A seemingly easy trip to Guatemala turns out to make headlines! First we traveled right outside of Antigua to hike a volcano called Pacaya. It was a difficult hike, for me at least, but well worth it. We rounded a bend and there it was, a huge black mountain dripping with firey red lava. I had never seen anything like it. Apparently the group that had come through in the morning hadn´t seen very much lava (unbeknownst to us at the time, obvious foreshadowing for what was to come). Some people brought sticks and marshmallows, although couldn´t get close enough to toast them. The site was mezmorizing, much like a campfire, but at such a different natural level. Here we are 2500 meters high on a volcano, looking out at several other volcano peaks enraptured by the steady oozing flow of hot lava. By far this has been one of my favorite experiences of the last 2 years.
The day after I was there, literally 24 hours later, Pacaya erupted. We were at Lake Atitlan when we heard the news (a few hours from Antigua) and I had ventured out early before breakfast to grab a coffee and watch the quaint lake town come alive. On my way back a boy was selling newspapers and without even looking at the headline I bought one, figuring it would be nice to peruse while eating before heading out for our boat tour. Tucked under my arm, coffee in hand I walked into the hotel to meet my friends when she grabbed the paper and exclaimed "Pacaya erupted?!" Apparently a reporter was killed, and possibly several others. The small village nearby was evacuated. We carried on with our tour of the lake, but not without expressing our relief that we were not on or near the volcano when it erupted.
Lake Atitlan is nestled in a small port town called Panajachel. The road heading into town was a windy mountainside ride filled with a beautiful view of the lake and waterfalls cascading down the hills. It was intoxicating. All the while a tropical storm Agatha was slowly making her presence known with her drizzly fog laden welcoming. We made it into town just long enough to drop our bags and take the next chicken bus out of town to a local market in a town called Chichicanstenango, which is said to be one of the biggest and best in the country. It did not disappoint. Set at the foot of the steps of a large church the spread was overwhelming. Jewelry, macadamia nuts, tapestries and so much more all for "very good price" as the local merchants advised us with the English catchphrases they had memorized for the tourists. The colorful aroma of freshcut flowers surrounded us while we explored the grounds for several hours.
As we made our way out of Panajachel, Agatha was letting us know she was there, and she meant business. We were one of the last cars allowed to drive that road because the amounts of water indundating the path, mudslides and falling rocks. We made it to Antigua, in double the time it would normally take, and were there to stay for the next few days to wait out the storm. Unfortunately this chopped off the end of my planned vacation up to the north of the country to visit Tikal, but mother nature had a different plan which included good friends, lots of movies and some salsa lessons!