Guatemala: Xela to Lago Atitlan

Part 1 – Money Problems

This is what happened. 

The first day in Guatemala started at 5:30am and ended around 11:30pm. The first stop was Antigua to drop off my bags and unnecessary supplies, then the shuttle came for Xela. The majority of the day was spent getting to Xela to meet with the Quezeltrekkers group. By nightfall I had arrived in Xela, and needed to pay for the trek. I assumed in the large town of Xela I would have no problems with ATMs, but that wasn’t the case. 

Nothing worked. After spending 2 hours visiting all the cities banks I panicked. It was about 9:30pm and I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. Needless to say, my decision making was struggling. I called my brother and asked him to call my bank on my behalf to see if anything was wrong, because my Skype number, hotspot AND local WiFi were all not working either. It was one of those moments when everything stacked against me. All this panic triggered my brother, and before long the whole family was involved and concerned. Clearly, asking for someone else to do my banking from a developing country wasn’t the best call. My dad found out how much money I needed and without my permission transferred all my funds (except the $350 I needed) out of my account. This caused more panic. My card wasn’t working AND I wasn’t aware why thousands of dollars were removed from my account. 

Eventually I gave up, I had dollars to pay for the hike, which Quezeltrekker did not want. The next morning, ‘well rested’ I woke up and resolved the payment issues. TURNS OUT THE WHOLE TIME I COULD HAVE JUST PAID THEM VIA CARD (clearly I missed that detail in our previous discussions… FML)

Part 2 – Trekking

Then the trek started. 3 days trekking of along old gorilla routes from war times that are now used as farming trails, the group of Quezeltrekkers wandered through the rolling hills of Guatemala visiting remote local villages. We’d see the villages from a distance, then trek through grasslands, and jungle until we arrived. At several villages we took small breaks and observed the local living conditions and activities. The experience was grounding, simple and held a wonderful atmosphere. 

The first day, we were blessed with clear skies which allowed us to see the entire landscape we’d be trekking the following days. As a diverse group of people, the conversations and ideas bouncing around on the trails were wonderful, and continue to bring perspective to my daily living. We spent the first night sleeping in a municipal hall with mats on the floor. Before bed, we were invited to enjoy a ‘pizza oven steam’ – which was essentially a clay dome with some large buckets of very hot water. It reminded me of the steams my brother makes in Canada while camping with a tarp and pot. 

The following day, we enjoyed a typical Guatemalan breakfast, and trekked some more exposed trails. Eventually we found our way to cornfields, pea fields, and rolling hills. Then we stayed at a ministers home, where the dining room turned into our bedroom while we played guitar and enjoyed a campfire in the yard.

I fell asleep thinking “wow I over complicate so much of my life in my head”. 

Part 3 – The Lesson

The last day, we trekked to watch the sunrise over Lago Atilan. The beauty of this basin shocked me. Walking by moonlight through the hillside was the perfect entrance into the majestic sunrise that brought life to the blessed communities of Lago Atilan. Unfortunately, we were escorted down to San Pedro by the police due to recent local opportunistic crime in the area.

Then, a helicopter overhead continued to pass us. There was a girl with psychosis who had been spending time in the area that had gone missing. After several weeks of not contributing to the local communities, she was last seen taking a musical instrument off a stage and wandering into the bush. The mass European media outlets used this event to highlight the danger in the area. It was fascinating to observe this event unfolding while in the area. It became clear that generally speaking our world is safe, yet occasionally the user of the space does something harmful, and this abnormal event gets highlighted, which then shapes peoples’ perspectives and conversations.

The whole trek illustrated the importance of understanding the effects the media has on our lives, how simple life can be, and yet how complicated it can be made… How easily people obey an authoritative source, or get lost in noisy conversations.

I picked up some local crafted shorts and a blanket, then headed back to Antigua to work for the week… pondering the trek, rural villages, and magical basin.

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