Sunday, March 15, 2015

Guatemala- Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

I'm writing this entry with "pensamientos encontrados" - conflicting thoughts: happy to be going home to America but incredibly sad to be leaving such a meaningful and inspiring country. The last two days have been surreal for us and I keep remarking "vale la pena" to the LWH staff: it was worth the pain of working hard for four days at the construction site to visit Lake Atitlan which is such an amazing place.

It took us about 4 hours to get to the lake from Comalapa and the roads were bumpy and curvy the entire way. We stopped an hour away from Lake Atitlan and saw our first glimpses of the gorgeous vistas that would be our backdrop for the next two days. 

When we arrived we got to explore the town San Pedro and bargain with the local vendors for souvenirs. Then it was time for Shabbat at the Chabad house in San Pedro. The dinner was enormous and delicious, and we had fun singing songs and discussing Tikkun Olam and tzedekh. It was empowering to witness the strength and warmth of the Jewish community in a place like Guatemala.

After Shabbat dinner we got to experience the nightlife in San Pedro and by far my favorite part was meeting all the travelers here and hearing their stories. I got back to my hotel at 2 am, but Lauren, Alexis and I were awake again at 3:30 am to go on our sunrise hike up "Indian Nose," a mountain that looks like the face of a Mayan. We hiked for an hour by the light of the moon, the stars, and our iPhone flashlights.

 We climbed steep slopes and crawled through barbed wire to reach the peak of the mountain at 5:30 am. During the hike, our guide showed us coffee plants and we got to suck on raw espresso beans to experience the sweet, mild taste of the plant. 

When we reached the peak, we had a 360 degree view of the lake, the mountains, the 5 towns, and the Pacific Ocean. As the sun rose before us, one of the volcanoes erupted, spilling smoke into the incredible skyline of clouds, fog, and sunlight. We hiked back down for an hour just in time to catch up with more of the group to go kayaking from 8 am to 9 am.

 We were the only visitors on the lake, and it was serene to travel through the fog in kayaks while surrounded by mountains on all sides. After kayaking, we returned to Chabad for a traditional Shabbat breakfast of "ג׳חנון".


After breakfast, we split into groups for excursions. My group rode a water taxi to another town, San Marco, for the day. We all bought fresh coconuts and the vendor cut them open for us so we could drink the milk. 


Then we hiked through a park full of Mayan ruins to relax in the sun and swim in the lake. It was a new experience to swim in a large body of freshwater off of cliffs instead of a beach. 

Then we got lunch at MoonFish, including a variety of burritos, sandwiches and other dishes made from local Guatemalan ingredients. I also had my first cup of Guatemalan coffee and a brownie made from Guatemalan chocolate. We engaged in wonderful conversation with Robin and Dory, the Long Way Home staff who served as our guides for the day. After lunch, we shopped in San Marco and returned to the park. Allison S, Allison L, Sivan, Julia and Harley were brave souls who dove over 80 feet off of cliffs into the lake.

No amount of pictures or blog post descriptions could do justice to the views that surrounded us.

We returned to San Pedro in time to spend the last of our quetzales on jewelry, souvenirs, and dinner.  We finished the trip with an intimate and sentimental Havdalah ceremony on the balcony of our hotel - it was such a special Shabbat for all of us and I'm so glad we got to share so many memories and experiences together on this trip.

As I write this, we are driving back out of Lake Atitlan, back up the switchback roads to Comalapa and then to Guatemala City and the airport. No more count-offs, no more gassy incidents, no more tortillas and rice and beans with every meal, no more bargaining in Spanish, no more dust in every corner and crevice, no more cold showers. It has been a spiritual, powerful, sentimental few days.

Thank you so much to Hillel, Lauren, Ortal, Feliciano y su familia, the Long Way Home staff, and everyone on the trip with me for making this "la semana más alegre de mi vida" - the happiest week of my life.

*Kudos to Bethany, Julia and Allison S. for contributing to the ASB GUATEMLA blog posts!

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