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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,663 days a wanderin'

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Lakeside Living at Lago de Atitlan, Pasaj Cap

Dec 29, 2016
by John

Three months past and we are some the wiser. We had fallen in love with Lake Atitlan during our previous visit but our return has permanently woven it into the essence of our souls. Unlike a timeless timepiece, it ticks forevermore within our fondest of memories. A place that could well become our forever home, an example of exemplary, a heartbreak of farewell.

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Why the look of surprise?

What We Did

Belize back into Guatemala Border Crossing

We were nervous about re-entering Guatemala since they have a rule requiring foreign vehicles to remain out of the country for 90 days before being allowed back in. We had heard of others getting around this by importing their vehicle under the second owner or a second passport, the Guatemalan TIP (temporary import permit) combines the passport and VIN to form a unique number assigned to the foreign vehicle, but after already paying a deposit for an apartment at Pasaj Cap we were obviously apprehensive, since we had only been out of Guatemala for 27 days.

Our entry process proceeded smoothly, just like the first time, until we reached the very last customs official who happened to remember us. While entering our information into the system he asked if we had been out of the country for 90 days, thankfully in Spanish. I mumbled that my Spanish was really bad and apologized. He smiled, still entering our information into the system, and repeated his question. I said I didn't understand, Mandi started to turn beet red as she was giving the me the WTF do we do now look. He half smiled half smirked, still typing, and said maybe it was last year. We both agreed with him and he handed us our new TIP, shitted pants averted, back into Guatemala!

Pasaj Cap (Casa de Pierre)

Our intention for the long stint in an apartment on Lake Atitlan was to eat healthier and exercise to remove some of the unnecessary inches we had unintentionally accumulated. While we did a reasonable job at both, we found ourselves drawn even deeper into the embrace of the lake. It is easily one of our favorite places and one we will always hold very dear. Its beauty is just a small fraction of the essence that surrounds it, my words will fall short so I will keep it simple. Lake Atitlan is truly and unequivocally wondrous.

During the time we spent there we did a much better job at exploring the surrounding areas and communities. Other overlanders friends, especially Jim & Rhonda (The Next Big Adventure) whom we finally met, Mark & Sas (Dream, Drive, Repeat), Pete & Natasha (Here Until There), Caro & Travis (Beluga Rodante), and Ingrid & Matty (Down the Line) coaxed us out of our apartment while Annette & Marshall, Canadian travelers of our own hearts, kept us grounded in the Pasaj Cap community. Sorry to those overlanders we missed, we spent a great deal of time just hanging in our apartment never knowing someone was there until they were already gone.

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Maybe we should just sell the van

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Mandi refuses to learn how to make these

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

The reason why we accomplished almost absolutely nothing

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Each and every night

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

More addicted to the lake than we are

Atitlan Organics Farm Tour

In August, our first stay at Pasaj Cap, we meant to visit Atitlan Organics but never got around to it. This time we put a small group together, Jim & Rhonda and Ingrid & Matty, and huffed our way up the big hill to Tzununa then up a steep trail to the small permaculture farm. Shad, the owner, has spent the last 7 years getting the farm on its feet and does a great job explaining the farm's, and his own, evolution. It was a fun day, we donated 50Q for the tour.

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

There's my Southern girl!

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Taking bacon orders for 2017

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Security here is tight

Thanksgiving Dinner

In total, 30 people got together at Pierre's house for a Thanksgiving feast. Lots of food, wine, and beer was consumed. Stories told. Guitars played. Songs sung. Great, great time.

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Never gonna grow up

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Back at ya bro

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

The quintessential vibe of Pasaj Cap

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Jim always hides his other glass behind Rhonda

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Una botella de vino tinto, por favor

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Pure carnage

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

No chance for thirds if you keep gabbing

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Hey ladies!

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

I call foul...empty glasses!

Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

That's right, it takes three men

San Juan La Laguna

Known for its textiles, a town we should have visited sooner. We immediately declared it our favorite and spent several hours perusing all of the hand made items with Jim & Rhonda, Annette & Marshall, and their friend Sara. Easily, the two greatest highlights were the cotton hand spinning demonstration and Jim trying on a traditional Guatemalan outfit (not counting lunch at Cafe El Artesano). We visited San Juan a second time with Jim & Rhonda, during which, we all picked up a hand made piece of clothing...Jim finally getting the shirt he is pictured in below.

