikal was particularly more amusing than the bus ride out there due to us being awake throughout this journey. We were now able to see not only the beautiful landscape from our front seat row, but also the absurdly well-coordinated and multi-tasking bus driver. It shouldn’t be a shock to me anymore, the lackadaisical attitude towards safety of South and Central American bus drivers, but I still struggle to conceal the anxiety building up as I witness a him negotiating speed bumps and curvy roads with a non-functioning speedometer and a texting habit. Thankfully and obviously, I’ve lived to share yet another long-haul bus ride story.
Our reward for making it through to the next level of Guatemala fun times was a trip to Pollo Campero for dinner. Pollo Campero is the KFC of Guatemala, but even though it’s not the height of Guatemalan culinary traditions, it still warrants a taste test as does any fried chicken establishment. For the most part, I can’t say I’ve ever really had bad fried chicken and this was no exception. I’m sure there are fried chicken connoisseurs out there who would say otherwise but I’m fairly certain that as long as you have the fried skin on your chicken, it will be delicious. The one thing I’ll never understand about fried chicken establishments outside of the U.S. is that they always serve french fries as the go-to side. There’s never the option of mashed potatoes, even in The Netherlands, which to me is mildly sinful.
With our fried chicken fix squared away, our next field trip in Guatemala was to Lago de Atítlan, where we stayed in a posh hotel in Panajachel. With two days and one night to discover this area we quickly made our way to the main shopping street where my annoyance with shopping was reconfirmed and I was schooled by Claudia and Vanessa in the finer techniques of haggling. Unlike me, Claudia and Vanessa are very adept at the art of haggling, which is probably why they enjoy this thing more than I do. Claudia especially. I’ve never seen a more stubborn instance of someone not taking any shit from anyone. She was like The Godfather. She said a price and she absolutely refused to pay a single cent more than that. I actually began to wonder whether some of the Spanish that I wasn’t picking up on was actually her threatening them into submission. It was intense and she obviously made these merchants offers they couldn’t refuse. She stated her price and that was final. The merchant would eventually come around and perhaps shoot you a disapproving stare afterwards, but in this country, business was clearly business.
I’m sure no matter how hard I’ll try this is one of those engrained characteristics I’m stuck with from growing up in the United States, and that is I don’t like confrontation and uncertainty in regards to the fair exchange of goods. To me, spending and exchanging money should be a private, anonymous and refundable deal. With haggling and customized prices for goods that change depending on the negotiating skills of the consumer, these set standards go out the window. In the end I gave it the old college try and wound up purchasing a rather large volume of table runners that I would now have the challenge of packing into more already stuffed daypack.
For me, the most enjoyable part of Pana was the boat ride across the lake to two small villages courtesy of Claudia’s cousin. I still love being on the water, boats and sunshine, so all was agreeable to me. From what I understood, Atítlan was one of the deepest lakes on the continent, it’s surrounded by volcanoes and also provides some opportunities for high altitude diving which is good to note for future return trips.
Next stops: Black sand beaches in Monterrico and a night out in Antigua