Monday, May 7, 2012

Well, There Goes Dinner: From Xela to Xela Again

My thoughts at 3:00 a.m. as I tried not to get vomit on my pant cuffs.

I'm not sure why I always have *ahem* "tummy problems" on the road. Probably because I eat whatever I can find that's cheap and looks weird. In this case, though, I lost a delicious and perfectly safe pesto pasta dinner prepared by my guides.
So that was the worst part of the "Lago Trek" from Quetzaltenango (Xela) to Atitlan. Now the good stuff!

Dave and I wanted to check out Lake Atitlan, and we figured walking would be a good way to cover the +/-50 km. Coincidentally, this happens to be Quetzaltrekkers's most popular trek. We'd hung out with the QT guides, friends, and clients at Casa Argentina, where we were staying and where QT is headquartered. It's nice to find a little community when you're away from home.

The trek started with a chicken bus ride to Xecam, a small village near Xela. From there, we spent most of the day walking through forests, meadows, and rural agricultural fields to the village of Santa Catarina, where we spent the night in the municipal hall (and where I lost my pesto pasta).
the grassland, nicknamed "alaska"
I awoke the next day feeling pretty rough—dehydrated, sick, and way over-tired. Sounds like good form for hiking! I (foolishly?) decided I would stick with the group and would hike the 12ish miles to Santa Clara. I did okay until the final hour, when I could barely stand up straight due to the pain and nausea. I collapsed as soon as we arrived at the home of Don Pedro, our host. After a few spoonfuls of rice for dinner, I fell asleep to the distant sounds of Don Pedro playing the guitar and his grandson singing in a Mayan language.
Wake-up call on the third day was 3:45 a.m. When you go to sleep at 8:00 p.m. that's not too bad! We hiked less than an hour up to a mirador overlooking Lake Atitlan. We were treated to the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise... and then the clouds rolled in. Oh well! I was feeling much better, so the hike down to the lake went quickly. From there, all 17 of us, plus backpacks and driver, piled into a pick-up truck to drive the 10 minutes between San Juan La Laguna and San Pedro La Laguna (apparently this small stretch of road is prone to robberies).
watching the sunrise over lake atitlan
Compared to the Nebaj trek, the hiking was easier (less uphill, warmer weather, sleeping inside, half the length). The group was much bigger and the trek was shorter, so I didn't get to know everyone as well. The region where we hiked was much less remote, local residents were friendlier, so it didn't feel like I'd fallen off the map. Minus the sickness part, it was a great hike.
the cross, the virgin, and the volcano
So we're at Lake Atitlan. Now what?
lake views
We spent one night in San Marcos, which has a bizarre hippy New Age feel to it, and one night in San Pedro, which has a bizarre generic tropical backpacker hub feel to it. To me, Lake Atitlan felt just as overrun with tourists as Antigua. Tourism can do a lot of great things for a place, and a lot of people love the villages of Lake Atitlan, but I just couldn't get into it. We kayaked one morning, which was nice, but it was time to move on.
With only a week left in Guatemala, we decided to head back to Xela, where I could take a weaving course (more on that later) and for a third QT hike. On the way, we stopped off in Chichicastenango for its famous Sunday market, a crazy mix of chickens, dish soap, traditional weavings, tourist souvenirs, jewelry, cell phones, beans, and fruit.
moment of rest on the church stairs
At the moment, we're in Xela. I'm finishing my weaving tomorrow, and tomorrow night we'll be hiking Volcano Santa Maria under the light of the full moon. Then a bus ride to Guatemala City... and back to the USA.


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