Day 8: Journey to Panajachel

Considering our trek to get to Semuc Champey was not quite as expected I was a little nervous when we woke up that morning. Was it going to be another entire day gone while on the road in a cramped bus travelling way too fast on mountain edges? I began feeling a little anxious and queasy thinking about the possibility. Too nauseous to even eat, I decided to order a smoothie.  I needed to take my anti-malaria pill and did not want to take it on an empty stomach right before hitting the bumpy road. 

Jon had arranged for a truck to take the travellers leaving that morning to Lanquin where they could board buses taking them to their next Guatemalan destination.  The truck that came was a pickup truck, so the six of us climbed in along with a surf board and found a sturdy spot to stand and hold on! The ride was just as bumpy as I remembered it the night we came, except this time I could see where we were going.  I'm surprised that people were not tossed out of the truck from the bumps in the road.  Halfway through the trip to lanquin the truck slowed to a stop after passing a local family. Hitchhiking for locals was very, very common - it seemed to pretty much be expected to stop. Tourists were not as lucky, many trucks passed Steve and I when we were walking from Semuc Champey the day before.  We all squished into the back of the truck and continued  bumping along.

When we got to Lanquin there was mass confusion as to where we were all going.  Most of us were suppose to all be going in different directions.  When I was planning this trip, the hotel in Panajachel offered shuttles throughout Guatemala so I thought that would be perfect.  The hotel would surely pick up their own guests unlike some of the unreliable shuttle companies I had read so much about.  Well it turns out that Guatemalan Hotels that offer shuttles, don't actually have a shuttle but instead hire shuttles from the not-so-reliable shuttle companies. I guess I didn't read the fine print. BUT I didn't know this at the time and was looking for our hotel shuttle to pick us up. We didn't speak Spanish, the drivers didn't really speak English and there were about 10 travellers and about 10 locals trying to figure out who was who and who was driving where. I was pretty certain we were not going to end up where we were supposed to. Eventually, we got into a shuttle with three others from Utopia who were headed to Antigua. Not quite where we were going but somewhat in the same direction with familiar people, which somehow was a bit more comforting than alone. The driver mumbled something about meeting the Panajachel driver somewhere along the way.

Even though I was extremely stressed about where Steve and I were going to end up, this time the drive was a little more relaxed. The treacherous roads were now to be expected and the shuttle was filled with friendly chats and sleepy naps until eventually our driver stopped in a McDonald's parking lot in some unnamed bustling city we were in.  He abruptly told us to get out and eat something, and that he would be back. He then sped off with all of our luggage atop the shuttle. We were all a little weary and uncertain that he would ever come back but nevertheless walked into the restaurant for food.  You would think that McDonald's, being so familiar, would pose no difficulties in ordering food.  It probably took us about 15 minutes to order and even then we received a few unexpected items.

We were all quite relieved to see our shuttle turn into the parking lot a little while later.  Back in the bus, and were off before we could even shut the door. The driver let us know that we were going to be passing through Guatemala City and that was were we would meet the driver for our shuttle to Panajachel.
We passed through Guatemala City during rush hour and the highways were stop-and-go for a good long while. Eventually, we arrived at a gas station where our Panajachel bus was supposed to meet us. Our current driver wanted to leave us in this parking lot to wait, he assured us the Panajachel driver was not far and would be there soon. Understandably, Steve and I were pretty worried about being stranded in Guatemala City, as we specifically avoided making plans here due to its reputation. Luckily our travel-mates insisted they wait until the Panajachel driver showed up - we were both SO grateful for their concern. About 30 minutes (Steve: "Half an hour? Felt like a lot longer!") later, the Panajachel driver pulled into the gas station. Woo! Now we knew everything was going to be okay.  We said our goodbyes to our fellow travellers and we were off! Onward to Panajachel!  After 7 hours of being uncertain if we were going to end up in the right place, we finally knew we were at least now on the right track.

We arrived in Panajachel after sunset. It was impossible to see our surroundings in the darkness. The roads felt as though we were headed down a steep spiral until we arrived in town.  Our hotel was in the heart of "downtown" Panajachel which was surrounded by hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. 
Julio, and incredibly friendly and warm man, checked us in at the front desk and showed us around the hotel. (Steve: "The hotel was a relief - the hallways had sculptures and art, the hotel was open to the air. And they had a parrot!") A stressful day in a shuttle bus can make you very tired, so we went to an Italian restaurant next door and took the rest of the night easy in our hotel.