We wake up early to the alarm going off. It’s 6:00 AM and although it’s daylight, it feels like an ungodly hour to be getting up. I stumble out of the van and my eye catches fellow Pasajcapper Laynni, already up on the deck doing yoga. Damn… how does she do it?!
Marc transforms the bed back into an eating area while I feed Walter and pour a couple of bowls of cereal. By 7:00 AM, we’re on our way to meet our friends at Pasajcap’s front office. Walter drags me to them in his excitement.
Hiking is a big part of our lifestyle when we travel and even more so when we’re here on Lake Atitlan. There’s a group of us here that hike 3-4 times per week, usually led by our friend Leigh – an expat from England. Leigh is an awesome hiking guide – he has a dry British sense of humour and knows the trails around the lake like the back of his hand. This year, Leigh’s been away for much of the season so he’s been replaced by ‘Junior guides’ Bill and Laynni who despite our teasing, generally know where they’re going. We always manage to get back home and they haven’t lost anyone… yet.
Today’s hike will bring us WAYYY up the mountain to the Parque Regional Chuira-x-amolo, ~ 2,500 m above sea level. Getting up there involves a lot of public transportation but it’s worth it for the amazing views over the lake.
We’re a VERY brightly-coloured group of gringos hiking with a leashed northern dog – you can’t miss us on our dusty walk to the nearby village of San Marcos. Our organized friends have called ahead and when we arrive in the village, 5 tuk-tuks are waiting to take us to our first stop – San Pablo. Tuk-tuk drivers can be a competitive bunch and often like to race each other. As evidenced below, the passengers can be equally competitive. Our driver today is particularly keen and we speed to the front of the pack, arriving first in San Pablo.
We squeeze out of the tuk-tuk and our group flags down a pick-up truck. Yes, we are travelling up the mountain in the back of a pick-up truck. This would be unheard of in Canada but in Guatemala, it’s a totally legit form of public transportation. We all hop into the back except for Marc, who must first hoist Walter over the tailgate, using his giant, bulging arm muscles (no – Marc didn’t influence this part ;)). Walter always looks slightly panicked as he’s hoisted into the truck but once in there, he’s fairly content. The truck powers up the steep switchbacks and I’m once again convinced that it’s a much better option than travelling in the Chicken Bus. When we arrive in Santa Clara, we pay the truck driver 15 Q – 5 Q per person (including Walter) as agreed at the bottom of the mountain. The truck driver decides he wants 20Q for the 3 of us. I argue that 5 x 3 = 15. He’s not convinced but he gives up.
By the time we meet our friends at the minibus, it’s jam-packed and there’s no way the 3 of us can (or want to) squeeze in there. Junior guide Bill says “we’ll wait for you at the top!” and off they go. We immediately find another minibus heading in the same direction. I’m relieved that it’s empty and we pick a prime seat. There’s no room for Walter on the floor so he ends up in my lap, like a baby. We wait. I start to worry because I know our friends are going to be stuck waiting for us at the top. Slowly the bus starts to fill and half an hour later, it’s bursting with people. The locals either think it’s hilarious or completely bizarre that Walter is in my lap… some of them are curious and want to know all about him.
When we finally arrive at the Parque, our friends are cold (it’s chilly way up here!) and anxious to get going. The view from the top is amazing and I want to hang out and take pictures but the group is on the move. I hurriedly take a ridiculous number of not very well planned photos, of which only about 2 turn out (that’s the beauty of taking a lot of photos – you only need one!).
It takes us about 2 hours to walk from the Parque back down to Santa Clara. Along the way, I capture some stunning views of the lake, volcanoes and mountains. The trail is beautiful but very dusty and I continually manage to kick dirt into my hiking shoes, cursing as I go. By the time we arrive in Santa Clara, Marc and I are starved and really excited about our Guatemalan breakfast at Los Olivos restaurant. The owner of the restaurant knows our group and welcomes us warmly. He says it’s no problem to bring our dog into the restaurant and Walter happily drags us to our table. Los Olivos serves an awesome traditional breakfast of eggs, local cheese, fried beans, tortillas, fried plantains and coffee. It’s delicious and it hits the spot.
With full stomachs, we head back out for the final leg of the hike. Half the group opts to head back down the mountain in the bus. The thought of more public transportation with Walter is far more exhausting than the remaining 2 hours for hiking so we continue on foot. We walk through Santa Clara, out onto the rural roads and up to the farmer’s fields on the back side of Indian Nose. We’ve walked this part of the trail many times before but the view from the ridge is one of my favourites and it never gets old.
The path down from the ridge is steep and Junior guide Bill maintains a blistering pace. The pace is easy for Walter and he wants nothing more than to catch up with Bill. It’s all I can do to keep him from dragging me to my death or trampling our friends up ahead. My ‘restraining Walter’ muscles are getting a very good workout today. We make fantastic time getting down to the village of San Juan and we’re all pretty tired by the time we get to the bottom. Junior Guide Bill decides that we’ll save drinks until happy hour so we skip the beer and head straight to the dock to catch a boat back to Pasajcap.
The boat brings us to the San Marcos dock where we wait to load and unload some passengers. While I wait, I snap a photo of the local boys jumping off the dock into the lake. They tell me they want a Quetzal ($) for their modelling efforts. I tell them I want a Quetzal for my photography efforts. It’s a draw. I start looking for other photos to take and Bill says ‘don’t take my picture’! I wasn’t planning on it but now I have to so I snap a quick close-up without even looking through the lens, just to get on his nerves. We both agree that it turned out pretty well!
My legs are sore by the time we arrive back at Pasajcap. I head straight to the Overlander shower, hoping it will be unoccupied. It is and the shower feels amazing. I emerge smelling like a rose, squeaky clean except for my feet which after 8 weeks on these dusty, dirty roads I believe might never be clean again. Who really needs clean feet anyway?
Back at the van I put my dirty feet up and enjoy the view. We’re going to deserve our beers tonight!