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Mocha love

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Ooh la la

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Maverick wants his sungless back there eh

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

So corny

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Those dolls are scoping us out

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

We would have it all if the van was a little bigger

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Blending in like Marcus Brody

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

This is how it's done you silly gringos

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Cotton eyed bowl

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Fight starts at 7PM

Cafe El Artesano, San Juan

The impetus for our San Juan visits and an exquisite culinary delight. Jim & Rhonda asked if we wanted to go and we jumped at the chance for real cheeses and cured meats. Almost everything is sourced in Guatemala and it was all delicious. During our second visit we also tried the fondue and pinchos. It is a bit pricey, averaging about $45 per couple per visit, including wine.

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Ambience...then we showed up

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

The pistachios tied the whole meal together

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Eat your heart out Homer Simpson

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Pure silence

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Let's Fondue

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

If you rear end a pincho will it expode?

Street Art of San Juan

We haven't spent enough time capturing the beautiful street art of the countries we have visited. The building-side murals of San Juan caught Mandi's eye so she snapped a few photos. Art, such as this, is everywhere so we usually take it for granted. We'll try to do a better job in the future.

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

Cafe. Powering gringos since...well, forever

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

No special room needed here

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

No I don't need 'anything'

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala

What rolls down stairs alone or in pairs, and over your neighbor's dog?

CA-4 Visa Extension

Many friends had already worked through the visa extension process in Guatemala City. We instead opted to pay a fixer in Panajachel, $50 each, and increased the duration of our stay at Pasaj Cap. Our foray to Solola to get the required black and white passport photos ended in the wrong size and paper type, not mentioning getting extorted by the photography studio, but our fixer was able to make the correct ones from what the studio gave us. What can we say, we totally gringo-ed out and threw money at the situation...enabling 10 more days of bliss at lake Atitlan.

Honorable Mentions

While we don't list every place and thing we do there are some that stick in our minds. Weeks later we catch ourselves mentioning them to others or just savoring the memory of the exquisite cuisine we consumed. Here are a few standouts.

Il Giardino, San Marcos

A vegetarian restaurant with a garden setting. Being mostly meat and vegetable eaters we were a bit skeptical and wrongly so. Mandi's favorite became the veggie lasagna and my go to was the curry plate of the day, Q65 and Q45 respectively.

Smokin Joe's, San Pedro

Southern BBQ at the Lake on Sundays! We think we ate there the most, thoroughly enjoying the familiar flavors. Our favorites were the spare/baby back ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, when available. Prices range from Q65 to Q85 per plate with unlimited sides. We always had leftovers, probably due to starting with happy hour before ordering our food. The Q10 Bloody Mary's were perfectly spiced! Nester is from Woodville, that rings a close bell for anyone who might be reading this back home.

Mister Jon's, Panajachel

Our go to for breakfast during our trips to Pana. The omelettes are delicious and the Q8 coffee is bottomless and really good. They also serve lunch and dinner but we only had breakfast. Our bill was between Q120-Q140, $16-$18.

Lake Atitlan Grocery Survival Guide

Having lived at the lake for a collective 4 months, we thought we should share some of our sources for quality food. We spent most of our time cooking our own meals, we meaning Mandi, using the three more easily accessible towns for all of our ingredients. Hopefully this will provide enough information for anyone who may be visiting one of our favorite places. 

San Marcos

Vegetables: Lifespan 3-4 days. Best vendor is down the trail going to the lake on the left, right if you are coming from the dock, but the selection is usually limited. She opens up around 11-12 and has the best eggs we could find. Her prices fluctuate so be prepared. The other vendor on the trail to the lake has really good produce sometimes and if you happen to catch the vegetable store on the edge of town during restocking day it could be a big score. In the mornings, there are a few people selling veggies in front of the basketball court at great prices.

