Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hot Rocks, Cool Waters.

I roasted this marshmallow over hot lava.I roasted this marshmallow over hot lava.

Go back and reread that sentence if you think it will help you believe it. I was on top of an active volcano called Pacaya, a hour or so outside of Antigua, Guatemala. A few minutes before, our guide tossed down some sticks and the heat caused them to erupt into flames within seconds.

The last week has been full of volcanoes. I found out when in Antigua that there were treks up a nearby active volcano to be had, so I found a good way to get there, a bag of marshmallows, and a really long stick. I wasn't alone; the group I was with ended up with two full bags of marshmallows between the six of us.

The climb up Pacaya was a great hike, I'd forgotten just how lush volcanoes can be below the tree line. There were trees and plants of all kinds everywhere until we hit the black cooled volcanic crags. Clambering over those, we got fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and ocean with the sunset, and then saw the lava turn red after dark. The marshmallows were a fun extra. Not something you get to try every day.

After that trek and a little more time in Antigua, I backtracked to Lake Atitlan. I wasn't planning on going there at all, until I talked to an experienced backpacker who told me that, even after living in Japan, Italy, Greece, Argentina, Spain, and visiting dozens of other places, This lake was her favorite place in the world. So I caught a morning bus there the next day.

It's one of the highest lakes in the world, and the deepest of Central America, surrounded by three volcanoes. As soon as we broke out to a spot where we could see the lake from above... well, I'm uploading pictures as we speak, see what you think.

I took a lancha to a place on the lake only accessible by boat, Santa Cruz de la Laguna, and snagged a spot right on the water in an open a-frame with a big loft bed. The weather was perfect, the rainy season was over. We had a really nice sort of lodge right on the lake where a communal dinner was held each night. There were paths leading to waterfalls and viewpoints all over, and the water was great for swimming off of any dock you could get permission to use (or forgiveness after use, if that's more your style). Did I mention just relaxing in a hammock with a good book and a lunch of warm, thick slices of fresh baked bread with a heap of fresh guacamole?

I expected it to be over-hyped, but the place really was beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset. And then there were the stars. The key really was picking one of the most secluded spots. There are several villages around the lake, but the biggest ones are way overdeveloped. If you pick a small one, you will have a great experience. Or even better, you can rent a house on the shore for unbelievably low prices-- between $250-$450 US per month, or $15 US a day in some cases. Just make sure you know the way to the nearest public lancha dock.

So, that lake was the grand finale to my time in Guatemala. I've now moved on to El Salvador. I'm sitting in the little lakeside town of Suchitoto planning a few hikes in the area, then getting ideas of where I can go to learn more about the civil war-- some places to the east are said to have life-changing experiences for those willing to listen to ex-guerrilla guides showing them around. Then on the lighter side, the surfing around here is supposed to be great too. Not that I've ever surfed before, but hey, first time for everything, right?

Now if I can only find a good spot to be on election day to keep track of coverage...

Check out this entry's Photos


  1. Do magma-roasted marshmallows taste different? Older, as they are toasted by rock spat from deep within the earth? I bet you got your whole day's requirement of pumice, though.

    Also, if you can't find a spot to watch the election, expect a 2006-style phone call from me. Si, podemos!

  2. those photos are gorgeous! it looks vaguely like an italian lake--also the photo off the side of the lancha reminds me of gondoliers in venice. i am not sure why all this italian imagery...but beautiful nonetheless.

    (-from seattle, my fingers crossed for obama)

  3. Yeah. They taste better. Don't beleive me? Go try it yourself.

    Seriously though, one of the worst things was what I tried when we accidentally spilled a bunch of the marshmallows... since nobody was going to eat them, I skewered them on a nearby stick and tossed them onto the hot rocks. They swelled up to about five times their original size and started turning weird colors. Looked like somebody inflated and melted a roasted caterpillar. We just all looked at what they were turning into and started thinking that's what we'd just put into our bodies... eugh...

    Then we roasted and ate some more.