Overland miles: 3909 Tacocount: 68 Days without Sodas: 3
[Apologies prawn-lovers for the lack of regular updates to the blog of late, but since we left Guatemala we decided to go ‘off-grid’ for a few days, a truly terrifying experience that involved being unable to connect wirelessly to the Internet for over a week, currently being written up in a guest post for the fantastic Nokidsnomortgage.com. We’ve now managed to catch up with our record of recent plates and places, and will be posting them here over the next few days. So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Clare, to continue her alphabetical exploration of San Pedro, for your pleasure – Jovian]
Welcome to the final, thrilling part of Prawns for Breakfast‘s essential A-Z guide of all things San Pedro. Here, we’ll tell you about the locals’ preferred mode of transport, our daily dodging of electric shocks and explore why so many people never get round to leaving this place.
S: STREET VENDORS
We’d been given the heads up about San Pedro’s army of street vendors before we arrived. The town is home to various cake ladies and paparapas (popcorn) boys, who ply the streets and bars selling their wares. Our favourite was veteran cake lady Rosalia, a Guatemalan Grandmother in her 70s, who majestically carried baskets of enormous cakes on her head in the traditional style, occasionally stopping off at Buddha Bar for a quick game of pool (having removed the cake crown first). Unfortunately, the banana bread here, even the loaves from the mighty Rosalia’s oven, were a long way off the high standards set in Antigua (the loaf we tried tasted like washing powder may have been one of its ingredients) so we’ve had to politely decline ever since.
T: TUK TUKS
Given that most of the streets in San Pedro are barely wide enough to fit a car through them, it’s only logical that people use tuk tuks (motorised tricycles quite often associated with Asia) as their primary method of transportation around the town. For the tuk tuk drivers, personalising your tuk tuk so it stand outs from the crowd is paramount. Some will be pimped out with a natty range of go-faster stripes and evangelical slogans (see also; off-key singing) – the Guatemalan equivalent of ‘Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam’. Most of them will also proudly bear the name of their driver’s novia (sweetheart) or the girl of his dreams, such as Maria, Luisa or Juanita. We were quite intrigued about one particular tuk tuk called Kevin but couldn’t manage to get a picture of it unfortunately. Here’s a photo to give you an idea of what they look like:
U: UNSAFE SHOWERS
In school you’re always taught that electricity and water don’t mix. Well, in Guatemala, this basic rule of science is pretty much ignored. Every shower we took saw us dice with danger thanks to the fact that Guatemalan showers have live electric wires perilously close to the shower head itself. To give you an idea of what we mean, here’s a picture of the shower in our homestay…
The black wires to the right of the shower head are live wires, powering the heating element and a scant amount of plastic tape is all that protects you from the electricity. Given that the showers are built for people of Guatemalan stature (i.e. short) we were lucky to emerge from our showers unscathed but some of our companions reported trying to adjust the settings and inadvertently connecting to the current; thankfully the charge they received was nothing too strong, but they were a little shocked to say the least.
As we mentioned before, Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and we decided to get a better view of them by climbing what’s known locally as El Nariz Indio (The Indian’s Nose), due to its hook-like shape. We started our trek at 7am (having eschewed the 3am dawn climb in favour of a decent night’s sleep) and arrived at the peak at around 8.30. The early start was worth the effort and we were rewarded with panoramic views across the lake, taking in the impressive Volcan San Pedro as well as the neighbouring villages of San Juan and San Pablo.
We’d read about whiskil (also written as ‘quisquil’), a native Guatemalan vegetable, before we arrived in the country and weren’t sure what to make of it. Our host family had a whiskil plant on their roof and it produces furry-skinned yet curiously verdant fruit, rather like a giant kiwi. But it seems that this strange fruit is in fact related to the marrow family, or at least that’s what we could work out judging by the plant that was growing as vigorously as a Little Shop of Horrors cutting up there. Taste-wise, it’s like a slightly sweet, applely potato, and has a similar texture to a courgette, minus the seeds. Generally, it’s served alongside other vegetables at lunchtime where it’s pretty inoffensive. However Jovian ended up eating a whole one for breakfast – an experience which has put him off whiskil ever since.
San Pedro is a very noisy place. As well as hearty Christian singing drifting on the air, and the sounds of bands practicing for the Independencia celebrations, our days were regularly punctuated by loud explosions that sounded rather like a canon being fired. These booms generally started around 6am and occurred at seemingly random intervals during the day, leaving us feeling pretty shell-shocked after our first week. On further enquiry, we discovered that these explosions were actually from the local Catholic Church, not proclaiming the end of the world but rather summoning people to their services, making the gentle peel of English church bells pale into insignificance.
Y: YOU’ll NEVER LEAVE
We were warned about the pull-factor San Pedro exerts on its visitors when we arrived. And it’s true: the prices are cheap, scenery stunning and the living easy. Given the propensity of places in Gringoland dedicated to making both Brits and Yanks feel right at home, it’s not difficult to understand why so many expats have settled here. However, this also makes it all a little unreal. While it’s nice to have a taste of home every now and again, the idea of being in such a far-away place, yet still being able to order a cup of PG tips with your full English breakfast whilst watching the Premier League results come in, doesn’t sit too comfortably with us. So after four weeks of intensive Spanish classes we’ve decided our time is up. We need to tear ourselves away and continue with our journey into the heart of Central America.
Last, but not least, one of our final adventures in Lake Atitlan was experiencing the Santa Clara ‘canopy’ (zip-lining) tour, which – along with rappelling (abseiling) involved being attached to a steel cable hundreds of metres in the air and travelling along it at frighteningly fast speeds to another platform. Along with some fellow students, we journeyed in the back of a pick up truck up into the mountains to see what it was all about.
Our first line was the introductory one, meant to whet the appetite for the second, bigger, faster, longer, star of the show. One by one we stood on a small wooden platform and then jumped off, over a 40 metre gap, speeding towards the other side of the crevice where a local stood with a makeshift breaking device.
The second was an altogether more scary affair. At 2,500 metres high and spanning a gap of 450 metres, we were struggling to see the platform on the other side. We were given the option of travelling this line in the normal style, or adopting the ‘superman’ position, i.e. being suspended from a clip on the back of your safety belt rather than the front, freeing your hands and legs to pose like the man of steel as you hurtle along. Not being a fan of heights, I chickened out and was suspended from the line in the normal fashion, but Jove braved the superman technique:
And that’s all folks. We hope you enjoyed this potted guide to San Pedro but all good things have to come to an end. Next up – El Salvador…