We climbed a volcano and rode massive waves, but don't worry, we're all alive to tell the story! Here's what happened:
After class and eating lunch with our host families, we took a two-hour race-car style van ride up to the base of an active volcano called Volcán de Pacaya. From the base, we began a 10km hike up to the crater. Some opted to ride on horseback, while the rest of us endured the climb to the summit. As difficult as the hike was at times, the effort was well worth it when our guide, José, took out marshmallows and told us we were going to roast them in the crater. We thought he was joking until he picked up a rock, tossed it to a member of our group, and we started a game hot-potato with it because it was so hot. After eating a geothermally-cooked marshmallow, we returned to the summit as the sun began to set. We began descending when our guide called out in Spanish that there was fire coming from another peak of the volcano. We all turned to look, and sure enough, we could see what looked like fireworks coming out of the top of the volcano. After watching for a bit, we started down the path to return to the base. It was dark as we began descending, and in the woods we suddenly heard what sounded like a boar charging toward us. Some of us screamed/cursed, but it turned out to just be our sneaky guide trying to scare us.
The next morning, we got up early to head to Lake Atitlan, about three hours from the small town of San Juan del Obipso where we are staying. The lake is about 100 kilometers across and over 300 meters deep in some places. Upon arrival in the small city of Panajachel, we took una lancha (a boat) across the lake to a town called Santa Cruz la Laguna. From there we hiked alongside the steep lakeshore to another small town. Many of the towns alongside the lake are historic Mayan villages where many of the citizens still speak indigenous languages. On our walk, there was no shortage of amazing views of the two volcanoes that surround the lake. In one of the towns, we visited a cooperative of Mayan women who make various woven goods by hand. They showed us the traditional steps that they follow in creating the products from raw cotton. The cooperative allows these women to earn money to pay for the education of their children. It was amazing to see the brilliant colors and designs that come from the natural dyes and wooden looms. After this, we crossed the lake once again, although this time it was a bit more treacherous as the wind and waves had picked up throughout the day. We then passed the evening exploring the town, Panajachel where we stayed in a nice hotel.
On our return to San Jan del Obispo the next morning, we went to the public market in a nearby city, Chichicastenango. It was a busy place filled with many typical crafts from Guatemala. We learned a little bit about bartering with the various vendors, and it was a great experience to talk with many people. We can’t believe we’re half way through our time in Guatemala. As much as we enjoyed the weekend we are excited to be back with our host families and to be attending our Spanish classes once again.
Andrew Braun and Taylor Gades