Envy is a strange emotion. I noticed a young Guatemalan woman on our collectivo boat wearing a pretty blue dress with a bicycle print. ‘ I’d like that dress’ I thought, ‘and her diamonds, and yes please to some of her youth’, but barely for 3 seconds. After a strenuous 36 hours climbing and camping in cloud and winds on Acatenango, I was miffed to see our volcanoes subsequently enjoy a few days of beautiful sunshine. Imagine seeing sunrise and eruptions with such clarity!! Envy kicked in big time!! My only cure was to climb another volcano, dormant St Pedro here at Lake Atitlan, 1700m to 3020m, no spewing lava, but a fantastic view over the lake and a rope swing! Charles stayed in bed, he has added climbing volcanoes to his list of ‘don’t-need-to-do-that-again’ (Mayan temples remain no 1), so I went with a guide (for safety) learnt some Mayan vocabulary en route, and enjoyed stunning views: to be fair, views that Charles sees most days at work. There are few bandits here but you could be unlucky. Two villages each claim ownership of Indian nose viewpoint. So you pay to enter the park at one village but get hassled for money by bandits from the other village, and vice-versa. End result, no-one does the walk. My guide was fine: in this misogynist society he was a bit grumpy when he realised that yes I really was going all the way to the top, but I tipped him well. We descended quickly making my knees ache.
We are continuously crossing paths with other travellers – partly because I chat to everyone, but also because we are on a circuit of tourist sites, but there were 12 people on the volcano path yesterday and one of them was Heinrich, the (only) long distance cyclist we met in Mexico. But leaving Charles alone for a few hours is dangerous: he has read blogs!! and planned a route towards El Salvador!! Fortunately it’s the road I planned to take to the border, the route with least lorries, but it looks hilly!
There are many tribes around the lake, each with their distinct styles of clothing. We daren’t look at a market stall else the owner pounces! But the people are too nice to even attempt a hard sell: they could learn from India! Genuinely kind and chatty, the best place to eat and hang out is with the lady street vendors at night. Supermarket beer in a bucket ( for the tourists, few Guatemalans drink), bbq meat with black beans, rice, potatoes tomatoes and heaps of guacamole. My veggie version is extra potatoes. But it’s a nice mix of people. £5 for two. I get by in Spanish, could do much better (Valerie). There’s a Mayan name for the reliable afternoon wind that crosses the lake, it means the wind of forgiveness!
Lago de Atitlan is a magnificent vista of lake and towering volcanoes. 85,000 years ago huge volcanic eruptions expelled so much magma from beneath the earth’s crust, that the surface crust collapsed (a caldera) and filled with water. 25,000 years later smaller eruptions formed the San Pedro (3020m), Aitilan (3537m) and Tomilán (3158m) volcanoes on the southern shore. The lake is roughly 18km by 8km, an endorheic lake which means that it is an enclosed drainage system, without an outlet to the sea. Water enters as rain and a little is lost into the ground or through evaporation. It makes the lake vulnerable – torrential rain and landslides have engulfed villages, in 1976 an earthquake cracked the lake floor and the water level fell 2m in a month. Recently increased rainfall has caused the lake level to rise, but its biggest threat is continued development – tourism and more intensive agriculture – leading to the spread of blue-green algae. Look what happened to the Aral Sea, another endorheic lake, admittedly huge in comparison.
There was no evidence of algae this morning when we kayaked on the calm, clear, empty lake, probably my most enjoyable hour on any body of water! The slopes are mostly forested with coffee plantations and avocado and corn, with villages perched on the steep slopes, almost tumbling down to the lake. It’s so green and bountiful, no surprise really with plentiful sunshine, water and volcanic soils. But to see trees laden with avocados, oranges, limes, peppers, chillis… and unusual flowers.. it’s fabulous.