Guatemala: Too Powerful for Words

March 1st through 15th, 2022

Yūgen: A deep and mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe. An awareness that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words. (Language: Japanese)

As time passes and we reflect on our short time in Guatemala, the value of the experience has grown exponentially. It is one of the most remarkable places we have visited. We had grown very comfortable in Mexico, and it felt unnerving and sad to leave. On the morning of Will’s birthday, after stopping to fill our propane tank and stock up on groceries at Walmart, we approached a hectic border with our negative COVID tests in hand. We were lucky to meet a kind and helpful motorcyclist crossing at the same time. He had left San Diego fourteen hours prior to our meeting, a journey that had taken us two and a half months! He was originally from Guatemala and translated for us, saving us heaps of time and money with the multiple steps required to cross the border.

Once across, I navigated us a few hours to a mountainous camp site on a river where we could swim and have a birthday celebration. However, we hit a roadblock less than a mile from the site and the route was not passable. It was getting late, dark, and we were both anxious about safety and where we would sleep in this new country. We eventually pulled off at a motel and they allowed us to sleep in the parking lot of the factory across the road. We ate dinner at their restaurant, and the lovely staff brought cupcakes to Will while singing “Feliz Cumpleanos.”

The next morning at 6 am we woke to the sound of jazz tunes blaring out of a giant speaker outside the hotel. Who needs an alarm clock when saxophone tunes interrupt your dreams? We made coffee and hit the road for Lake Atitlan. Along the way we encountered road construction, roads simply ending, and breathtaking views of the lake down the steep, skinny, winding road leading to San Marcos La Laguna.

We found a picturesque campground on the lake that was so captivating we stayed for a week. It is called Pasajcap Rentals and it was an oasis. On top of providing the perfect camp spot, they sold coffee, wine, steak, shrimp, fresh vegetables, etc. We bought steak one night and they lit up a charcoal grill for us to use to cook while watching the sunset. We enjoyed lake swims below the volcanoes, hiked and boated around the quaint villages, watched Volcan Fuego erupt at night, and enjoyed the company of new friends. Acquaintances become fast friends when they are like-minded travelers. Benoit & Melanie were one such couple, and Benoit loved nothing more than to make us delicious ceviche and give us grief. One day while we were out hiking he put a for sale sign on Francine. Shortly after we returned a couple knocked on the door wanting to buy her!

Each village had a unique vibe. In the hippie village of San Marcos we bought kombucha, kimchi and tahini and I practiced yoga with a guy named Blue. San Juan was the base for great hikes and the place to check out the local arts and crafts. We were advised to go to “church” in the backpacker village of San Pedro. We followed orders, gathered our friends Nico and Elisa, and headed to “church,” which was actually an American barbecue joint only open on Sundays. Walking back to the lancha (boat taxi) after Sunday service we passed a boutique clothing store that was having a fundraiser for the people in Ukraine. We happily obliged to donate money in return for wine as we sat on the street watching the people and activity.

The days were sunny and warm, and the nights were cool enough to enjoy a private sauna by the lake. The variety of experiences offered in the surrounding villages, new friends, and the mesmerizing views day and night made this a very difficult place to leave. In our opinion it is a paradise. We have a dream of buying a campground on the lake!

While we were reluctant to leave Lake Atitlan, we were excited to explore the beautiful city of Antigua and had booked an overnight hiking excursion up Volcan Acetanango that started from the city. Antigua was only a couple hours drive from our camp, but we had to leave by 6 am to avoid day-long road closures due to construction. We were concerned that our volcano hike might not go forward because a day prior the eruptions were so intense that people had to be evacuated off the volcano. That explained the amazing views we had from our camp site!

In Antigua we found a great hostel that let us park outside and use their facilities, and we were delighted to reunite and park next to our friends Robbie and Jeanne, who we had met in Baja California in Mexico! The tour company advised that the volcano hike was going ahead despite the recent evacuations, so we left Francine at the hostel while we took off to hike up the active Volcan Acetenango. We spent a day slip sliding in volcanic ash up to base camp. We arrived at camp at 4 pm and decided to trek a few hours more up Volcan Fuego in hopes of close-up eruption views. Unfortunately, we only saw one big puff of smoke before the clouds rolled in and blocked our view at sunset.

Back at camp we crawled in our tents and tried to get some sleep, but were snapped out of our slumber at 2 am to the sound and vibrations of a massive boom. We quickly unzipped the tent to peer out and see the unreal view of the Fuego eruption and watch lava flow down the mountain.

The excitement kept us awake until our group began climbing to the Acatenango summit at 4 am. The colors and expansive views at sunrise were magnificent, enhanced by the puff of volcano smoke above the clouds every twenty minutes. This was a once in a lifetime experience that aroused every sense: watching a volcano erupt and lava flow, smelling the smoke in the air, feeling the rumble and the volcanic rocks in our boots, hearing the boom of the explosion and the soft sound of the flowing lava, and tasting the ash in our mouth as we ran and slid back down to base camp like giddy little kids. It is really too much to put into words.

With our minds blown, we returned to the hostel after the hike to rest and wash volcanic ash off our gear and clothing. We got to celebrate, reminisce about travels, and take in the beauty of Antigua with Robbie and Jeanne.

We would have loved to spend much more time in this country, but we had to keep moving as we only had two weeks to drive through three countries to get to Costa Rica and meet friends. Fuego gave us a goodbye puff as we departed Antigua. We already feel the country calling us back, to experience more emotional responses too deep and powerful for words.

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