The morning was tranquil, waking up next to Lake Atitlan in our baller hotel with the prospect of delicious breakfast only a few dozen steps away on the terrace. The fog hadn’t cleared entirely but we could see more of the lake and more of the volcanoes’ silhouettes while we scarfed our super-North-American-style desayuno. A few cups of coffee on top of that and we’re feeling great about continuing our way around the lake on our way to Antigua. Super chill…
… Until I went to square the bill and chatted up the cute French-accented waitress, a traveler from Montreal who’d been in the area for a little over a year. I asked her what the road out of town was like, knowing full well there’s no way it could be as bad as the one we came in on. Near the end of the drive yesterday we’d explicitly said there’s nothing that could make us go back the way we came, but we were quickly proven wrong.
She told us that not only is the road a total bag of shit, all dirt and full of washouts, but that the staff at the hotel/restaurant isn’t allowed advising anyone to take that road because of the risk of being “stolen”. I didn’t know what to say immediately, but after some clarification it meant exactly what it sounds like. Getting car jacked and kidnapped. Oh fuck. There’s no other road, so it looks like we’re going back the way we came. Jesus Christ, we have to drive back the way we came. Back to the room immediately, pack everything up and we bounce right this second. My teeth are gritted and I feel my blood pressure rising at the prospect. Having the brakes fail looking down several thousand feet is one thing, but having them fail and rolling backward might be even worse, not to mention what this could do to the clutch.
We crawl along the piece of shit roads between the lake towns to get back up the hill. Not too bad so far. The climb begins and it’s really not that bad, either. There’s very little traffic so I just keep it wound between 3200 and 3800 RPMs in first, going slow and steady except for the potholes where I slow it down a bit more then punch my way out, until we get past the worst of the shit. Next is the strip with construction and we’re the first in line to be stopped. Hand brake on, slam it into first and kill the engine, then chill on a cement wall overlooking a drop off. I say we’re Guatewallin’ and grin idiotically at my clever portmanteau/pun despite Murphy looking like he’s going to slap me.
We sit there for a long while with no traffic coming down the hill. We probably killed about an hour on that wall. Vendors would come by and offer food and drinks to the steadily growing line of traffic stopped behind the cones. I picked up a ‘tamalito’, which is the pet name they give tamales around here, in an effort to push the still nagging Throathopper down the esophagus a little further.
When the cones were pulled aside I let the rest of the traffic go by since they all had large wheels and we don’t. I didn’t need some asshole riding my ass while I’m trying to crawl through a pothole. The downside of it was the exhaust we chewed. Murphy buffed up and I wish I had something similar, instead I ate shit the whole way up the hill:
A ways down the road we decided to stop at some place called Suise Rincon. It was a Swiss style log cabin with a full creperie inside. We dialed up a couple beefy sandwiches and watched the PSG vs Barcelona game while we ate. When we were done James checked the brake fluid. We’d boiled it up on the road to San Pedro so definitely worth a check. It was the color of “darker than regular shit mixed with darker than regular piss, left out in the sun”. So poetic sometimes.
Despite our cartographic wizardry, we got lost in the last town before Antigua. We were climbing up into the fog and suddenly there was a giant Volcano. Right beside 2 more volcanoes. Looked spectacular but I don’t remember that being on our route. We waited for this biker dude to go by and flipped a bitch. Damn. That guy is cruising down the mountainside on his bike with a machete in his belt and a hoe-shovel thing in his backpack. If he fell he’d be so fucked. We pass this guy doing about 60km/h and he’s keeping pace. Balls.
Back into town and there’s some parade procession. There always seems to be parades or processions while we’re driving. Or every kid in the whole country gets let out of school and is on the road wherever we drive. Anyways, we find the right road and find our way to Antigua.
We squaggle onto some cobblestone streets and my Hosdar brings us to the Casa Jacarunda Hostel. Not too shabby, only 20 Ameribucks. We drop in and immediately hit the streets to check out the former capital of Guatemala. Thunder, lightning and torrential rains quickly turn us back to the hostel for more gear. Re-equipped we puddle walk towards the centro. Find a cool building and duck inside. Yep, we’re the only white guys in a church during a sermon again. Duck back out sans picture and puddle jump to the main square. Nice central gazebo and park with a cathedral, museum, and random shops surrounding. We step out of the rain into a coffee shop. Double up on lattes. What should we do? Fuck the taco count, we need some traditional Guatemalan food.
La Fonda de Calle Real was one of the many restaurants from which we’d creeped the doorside menu and it looked the most legit in terms of foods not called “hamburgers” or “sandwiches”. It was a courtyard setup, with tables surrounding the soon-to-be rain-filled plaza and the shitters and offices overlooking the courtyard from the floor above. We ordered two plates of what we thought were samplers of GuataFood – Murphy’s was, and it was awesome, but mine was mostly one thing and it was probably better. Some kind of meat in a leaf covered in stew. Murphy had a bunch of stews as well. Rainy weather is stew weather. Grabbed a bottle of red Chilean wine and shit got super-romantic when the storm knocked the power out a few times.
The owner came over to us and without explaining to us that she was the owner, told us how the bar was run and what the deal was, all super-authentic. She has other restaurants as well, plus a store that sells cigars. When she asks if the stews are spicy enough and we say we’ve had hotter, she asks if we want a special salsa, a homemade recipe made from serrano peppers. Sure, bring it on. Yowza! That shit was for real. She asked us if we wanted the recipe, which we did, but since we couldn’t get her attention for the rest of the night – she was chatting up everyone in the bar – here’s a recipe for Milk Steak with Jelly Beans instead, 96% plagiarized from WikiHow, but with some occupational-health-and-safety-related steps removed:
- 1 medium 8.8oz. (.25Kg) flat iron steak (top blade shoulder steak)
- 2 cup milk (preferably whole, called “homo milk” in Canada)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup jelly beans
Add the milk, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla to a medium sized saucepan.
Heat up the mixture, stirring until the honey has completely dissolved.
Bring the mixture to a boil.
Carefully place the steak in the boiling milk mixture.
Bring the liquid back to the boil and reduce the heat so that the milk is simmering.
Cook the medium-sized steak for five minutes on one side, stirring the top occasionally to stop a skin forming on the milk.
Turn the steak over and cook for a further five minutes on the other side.
Check how well cooked your steak is. If you’re after authenticity, the steak should be cooked “over hard” and so should not be pink at all.
Allow the steak to rest for a few seconds.
Garnish with jelly beans.
After leaving the restaurant we walked home completely stuffed – we couldn’t finish what we’d ordered, despite Herculean efforts – and grabbed a few beers at the hostel to try to catch up on this little blog project. After publishing six posts in one night over a few liters of beer we called it quits around 1 a.m. and looked forward to the Salvadoran border crossing.