Lago de Atitlan has been described by Aldous Hulxley as the most beautiful lake in the world. Surrounded my mountains on all sides with 3 volcanoes overlooking it it certainly is breath taking. Dotted around the lake are several very colorful Mayan towns each very individual and unique.
After spending a couple of days in San Marcus relaxing by the lake I felt I was ready to leave. I was informed there were bandits in the mountains and it was safer to cross the lake by boat. I wasnt so sure about loading my bike into a small lancha but the locals were not at all phased by it. So i bought a ticket for Burrito and we loaded her into a lancha. As we crossed the lake I looked back at Volcan de San Pedro, there was a sense of unfinished business and an incomplete experience. I had visited a couple of settlements around the lake and had my fill from the cultural standpoint. Beautiful and chaotic as a Guatemalan towns can be. I decided I had to experience more of the natural environment and the best way to do that I figured was to climb the volcano and see the lake from its best vantage point on top of Volcan de San Pedro.
Lago Atiltan is located about 1500 m above sea level, with Volcan de San Pedro a further 1500m towering above the lake. The peak being 3020 m above sea level.
My alarm went off at 5.20am. I rolled over to squeez the last few minutes of comfort from my bed. By 5.30 I was in the shower trying to wake myself. I packed my bag and checked over my things. I was intent on sleeping on top of the volcanoe for the night to hopefully see the sun rise the next day.
I debated taking my stove and fuel bottle but I was carrying enough stuff as it was. I had my tent, sleeping bag, my jacket, a rain mac and a spare pair of socks along with the usual, cameras, Spot device, Leatherman, lighter. This time I didnt take any fanny with me. All in all the bag was pretty heavy.
My guide Enrique arrived at 6 am. Part of the deal when entering the park is you have to take a local guide, I didn’t mind as it kept the locals in employment. We took a lancha across the lake to San Pedro. We picked up some supplies in the small town of San Pedro and jumped in a tuk tuk to bring us to the trail entrance.
The accent was steady at first and saw us walking through coffee and maize plantations. The volcanic soil is particularly rich here and the very steep sides of of the volcano are cultivated by the locals.
The accent was supposed to take 3-4 hours but my guide was keen to push on and I was too. On these sort of things once I set into a rhythm I don’t like to stop too often, plus for much of the time the vista is blocked by vegetation, so I saw no reason to stop.
Carrying the camping gear slowed me down a bit but we still made great time and were at the top in 2 hours and 35 minutes. It was a good old slog, and I cant say my legs and muscles weren’t hurting me.
After sharing a can of Pepsi (Enrique’s favorite tipple) at the top, Enrique turned around wished me Beuna Suerta and went back down the mountain. I’d imagine he had done it so many times. It was probably just like a walk in the park for him.
There were 4 other people up there when we arrived at the top and once they had left after an half an hour or so I had the top to myself. I spent the next half hour perched on a rock enjoying the view over Lago de Atltlan and taking some lunch.
The weather started to turn and now the whole top was in a cloud. The top being a bit exposed and damp I decided to come back down a little where there was an open area and a makeshift cabin. This is where I figured I would spend the night.
It looked like it was going to rain so I set about collecting some firewoood for the evening and storing it in the cabin porch. I checked out the cabin and it wasnt a place i fancied sleeping the night. It looked like something from the movie Blair Witch Project and looked like somewhere where someone might murder someone, especially an unsuspecting foreign traveler, like me for example, so there was no way I’d be sleeping in there. I’d be sleeping in my impregnable nylon tent, far safer I reasoned. I then put my feet up in a log bench and rested.
Sure enough the clouds swept in, I could see the fog whisp in through the branches as I lay there looking up. It wasn’t long before the rains came but by then I had swept the porch and had made myself a nice area to sit down in.
2 groups of 2 people passed me by on their way to the top. They thought it a bit strange to see me there in the porch looking more like a vagrant rather than a hiker.
After a while it started to clear up a bit and I was bored sitting around and I had forgotten to bring my book, so I headed back to the top. It was only 3.30pm after all. I met the other hikers on their down again.
The view had cleared up by then and it was exhilerating to look out far across the lake again. I decided this had to be the best place to camp for the night. Not in the “safer” confines of the camping area, with the cabin and toilets and the designated murder area. It had to be the top. I imagined myslelf zipping open my tent and just rolling out to see the sun rise.
Decision made I went back down to the murder area and collected my stuff and carried another 7 or 8 kg of wood with me wrapped up in my tent ground sheet. I was severly over loaded, But made the accent of probably 300m with everything in tact.
Usually I set up my tent and drag it to the location I like after a bit of prodding around. This time my choice of location was made for me, as no sooner as I had my tent set up the rains came again . I threw my things in the tent, covered my firewood and jumped in.
I then set about my favorite past time resting and thinking. I was pretty well shattered from the swift climb and my leg muscules were aching so I just lay there trying to sleep and turning restlessly while the rain pattered down on the tent.
My sleep was very uncomfortable and I awoke many times but at 3 am, I awoke and the tent appeared to be bright. The rain had stopped and I wandered whether it was distant light from the sun. I zipped open my tent and it was a bright beaming half moon and stars. I got my clothes on, got out of my tent and sat on the rock looking over Atitilan, what a special place. Around the lake I could see the tinkling lights of some of the towns and villages, and the moon light reflecting on the lake. The stars appeared bigger and brighter than I had seen before. I wondered whether this was a trick of the eye or whether altitude and less dence air made them appear so. It was a very cool experience to be sitting there in the still of night.
After a half hour so I went back to the comfort of my tent to await the the sun rise and the new day. At 5.20 I woke with a jolt. I put my clothes on and hopped out of the tent.
To the east over the lake and the mountains behind it the sky was red, and the clouds were shades of grey purple and red. It was a beautifully clear day. The sun was just coming up. I could see the peaks of Volcan Atitlan to the south east which had been obscured by clouds the previous day.
As the sun rose over the mountians the colours cast against the clouds, the water of lake, and the mountains were majestic.
I perched my self up on the rocks and soaked up the warmth of the suns rays and watched changing spectacle.
Life was very good.