Out of breathe (who wouldn’t with a frigging tent, a yoga mat, a sleeping bag, enough food / water and warm clothes on the back to survive an overnight at 3’700 meters?) and slightly dizzy (It was the first time that my body was affected by the altitude. It isn’t a mountain legend after all!), I stopped, my heart pounding. While my eyes were trying to find out where the (impressively) loud sound was coming from, our guide pointed to an invisible presence. “El Fuego” he whispered with a big smile. Hiding behind a cloud or two, El Fuego seemed to congratulate us for having almost made it to our camp (as if he knew that some of us had considered turning back at some point). We couldn’t see it just yet but every step that was taking us closer to our camp on this very steep trail was celebrated with a loud roar. After strenuously hiking up for 5 hours, we happily discovered our campsite: a flat bit right on the path, big enough to welcome three tents with an incredible view. We couldn’t have wished for a better night to witness El Fuego’s tantrum. Our fantastic group (4 Australians, 1 German and two lovely guides) sat under a sky full of stars around a camp fire, grilling marshmallows, getting thrilled by any burst of lava. Even though I didn’t make it to the sunrise point of view, I was grateful, feeling blessed and emotionally touched by the beauty of the eruption. My body simply refused to hike up 200 more meters (well done to my comrades who braved the wind and conquered the summit at 5 in the morning). It had had enough and since this trip has taught me to listen to my body, I, at last, accepted that I wouldn’t reach the summit. I nicely waited for my group to enthusiastically come back to our campsite and after a banana breakfast we started to hike down, feeling happily fulfilled. This was one of the happiest (and challenging) moments in my life. Even though I struggled to hike up this steep and unsteady trail, I was happy. High and happy!
After so much emotion at 3’700 meters, I was happy to have a few easy days ahead of us. M was waiting for me (he already conquered the summit in January in one day! I was even prouder of him!) at his former host mom who was a lovely Guatemalan woman. It was wonderful to settle down for a while and I finally slept through the night for the first time in weeks (bliss!). Sleeping in hostel dorms has been nicely cheap but certainly not restful for me. Every night I have mostly gone to sleep thinking ‘what if somebody tries to rob me?’, ‘are my passport and my cash safely hidden?’ or ‘what if M’s bunk bed falls on me?’. Yes first world problems! So when we finally had our very own room with a lock in a house with a family we trusted, my brain switched off! I loved our stay in Antigua, which is a beautiful town with cobblestone streets, its inhabitants warm and smiling. I felt like I had found a home away from home. It almost seemed difficult to believe that Guatemala City became the capital city because Antigua has become too ‘naturally’ dangerous. The government couldn’t take the moody volcanoes, floods and recurrent earthquakes anymore and even though Antigua lost its First Lady status, it is definitely worth a visit. Its ruins and colonial vibe are charming.
With our belongings safe in Antigua, we traveled light (thank god) to lake Atitlan. I won’t go on and on about how the ride itself was an adventure because it would be old news but we liked out two-day trip to San Pedro and San Marcos, two villages on the lake. We didn’t realize that San Pedro was a party town so a night was enough for us and we actually realized while strolling in San Marcos that we would have preferred to find a place there. It had a ‘Je ne sais quoi’. Oh well, as they say, live and learn. Lake Atitlan reminded us of sunny Italy (while looking at the lake from a terrace) and we had a lovely time, discovering the two villages, greeting the locals. I felt however uncomfortable and to some extent angry, as I was reading a note from the locals. They were asking the foreigners (many hippies in the area) to stop smoking drugs in public as the local youth was being misguided. I felt heartbroken. I will never understand how people can think it is ok to come to a country and disrespect locals’ believes and values. Those people make backpacking more difficult for us as we are all seen as gringos and locals very often see us as a threat. It takes a lot of time and energy to show the locals that we care about their cultures and values. And for every smile we receive and mind we change through patience and respect, I am grateful.
Guatemala, you have been wonderfully welcoming and generous but it is time for us to make our way to Honduras. Let’s see if this country is as dangerous as it is believed to be. Next stop: Copán.