24 Apr 2016 Day 1: Lago Atitlan Trek – The toughest day
This is the story of how we walked ourselves from one town to another through the highlands of Guatemala. We trekked over 45km in 3 days with a very cool group, the Quetzaltrekkers. They are a group of strictly volunteers that take hikers out on a number of Guatemala’s best hikes. All the money goes to charity, there is no formal management or over head, current volunteers train the next wave of volunteers, with some local long term volunteers as well. The money goes to help supports the at risk youth of Xela.
Day 1: Getting out of Xela!
Our day started by hopping the only cab in the Central Park of Xela. We managed to enter the cab even without the apparently optional door handles. We stayed close to Central Park and Quetzaltrekkers is a good 25 minute walk, which we weren’t up for before the hike even started.
A pre hike breakfast of eggs, fruit, and coffee have us the juice to kick it off.
After we dropped our bags we were ready and I was extra ready to get out of Xela (my least favorite city to date) we hiked with our pack to the chicken bus stop about a half hour away through the city. The bus then takes us upto the start of the hike going through dirt road villages surrounding Xela in the foothills of the Sierra Maders.
The first three parts up hill before break into flat plains where we reach one of the highest points of the trek at around 10,000 feet (3000 Meters). We poke in and out of the cloud forest as we pass farms and small villages.
After an hour of tough descent along a ridge-line, it was time for a lunch of veggie sandwiches and a much needed break.
We watched local men and horse carrying amounts of wood on their back that made mine hurt just looking at them. And I saw where they were coming from and where they were headed… The same way we were, the same way that soaked my shirt in sweat, the same way that was difficult for us with expensive hiking gear with 1/3 of the weight. All they were equipped with was a rope around the wood and strap across their forehead.
The afternoon past relativity easily until we got to the road to town… The last hour of the hike felt like a death march. It wasn’t so much the current road but the culmination of the day.
The rest stop for the night is Santa Catarina. Everyone was wiped, we all sat our sleep mats out, took off our shoes, and we all just laid there for at least a half an hour. No one said much, just recovered until it was time to make dinner. Dinner was pasta, along with hot drinks and a bunch of veggies.
In between dinner and our early bed time we got the chance clean up in a local Mayan Sauna. Running water is not a luxury that is available in the mountain villages of Guatemala, so instead they construct small buildings outside their homes as a place to clean up and i guess relax. Basically a small shed with very short ceilings, a bench sits on the far side of the room, with two large jugs of water. One pot is placed touching rocks which are heated by wood, the rocks emit heat like a common sauna, and the hot water is used for washing. The water straight from the hot pot needs to be mixed with the second cold water pot to a temperature of your liking. After 15 minutes I was pretty smoky and as clean as I was going to get.
It was an interesting experience, I am not sure if I got a lot cleaner but if not it was pretty smokey and that probably helped covered up my stinky-ness.
I can’t complain because it rained a total of about 10 minutes while we were on the trail, but at night it more than made up for it. It was a rough night of sleep to say the least, rain pounded on the tin roof, compounded by getting adjust to sleeping on the cement floor. If that’s wasn’t enough to wake you, the church bell struck every hour. They went off at midnight and ever hour of the night. Oh yeah, then there must have been a large amount of cocks in town that started Cock-adoodle-do-ing with the 3 am bell and did not stop until it was light out. The town seemed to have a built-in alarm clock that goes off at 530, and then as if someone hit snooze 5:45 and 6:00. I’m not sure how that town sleeps, but we managed to just enough to be able to hike Day 2.
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