After having to leave my motorcycle in Mexico at the border for not having the right paperwork, I boarded a chicken bus headed to Lake Atitlan, my next SUP destination. 6 hours and 4 chicken buses later, I knew I made it when we started winding down the mountain, descending to a 1500 m (above sea level) mountain lake surrounded by volcanoes and character rich villages. A chicken bus is an old school bus used for long distance travel in Central American countries. You can pretty much carry anything you want on them, including chickens!
It took me a couple weeks to explore the surrounding villages of the lake and carve out a little existence there. Before I knew it, I was living in a mansion on the water with a new hippie family and an adopted street dog. We would do Yoga on the dock in the mornings and have healthy vegan cooking parties by night. Something was missing: SUP. Seeing the local fishermen go by, standing in their canoes, reminded me and even taunted me daily.
I had done some research before showing up and managed to find the only SUP outfitter on the lake: PanaSurf at Casa Colonial, Panajachel. My friend Melissa and I took the next day to find the place and take little Luna, our adopted dog, for a day adventure and potentially a new home with Juan Carlos. JC, as he likes to be called, goes back and forth between California and Guatemala running his business which he built from the ground up.
Not only did JC take us for a beautiful experience on the lake at sunset, he also adopted our dog. No shortage of good people here. The views were stunning; the air was crisp and fresh. I wish I had taken more care when trying to capture it, for when I was reviewing my shots on my phone, I fumbled and it fell in! I went in after it. After me came Luna. And that's when my day shifted from having a beautiful spiritual experience to being a man who felt like he lost everything and soaked his dog in one swift action. Of course I didn’t get the phone and just ended up being cold and wet.
After JC and I had been diving down for half an hour with a snorkel, we gave up. Luna and I kept each other warm on shore as JC ran to the military base to find a SCUBA diver. Really?! He found a guy and supervised him late into the night so that Melissa, Luna and I could head back home on the last ferry. The next day, JC regaled us with a tale that when the diver came up after 3 hours of searching, he clicked the button and said, “That’s a good phone.” He found it. The LifeProof case kept it relatively safe for 3 hours at roughly 4 meters depth.
I had been at the lake for a long time and sadly it was time to move. First, I needed my motorcycle which was still in Mexico. So I grabbed the next shuttle to the border leaving at 7 am. I made it there by mid-day but didn’t get on my way out of there until about 3 pm. 3 hours at the border, waiting, going through the paperwork, trying to communicate with very little Spanish, finally the official says the only thing in English he said all day, “Welcome to Guatemala.” Yes! But my excitement was halted quickly when I realized I was behind schedule. Was I going to make it back to Casa Colonial, Panajachel by sunset?
The whole trip back was worry, and as the sun dipped down behind the mountains, it got cold. Really cold. My worry came from the numerous voices of friends in my head who had repeated the phrase, “Don’t drive at night.” Hardly 2 weeks earlier, a friend of mine was robbed in his car just outside of town at the lake. I was 2 km above sea level curving in and around mountain peaks, ridges and occasionally hitting sunny spots which slowed my shivering only briefly. The sky stayed a vivid pink for 360 degrees and deep blue overhead for about half of an hour after setting. I was stopping every 10 minutes to stick my hands down my pants to regain warmth and feeling as I took in the raw beauty. I made it back to Panajachel 2 hours after sunset as a freezing and nervous wreck.
A phone repair left me behind schedule to get to Costa Rica. I had 12 days to meet some friends for a festival in Uvita which left me racing through most of the region. A dog attack which could have been much worse would have kept me in Panajachel much longer. Luckily the owner was there and was quick to pelt the 3 dogs with rocks as I fended them off with my boot. A nip in the thigh but all he got was my pant leg.
A close call and enough of a push from the universe to get a move on!
With my bags packed and my bike and phone fixed the next day, I was about ready to depart when JC threw on “On the Road Again” by Willy Nelson. I made my way curving back up the mountain roads on Rocinante, my bike, and said good bye to the life I left behind at the lake.
Huge thank you to JC from Casa Colonial and PanaSurf! Paddling with you on the lake was an amazing experience. You run an incredible outfit and I'll definitely be back one day.
Next stop: Dominical Surf Lessons and Pineapple Tours in Dominical, Costa Rica
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