An inordinate amount of trash seems to gather around otherwise beautiful outdoor places (it makes me sad)
The favorite hike that I did was probably Pacaya Volcano, even though the altitude gave me a run for my money. I heard that the Indian’s Nose hike at the Lake is stupendous for sunrises, but, sadly, I didn’t have enough time to do this one.
Luna de Miel in Antigua makes crêpes. Although this particular cuisine is not distinctive to Latin America, the savory Pepina option combines a French delicacy with a Guatemalan staple. Yum.
Traditional Guatemalan breakfast: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, sweet plantains, a wedge of queso, some fruit, and coffee. Random, but filling and healthy.
There’s always that moment when you see or experience something in real life that you previously had only glimpsed in photos.
That sense of comparison.
Of disappointment or surprise.
Of noticing things that even the most expensive of camera lens wouldn’t be able to capture.
After I impulsively decided to fly to Guatemala during my last full week of summer vacation, the internet told me that Lake Atitlan was one of the most highly suggested sites to visit within this beautiful Central American country. The pictures were fantastic, and I held in my mind this image of where I was going and precisely what it looked like.
And so, as the shuttle bounced along the pot-hole roads, and took curves at an alarming speed, I perched on the edge of my seat ready to see The Lake.
Because that’s what the locals call it – simply The Lake.
Granted, it’s for a good reason – Lake Atitlan is a massive body of water cradled nicely within a former super volcano’s crater (also called a caldera). Surrounding the lake, are numerous Mayan villages, stunning hills and highlands, and a couple other “smaller” volcanoes just to make things interesting.
I began to see snippets of blue – azul – through the fast-moving cars. It was hard to place whether I was looking at the horizon or a body of water. My driver, who spoke very little English, proudly announced one word: soon. Moments later I saw him smile in the rear view mirror as he slowed down after yet another break-neck curve.
There was The Lake: A picturesque natural phenomenon littered with man-made buildings and boats both across and around its perimeter. It was dazzling in the early morning sunlight, and I couldn’t wait to get closer.
Down the hill we went, and that’s when I began noticing and collecting images that are more valuable (and last longer) than the tchotchkes available at tourist markets.
The way the boats bobbed in the calmness of the harbor, rising up only when an arrival or departure stirred the water
The ominous rise of the sharpened peak of San Pedro volcano, reflected on The Lake
The vast incline of the surrounding land, making walks into local villages an exhilarating challenge
The perfect blend of sky, water, volcanoes, hills, rock, and local people that made this place better than any postcard or online picture
Perhaps this is what it comes down to: nothing can replace personal experiences. Photos on computer desktops might be serene and interesting (thanks Windows 10), but seeing those places for myself is a fantastic rush. Personally witnessing a wild and natural space increases my happiness levels ten-fold.
My challenge to you, dear reader, is to find a picturesque place and go. Make it happen. Life is too short to look at two-dimensional photos of sought-after outside worlds.
See and experience real life.
You can do it. 🙂
I’m going to start adding some helpful tips to the end of my blog posts. If You Decide to Go will provide specific information for those who may take a similar trip. Stay tuned for more upcoming changes to the site!
If You Decide to Go:
You can hire a guide for the day (bilingual if necessary), or you can just pay one of the boat operators to take you to the surrounding villages. Be sure to agree on a price beforehand! Typically a day will cost you anywhere from $10-$50.
Be sure to check out San Juan, my favorite village. I watched a chocolatier make authentic Mayan chocolate, and a local woman hand dye cotton thread for their brightly-hued clothing.
Wear sunscreen and sun protection! The high elevation and proximity to the equator means a high UV index.
I wasn’t able to do the Indian Nose hike, but I’ve heard that it’s incredible. Check it out and let me know what you think!
It was slow-going. For each step that I took, I slid down half of a pace. The loose rubble crunched under my hiking boots, and I was glad that I had worn such sturdy shoes to traipse across the rugged, winding terrain. I felt the heat acutely, both from the sun shining down overhead and the steam coming from the black piles of rock in front of me. Every time I looked up, I was in awe.
I was hiking an active volcano.
No, I’m not crazy – this is a popular activity in Guatemala, as the country has over 37 volcanoes, three of which have erupted in the past couple of years. I was told that the hike would be 5ish miles there and back. Piece of cake, right? Perhaps, except I didn’t take into account that I would be at elevation. Pacaya Volcano stands at over 8,000 feet above sea level. I was huffing and puffing, my pulse beating rapidly with each step I took. Edwin, the guide-slash-park-rancher, practically skipped upwards, looking back with a flashy grin every so often to check on the slow American.
I was glad that the scenery was absolutely gorgeous; it gave me an excuse to regularly stop and snap photos. The luscious green of the surrounding countryside juxtaposed nicely with the black ashy volcanic rock. I’m not quite sure what came to mind when I envisioned Guatemala before this trip, but I was overwhelmingly surprised at all of the mountainous landscape, covered with immaculate shades of green.
A couple of wild dogs trailed me the whole way up, hoping for a handout. One bounded ahead, and I realized that I had arrived – or at least as far up as I could safely go.
It was incredible.
The steam from the volcano came at regular intervals, and the whole eastern side was on fire. I expected a viscous lava flow, like Hollywood has taught me to believe, yet it was more like a huge scree field of campfire coals. As rocks tumbled – small and large – glimpses of red could be spotted. In fact, there was a rock pile right close to me that looked like the remnants of an epic bonfire.
And then marshmallows started to get passed around.
Enjoying a more “melty” mallow from further down below.
I was literally toasting fluffy sugar balls on top of an active volcano. The weariness of the hike behind, I rested and enjoyed this unique experience. The sky was blue, fluffy white clouds mixing with steam from within Earth’s crust. The breeze helped cool down my over-heated body, and my muscles relaxed with each breath of smokey air. I was happy to be exploring a wild place so out of the norm from anything I’ve done before.
My marshmallow caught on fire, and I didn’t even care.
It was so blue. The white snow surrounding the crater accentuated the deep cobalt color, its clarity taking on an almost surreal appearance.
I was standing at the edge of a volcano that had erupted thousands of years ago. The top collapsed leaving a gaping crater, or caldera, that gradually filled with snow, condensation, and rain runoff. The shifting clouds took turns hiding Wizard Island, a mini volcano within the greater volcano. Science is amazing.
I took off on snowshoes intent on exploring different parts of the lake. While the main Rim Drive was still closed due to massive amounts of snow, I wasn’t deterred. It was slow-going since the moisture in the air rendered the snow wet and sticky. I plodded on, using my poles to propel me ever upward and onward and to help me stabilize along the awkward sloping edge.
It’s easy to visit a national park to simply see “the thing” it is known for. Yes, the lake was beautiful, but I like to enjoy the whole package. The Oregon landscape riddled with evergreen trees made me pause in reflection. The creeping clouds were fun to trace with my eyes. The various shades of white found in the snow piqued curiosity in my mind.
The national parks are more than just one resource. In fact, in its very definition a national park protects entire natural systems, whereas a national monument safeguards a specific object of historical, cultural, or scientific interest.
Crater Lake wouldn’t be Crater Lake without the aggressive rise of the mountain, the snow-covered forest, and the unique rock outcroppings surrounding it.