Meat: Not much as San Marcos is known as the vegetarian town. Diego at Pasaj Cap can get whole chickens for Q15 per pound, tip him 10-15Q. We heard it is possible to get chickens from the veggie ladies also, but never did. Pierre sources great tenderloin which can be bought as pieces or in its entirety. If you will be spending a fair amount of time there and have a freezer, an entire tenderloin will not disappoint.

Dairy: Decent New Zealand butter, salted and unsalted, is available in some of the grocery stores near the basketball courts. Local yogurt and some cheeses can be found.

Other: Shangri-La coffee is grown and processed in San Marcos and is really good. It is available at many places around the lake but is the cheapest in San Marcos. The little health food store has a few things but make sure to check around, some items are cheaper in the neighboring stores. Love Probiotics is located in San Marcos and worth a try. We found that staples were much cheaper in San Pedro or Pana but the price of the lancha may not be offset.

San Pedro

Vegetables: Lifespan 4-6 days. The market at the top of the hill is pretty good. Most vendors close at noon but several stay open longer and are worth a check if you are in town. The main delivery is Saturday evening for Sunday morning but the Sunday market can get crazy busy. One time we were able to find asparagus!

Meat: Johanna's has a small selection in the freezer in the back. Their bacon is a bit salty for our taste but is still good. Smokin' Joe's has opened a meat store, Tue-Fri, and has a great selection. Their bacon, breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, and smoked hams never let us down. If you contact Nestor a day or two before going to the Sunday BBQ he will bring the items you want so you can make the most of out the Sunday trip.

Dairy: Johanna's has a real full fat milk and a decent sharp cheddar. At times we found other cheeses, yogurts, and cream. Salud de Vida, the health food store, carries local and some imported vegetarian and vegan products.

Other: Salud de Vida (the Health Food Store) and Johanna's are great stores. Johanna's usually had the best prices for most things, especially for items also in the health food store. The health food store has eco-friendly products, bulk herbs and local peanut butter that only contains peanuts. Both stores are essential in our opinion.

Panajachel

Vegetables: Lifespan over a week. The local market is open all day and has everything at the best prices.

Meat: Sandra's carries some Smokin' Joe's meat but it is more expensive than in San Pedro. They also carry a bunch of other meats such as ground beef, pork chops, ribs, etc.

Dairy: Sandra's has a cheese and cured meats counter. It was our source for blue and great hard Parmesan cheese. One of the best cheese selections we've seen in a while.

Other: Sandra's has the best selection out of all of the stores. They carry hard to find items such as coconut and almond flour, albeit expensive. Like San Pedro, the prices were usually better than San Marcos. The local market also has a variety of bulk nuts, beans, and grains sold by the pound. We were excited to find raw almonds and macadamias.


Say what? (7)
Dec 30, 2016 at 04:24 AM
Hey John and Mandi,

Looks like you really falled in love with that place. Nice to read the good time you're spending there. Lucky you who have time to take you time... :-)

All my best wishes for 2017, safe travel. Enjoy the New Year's Eve.

Claude-Alain
Angie Norris
Dec 30, 2016 at 07:25 AM
I continue to be in awe of your adventures! So glad you all are fully enjoying your much deserved journey! Love and safe travels!
Dec 31, 2016 at 10:29 AM
Love this post! Such great memories and photos. lol.. Jim blending in like Marcus Brody... LMAO at that one. I don't even remember the picture of you and he in front of the mural. I must have been tending to Aspen ;) Loved our time with you guys~ enjoy the beach and have a very happy New Year! XOXO
Sri
Jan 2, 2017 at 10:19 AM
Nice pics and post. More than 3 months at a place!! I can imagine how much you both liked it. Enjoy your journey and explore more places :)
Jan 7, 2017 at 03:57 PM
Thanks Claude-Alain, Angie, Rhonda and Sri!

We definitely miss the lake as we do you all!!
Betsy Alles
Jan 7, 2019 at 09:13 AM
I just happened upon your blog! Thank you so much for posting such great info!! My husband and I will be spending all of March at Pasaj-cap (our first time)!! Not our last I presume. :-)
Jan 9, 2019 at 06:27 PM
You’re welcome Betsy and enjoy your time at the lake! Atitlan is still one of the highlights of our trip and a place we will visit again one day. Pasaj Cap is one of a kind, please give Pierre our love.
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