Notes from the Field

It immediately reminded me of the place I was raised. British Columbia… frequent trips to the lakes in neighboring parkland filled me with an imaginative fuel that would carry me through for the rest of my life… secretly.. Lago Atitlan brought me back in an instant to a frame of mind I hadn’t felt so strongly as when I was a child… soaring across the lake in an aluminum craft with the word “Lund” emblazoned across the side, engine roaring, my father at the throttle… a look of deep concentrated thought shading his features… as he peered ahead, to the sides, to the shore, at his wife, my mother, at my brother and I…

Lake AtitlanAtitlan is not a small lake… it is a great deal larger than most of the lakes of my childhood… but that magic is there… the mountains in British Columbia… the volcanoes reaching towards the skies in Guatemala. The lake is, as I read, 12km at its widest point, and 18km at its longest. It is dwarfed by even the smallest of the great lakes of Canada, and does not cover the same distance as the larger lakes in B.C. It is home to several villages that line the shores, and stretch up hillsides – all accessible to each other by boat. Iniyal and I wanted to visit the lake before going home to Toronto for Christmas as we had heard so much about it… the only moment we had was before our upcoming journey to Tikal… we took the chance and went.

We took a shuttle from Zona 10 in Guatemala City, to Antigua to pick up more passengers, and onto Panajachel, the main destination for anyone heading to anywhere on and around the lake. The journey to Pana was along a two-way, two lane road undergoing some construction… as most journeys by shuttle or any other motorized vehicle… the experience, in addition to be ing more or less safe, was a harrowing and at times heart stopping experience… enhanced of course as the night approached and darkness left you in a two way parade of head and tail and no lights… constantly in a bid to over take the vehicle in front. Our driver did very well to avoid several near head on collisions with oncoming trucks, children darting across the street with wheel barrels full of whatever… while staying an inch away from a cut in the curb lane concrete that drops several inches… usually onto under construction road… or a drop into the slope of darkness. I merrily dazed out the window, mesmerized by the glittering lights.

Pitch black… we arrive in Pana and are dropped near the docks… Iniyal and I, without a guide… wander down a rickety pier towards a spit where the boats park to drop off and subsequently collect passengers. We prepare to board a waiting boat, packed solid with people… when Iniyal gets through to the owners of the inn where we will stay.. they have sent a private boat for us… to avoid waiting in the dark. The private boat arrives immediately, and we are carted off without a crowd into the pitch of night, across the water bathed in faint blue moonlight… becoming apparent as our eyes adjust to the darkness. We reach our destination within fifteen minutes. DSC 0329 Lago AtitlanWe disembark at a dock at the edge of a black cliff… stairs leading up into the forest… The boatman calls the inn keepers, who send a guide to us with a flashlight to help us navigate the steep climb up the stone stairs towards our restful accommodation. He tells us that there are 302 steps to climb before the inn appears… offers to take my heavy pack, to which I decline, and we head upwards. I count seventeen steps before I feel like my throat is bleeding. My endurance is usually rather good… though, with the heavy luggage on my back… unsteady and unbalanced… I am feeling the strain as I force myself step by step, leaning forward.. terrified of falling back. Lomas de TzununaWe are met at the top by one of the owners who was very friendly and made us feel welcomed like old friends. Her and her husband (and their four year old son) started building the inn four years ago, opened two years ago, and have been there since… making their guests feel at home in their lovely establishment, that feels more like a home with several guest quarters built onto the cliff side overlooking the waters far below… with view of the volcanoes, the lake, sunsets and sunrises… this was by far the perfect place we could have chosen to stay at for our first visit to Atitlan. The inn is called Lomas de Tzununa…

Iniyal and I enjoyed a lovely dinner in their restaurant… though calling it a restaurant makes it sounds less intimate.. less warm…. it was a large room opening up onto the patio through large glass doors… several tables spaced comfortably. The owners went to each table and greeted their guests and made sure they were being taken care of and enjoying themselves. their staff was unlike any other we had seen… in Guatemala, in Canada… anywhere.. Each of the staff members that made up the Lomas de Tzununa team were relaxed, warm, and clearly enjoyed their work environment. This made us feel a degree of comfort that we were not expecting… it was as if we were staying with family and various family members were dropping in to check on us. Wonderful….

Lake Atitlan at Night

We found our way back to our room with its stunning view of the lake… even at night… along the way, we came across a curious movement on the ground in front of us… Iniyal saw it first and alerted me casually… “look..whats that?”. We bent over for a look. There, scurrying across the path, temporarily visible to us in the path light, a scorpion made its way to whatever business it had that evening. Strangely un-fazed, we delighted in having seen the creature… as I had never seen one in the wild before..

The following day, after a light breakfast and a coffee… we decided to take a hike towards Santa Cruz by way of the high mountainside trail. One of our hosts, graciously took us out a back way, up the side of the building, past clotheslines and gardens, to the trail and pointed us in the right direction. Iniyal and I wandered off… laughing to ourselves that we were indeed about to experience an adventure… as the path was narrow… a steep slope to our left covered in corn fields… a sheep drop to our right… covered in cornfields. I am not speaking of a hill, or a slight decline… these crops were planted on what was close to a 75 – 80 degree slope. Lake Atitlan Cliff PathOne slip and you would slide for about three feet and tumble head over heels for the remaining distance… far below towards the lake shore… wow.

We carried on like soldiers along the path… winding around the mountainside, over boulders, through pockets of forest, up several feet, down several feet, looking at lizards, flowers, encountering roosters… It was hot. We were tired after an hour and a half… not having reached our destination yet. Barking dogs caused contemplation to go back the way we came… we passed them respectfully. Dogs in Guatemala are not lazy old balls of fur as you might find in other places… but lean.. hungry, wild eyed youth… guarding their masters quarters… or wandering, scavenging. I won’t bother discussing the possibility of rabies…. but I digress.

Lake Atitlan Cliff Path View
The View from the path on the cliff…

Lake Atitlan Cliff Path View
The View from the Path on the Cliff… looking up

We need to get down there….
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from here…
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uh… here too.. well same spot.
..a rooster…
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…eventually we had to go down there… from…
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…up there… before arriving:
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on the shoreline…
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Eventually, unsure as to how much further we had to go, we spied a dock below… with several homes scattered around the shore… we thought, perhaps this was Santa Cruz. If it wasn’t… we were sure to get a boat from there… we descended through a garden path towards the shore. We approached the dock and asked some children where we might find Santa Cruz. they pointed far off in the distance – further on than we had thought… Iniyal asked if a boat would pick us up here… and they said yes… giggling and chattering with each other.. clearly discussing these mystery people who came out of the hillside.. they wandered off for a swim down the shore.. while we waited for the boat. Eventually we saw one, flagged it down and took it triumphantly to Panajachel where we visited the market and had lunch… bushed and burnt. We enjoyed lunch and a beer overlooking the lake before wandering back to the dock to get a boat back to the inn…

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The weekend was wonderful… a much needed break from the city.


Mr Hryhorczuk