Guatemala: Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Tikal

And we interrupt this amazing ski season to bring you . . . a broken collar bone . . . with the silver lining of a Guatemala adventure week!  Antigua, hiking volcanoes, Lake Atitlan hiking and chocolate shaman, Tikal exploration . . . an active week with mountains, culture, history, and friendly people!
Oh injuries.
2/3/12 was a super amazing resort day – blower pow all day long, face shots on the north face until it closed . . . or at least until about 20 minutes before it closed – that’s when I was skiing down the lower section, a few turns from the straight-away to the tram and somehow got my tips crossed and hit the ground before I knew I was falling . . . and when I landed, I heard that classic sound of a bone breaking and knew right away I was short a collar bone.  With the help of my friend Lindsay who happened to be right behind me, I was able to get up and ski down . . . quickly whisked to the Gidwood clinic and on pain meds within 45 minutes – phew!
Although the beer-drinking season was almost as epic as the ski season (at least for those that couldn’t ski!), I decided that times like these are a good opportunity to do something I otherwise never would . . . back in my academic days, I took a class on the history of South and Central America, and have always wanted to explore more of the remaining ruins and remnants of the ancient civilizations.  A brief search of mileage tickets, and Guatemala looked to be the best bet – so off I went!
I started in Antigua since that seems to be where everyone starts, and figured I’d take a coffee plantation tour . . . as a lover of coffee, it seemed wrong not to learn a thing or two about the bean which so inspires my life 🙂  What I learned: “coffee should be black as night, strong as passion, sweet as love and hot as hell” – sounds like a decent motto!
I figured I should do some hiking since my activity level had plummeted, and decided to check out the active Vulcan Pacaya – a bit of a tourist trap activity, but still nice to be out walking in the forest, amongst the volcanic rocks, and chatting with other travellers . . . only problem was, I didn’t exactly intend to leave Alaska winter for more cold and windy weather – but such is life!


Needing/desiring to “get away from it all” – you know, cuz Antigua with it’s cobblestone streets, shops and restaurants, is soooo crazy 😉 – I decided to go check out famous Lake Atitlan.  Formed 80,000 years ago in an eruption, it’s now a stunning lake surrounded by dormant/dead volcanoes and Mayan villages.  I ended up in Jaibalito, at an amazing place called Casa del Mundo.
Views of San Pedro volcano across the lake were stunning!


The grounds were terraced gardens with rooms spread along the hillside – the lake was beautiful!!  And all this for $37/night for a private room – not bad!!!


Another view of San Pedro and the grounds . . .


I met a super cool Kiwi traveller, Mikey, and we decided to walk along the shoreline trail and explore the villages along the way . . . we ultimately ended up in San Marcos, just in time to visit the Chocolate Shaman for a one of his weekly healing/guided meditation sessions – certainly a cultural experience, not to mention some damn good chocolate!!!



Again, not sitting still well, even with an injury, I decided to go check out Vulcan San Pedro – a beautiful hike and stunning summit . . . and I decided to go with a guide (support the local economy, practice Spanish, learn more) which made the experience a bit more interesting/educational.  This is a view looking down on Santiago – wish I’d had a chance to go explore the village, but didn’t make it there.


Thankfully, La Casa del Mundo had some of the best hammocks I’ve ever seen – that, combined with a good book, gourmet smoothies and drinks, and lots of amazing food made hanging out there truly feel like a vacation 🙂


From there, I was off to Tikal – the Mayan ruins I had come to Guatemala to see/explore.  Arriving midday, I had some time to kill before the evening tour, so somehow got talked into going zip-lining in the jungle.  One could argue (and I did consider this) that such an activity was not the best way to heal a collar bone, but they let me use my left hand, and I was able to keep my right pretty stable – all’s well that ends well, but I do have to admit I feel pretty lucky to have come out of that experience unscathed 🙂



Then it was off for the tour – by some stroke of luck, I was the only person on the evening tour, which meant that I got to ask as many stupid questions as I wanted to, and I chose to have it in Spanish – I always love practicing with bilingual people!
Fringe benefit: not only were there ruins, but also monkeys!  I have no idea why, but I really love monkeys . . . this particular leaper was a Spider Monkey – there were also Holler Mokeys, aptly named for the “music” they create . . . Eddy (the guide) was super good at calling/hollering to get them to holler back 🙂


Tikal was pretty amazing overall – a thriving Mayan city between 200-900 AD and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Many temples, dwellings, and urban vestiges have been unearthed, with archeologists actively continuing to explore.  Many structures are purposely left buried as the erosion rates increase so detrimentally once un-earthed . . .




We watched sunset atop Temple IV, with amazing views out to the other ruins – in the heyday, the jungle was completely cleared throughout the city, so it looks nothing now like it once did.




Unfortunately that night, I got the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had and spent a wretched night, made even more festive by the inability to get up quickly with the broken bone!  When my wake-up call came for the 4am tour, I forced myself to get up and go – after all, its the reason I came to Guatemala . . . in retrospect, I guess I’m glad I rallied, but it was a pretty painful experience – thank goodness for modern drugs!  Admittedly, I missed most of the sunrise, curled up in the fetal position sleeping on top of the pyramid, and I ended up covered in bug bites since I took every opportunity to lay in the grass on the tour!


And that pretty much took the rest out of me . . . I was horizontal for the rest of the day, making my plane back to Guatemala city only because of the amazing couple I’d met earlier who came to help me pack and get on the bus – they were wonderful!  A quick night in Guatemala City, and that was it – back to Alaska!!!
Overall, I have to say it was a good trip – could have gone without the sickness, but from what I gather, that might just be part of the Guatemala experience!  I am thankful for the relaxing time, the chance to check out Tikal, and for meeting a bunch of cool people along the way . . . 🙂

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