The long term ex-pats of San Pedro and the long term ex-Pats of Antigua look upon one another with a more or less equal sense of bewilderment. Those of us in Antigua can’t figure out how anyone could possibly want to live in a town that small, with that many fake hippies, and being surrounded by people who are just stoned as bats all day long. For their part, they can’t figure out why we’d want to live in a Disneyfied sound stage version of Guatemala – complete with Mayan women balancing bags on their heads while sidling up to tourists to make a quick quetzal on the sale of some chintzy jewelry.
We’ve both got legitimate points. But, while you’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of the residents of either town willing to make a permanent switch, we do drop by and visit one another for a few days every once in a while. And in that spirit, Rocco Dooley, Jr. would like to give you some tips.
First, when in San Pedro, you won’t find me farting around any full moon parties or hitting the trance clubs, but if that’s what you’re into, ask around for Freedom Bar. Nor will you find me hiking any volcanoes – though the word on the trail is that if you climb Volcan San Pedro on a clear day you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Rocco’s knees can’t take that much of a workout anymore. And anyway, he’s happy just sitting a bar and watching the world go by.
Second, bring a friend. Like most hard drugs, San Pedro is best done on the buddy system.
Third, bring lots of deodorant, not necessarily for yourself.
You’ll most likely arrive in San Pedro from Panajachel. This means you’ll arrive at the bottom of a street heading up a hill. Hovering around the docks will be a gaggle of touts offering to take you to a hotel or to provide you with other services for which San Pedro is famous.
Ignore them. They’re just gonna cost you money.
Walk a few feet up the hill, look to your left. Find Dino’s. Have a drink. Then have another. Then a third.
Once you’ve whet your whistle, finding a hotel or a hostel in San Pedro won’t be that hard, particularly at this time of year. In fact, all you need to know is how to get to Jarachik. (Up the hill half a block from Dino’s, first left, walk about 5 minutes past the stinky pile of coffee, take a right where the road turns to a path and follow the signs.) This is one of the best lodging deals in San Pedro. The rooms (both private and dorms) are among the most reasonable deals in town. Also, they’ve got great food and one of those bars that Rocco lives for. If they are booked up, ask them for a recommendation for other digs, they’re honest folk.
Drop your bags in your room. Go back to the bar. Ask around for Carolina, and tell her I love her.
Then, to carry on the party, keep heading down the path to “the other side” of San Pedro. Soon you’ll get to the Buddha Bar. The Buddha has excellent Asian food, strong drinks, a pool table, a lounge and if you’re lucky enough to hit them when the house blues band is playing, you’ll be treated to some of the best roadhouse music in Central America. Mike Jones, co-owner of the Buddha plays mandolin with the boys and Jake does things to his voice that only Tom Waits should be allowed to attempt. No Shit.
If you can pull yourself away from the Buddha keep stumbling down the path to El Barrio. By this time you probably could use a bite to eat – and Ben, the owner and chief celebrant of El Barrio serves the tastiest pub grub on the lake. More than that, he serves, hands down, the best burger in Guatemala – and his bar’s selection of whiskey can only be compared to a few 5 Star hotels in the capital. And it’s a shit load cheaper.
If you’ve done this right, and had a proper gullet full of booze and bread, it’s probably getting near closing time and you can either scare up a party or decide to rest up for day number two. How you make this decision will be highly indicative of the rest of your stay at the Lake.
If you do go home for a rest, then on the next day – after a hearty breakfast at Jarachik, you should keep heading down the path past El Barrio to the road for the Santiago Docks, hang a left and find La Piscina – splurge the 15Q and lounge about in the swimming pool all day long, nursing beers and readying yourself for another evening in San Pedro.
Once you’ve got this routine down, set your biological clock on “repeat” and see how long you last.
Two weeks is a reasonable guess.