Close your eyes and imagine the calmest you’ve ever felt. Now open them: if you’re me, you see nothing but clear blue skies and their perfect reflection casting tiny waves, not quite crashing whitecaps, just a peacefully rhythmic lake. One boat, maybe two, dot the shore, gently floating up and down. To either side of the rocky beach lines a jungle dense with greenery, and off in the distance is the cobalt outline of an active volcano. No people are around, no animals, nothing but the contrast of a cool breeze kissing your skin and the sun’s warm glow. It’s you and nature. Untouched. Unbothered. Unseen.
This is Lake Atitlán. Not the whole lake is like this, as many mini cities line the edges of Guatemala’s idyllic yet massive fresh water enclave. But Santa Cruz, where my quaint hostel sat, bore no tourists other than our own. For a hostel, I definitely found it was a welcome slice of quiet in an otherwise bustling tourist and retiree destination. I slept in a treehouse where I fell asleep to the sound of monkeys howling and nearly stumbled on freshly fallen avocados as I made my way to the bathroom in the dark. After describing such a peaceful place, you’d imagine I didn’t do much but relax here. On the contrary, I had a rather interesting day in paradise. So let me explain…
In Lake Atitlán the fastest way to get around from town to town is via tiny little boats that hold no more than 30 people and run from dawn until dusk. In Santa Cruz, the last boat stops at 7 PM, so armed with this knowledge, I ventured out one afternoon to go explore some of the other parts of the lake. I visited San Marcos, a hippy’s paradise, where I felt like I was in a tropical Ithaca.
Yogis in dreadlocks scattered about, the smell of incense wafted through the air, and I gave reiki a try for the first time. I really can’t tell you if it was a life changing experience, but what I can tell you is that while I was sitting there, 100% sober, in the middle of the day laying on this outdoor massage table, I felt like I was tripping. No one was touching me, yet I started to feel heavy, and somehow also enlightened. I kid you not, I even started to see things. Good thing I didn’t take any food or water from them – I can affirm I wasn’t drugged, but the things I was seeing may as well have been a DMT trip. And the weirdest part is that this now happens to me all the time. Anytime I feel super relaxed and shut my eyes, the same vivid colors dance across my eyelids, forming patterns and shapes out of my wildest dreams. I guess reiki opened up a pathway to a part of my brain I didn’t even know existed.
After my crystal healing from a Guatemalan earth goddess that day in San Marcos, I felt relaxed and aloof. When I made my way back to the dock in a daze, it was just in time for sunset. I had two options: go west, back to my peacefully isolated hostel in Santa Cruz, or continue eastward to see what else is out there. The effervescent wanderlust in me chose the second option.
Next up was San Pedro, the backpacker capital of Lago de Atitlán. It was fun to explore, and way more crowded than where I was staying. I must’ve roamed around practicing my Spanish and haggling for souvenirs for an hour or two. When I made my way back to the dock for what I assumed would be my last boat ride of the day, I was met with no boats, no people, no one other than a bronze wrinkled woman who bore signs of a life well-lived.
As we both caught glimpses of the sunset in between our terse conversation, she told me in Spanish that there would be no more boats for the day. In fact, I missed the last boat by an hour or two. All I had with me were the clothes on my back, backpack with my Canon Rebel, my diary, and about 100 quetzal to my name ($13 US Dollars).
Just when I began to weigh my options, I turned around to find another person standing on the dock; he was talking to a man by a boat that just approached the shore. He looked American- the accent and Yankee hat were a dead give away – so we got to talking for a bit. He had actually made the same exact mistake that I did. But there was another option; we could charter a private boat to take us back to our respective parts of the lake. The catch was that it would cost over Q1,000. The day boats we had taken earlier were Q20 to give you a sense of perspective. I explained the lack of $ in my pocket and suggested he should come stay in a nearby hostel with me. “I heard this part of the lake is really fun anyway. We may as well check it out.” He said he’d love to but he couldn’t stay because he had a dog. I looked at him with a puzzled expression on my face and said, “You brought your dog all the way to Guatemala?” As it turns out, he was from New Jersey. Even better – he walked to Guatemala from New Jersey. YEP. Walked. Took him a little under a year, too. This guy is walking around the WORLD for 5 years. This was about a year and a half ago and at this point, April 2017, he’s made it all the way to the bottom of South America. He even did a two-week stint in Antarctica and is about to make his way over to Europe. My mother says he’s the perfect man for me ’cause he won’t be home for another 2 years.
It would be only natural to assume that meeting someone on a literal walk around the world marked the end of my interesting day. Not quite. When I got to the hostel just up the road, they looked at me with the same expression you show a puppy that just peed on the carpet for the 3rd time, after a valiant effort to make it to the pee pad. At the front desk, a mix of empathy, pity and hysteric amusement crossed this woman’s face as she listened to me explain my situation. She didn’t even collect my deposit for a room key because she knew I wouldn’t have enough money to go eat dinner. I’m happy they even had a last-minute room for me, but am unsure if that moment was a new high or a new low in my life.
While I was checking in, ready to call it a night, I heard a girl calling my name in surprise: “Olivia?!?” People always say it’s a really small world and I’m a firm believer in that. We are definitely separated by less than 6 degrees in the digital era. Backtrack a few days prior; I met a girl named Sammi in Antigua (maybe 3 hours away from the lake) who was around my age and from Syosset. For those who don’t know, that’s a 5-minute drive from Oyster Bay, the town where I went to high school. Anyway, this girl calling my name in San Pedro? You guessed it, it was Sammi. When we last spoke back in Antigua, it wasn’t in her plans to come to this part of the lake and/or this hostel, but nor was it mine. What are the odds? If that’s not fate than I don’t know what is.
Sammi and I wound up going to dinner that night with a group of other backpackers. We had great conversation, a few drinks, delicious food, and best of all, I didn’t have to eat like a pauper because I wound up Venmoing Sammi for dinner once we got back to the hostel. Really amazing how far technology has come hasn’t it? Venmo serving me well in a developing country. Bless our planet.
So yeah, that was a pretty eventful day and needless to say I slept like a baby. A baby without a pillow or pajamas or anything but a backpack, but a happy baby nonetheless 🙂
In Case You’re Interested
And for Reiki…it was the Smile Center on San Marcos. Ask around the town for Dennis (the owner). He’s in his late 80s, hails from Canada, and is a well-known healer on the lake. But doesn’t have a website 🙂
I’d love to hear about any of your crazy days you’ve had on the go. Have you met anyone really interesting? Bumped into someone in a new city? Let me know in the comments!