The cultural and geographic diversity in this small country is mind-boggling. It is home to everything from ancient Maya temples and Spanish Colonial Cities to cloud-shrouded highland villages and vibrant Caribbean towns not to mention the 3 spewing active volcanoes and untamed jungle areas. But evidently as we learned, what truly makes this country unique are its indigenous people whose distinctive cultures and centuries old traditions continue to thrive today.
We started off with a bang straight from the airport to visit the studio of Dario Escobar, a distinguished Guatemalan artist living and working in the city. He welcomed us with open arms as did everyone we met on this trip.
The Guatemalans seem to have the friendly gene. Our next stop was Antigua which used to be the capital city but is now a cosmopolitan destination with a rich colonial past. Our home for a couple of nights, El Convento, was as authentic as it gets in the middle of long cobblestone streets lined with colorful stucco houses and crumbling beautiful ruins. Our welcome dinner at Sobremesa
was the perfect combination of local food and color as the owner is an ex pat married to a Guatemalan and again extremely friendly and outrageous…. An artist, a writer, an entertainer, a restaurateur.
And then there’s the yoga studio in town that we stumbled upon that gave us a private class with 15 minutes notice. Another friendly offering which turned out to be just what we needed before our grumbling, smoke-belching Pacaya volcano spectacle hike.
This active volcano is a steep 4 mile hike through a lush pine forest with widening panorama views all the way to El Salvador. But if that’s not enough, we brought our own Shaman to perform a Maya blessing Ceremony for us on top with views of bright orange magna streaming down at sunset. As the temps dropped and the winds kicked up, we hustled to get down as it got cold and dark quick. But we were blessed and nothing can stop us now.
Utzilaj. Laslrm. Winakirem. These are Mayan words to describe Goodness. Life. Relationship to the Universe. Our philanthropic element (ASSADE) on this journey encompasses all as they strive to meet the basic clinical needs of seven villages for simple health care.
We met the team responsible and enjoyed a typical lunch made by the women from the community that ASSADE supports. Our donation was well received.
A long bus ride ahead but certainly worth every minute… Lake Atitlan was looming. Encompassed by mountains and volcanoes, our eco-resort immersed within a 100-acre nature reserve in a collapsed volcanic cone filled with water 1,000 feet deep, it is truly a mystical place. We arrive just in time for a sunset Kayak ride on calm waters.
Finally our group is complete with late arrivals so the real adventure begins with another moving emotional ceremony of intentions set out into the universe.
Up until this point, our guide Samuel has been spot on but our hike through Lake Atitlan’s 13 villages was anything but flat!
Undulating and difficult at times, we hiked from Santa Cruz to San Juan La Laguna with panoramic lake views at every turn. Towns are filled with Guatemalan richly colored textiles and home to a plethora of local self-taught artists depicting the customs, history and legends of the area.
And unfortunately, one of the known legends are bandits with machetes as we came across some on our hike up San Pedro Volcano. Thankfully, nothing but feelings got hurt since we we were unable to summit and our guides were so sorry as this obviously reflects negatively on tourism.
As I always say, everything happens for a reason because we would have been late for our afternoon yoga on the veranda overlooking the lake. Perfection followed by more perfection… well deserved massages.
Our scenic boat rides across the lake past the three impressive volcanos of Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro were the highlight of our days. And the incredible Prideful people of Guatemala that love their country and thanked us a million times for visiting. As we left the country and landed safely back home, another active volcano erupted killing thousands and evaucating more. I pray for them. We have left our mark in a very short visit where the people are as colorful and diverse as the country itself. Cheers to all our new friends as we say bye for now. We’ll be back.