The Sun Rises Over Lago Atitlan

Time is precious. I’ve come to appreciate that more during the months I’ve spent here on Lago Atitlan. I experience the passing of time very differently here.

In contrast to the U.S. cultural norm of scheduling every minute of every day, time is a bit more fluid here, especially in my work life since I create my own schedule. I don’t have a time card, I don’t time my lunch hour. I don’t find myself checking my watch constantly, or rushing from one meeting to the next hoping to make it in time. I don’t wake up at the last possible minute, rush to arrive by a certain time, sit at a desk waiting for the clock to display 5:00pm.

And yet, every minute is precious, but I live it in a different way –  a fuller, more authentic way, in which I experience the world around me, rather than fixating on the numbers of a clock. Instead of scheduling every minute of every day in advance, I enjoy all of the moments in between my scheduled activities. I revel in not knowing what time it is or how much time I’ve spent doing something, be it a swim in the lake or a meeting with my co-workers. I feel that I am free to take all the time I need, without having to rush or cut anything short.

And yet, I feel the time is passing quickly. And I wonder if twelve months is enough time to experience all that I want to while I’m here. I can hardly believe three months have passed already. And it seems every day I find out about some new activity, some curious marvel, some distant and beautiful location that I hope to do or see or visit before I say goodbye to this place.

With this in mind, I’ve been taking every opportunity to aprovechar my time here. I wake up early and stay out late. I fill my days with beautiful sights and sounds and people. I pour myself into my work, and I fully enjoy my days off. And I find it very difficult to say no – both to requests and invitations.

So, this past weekend, I took advantage of the opportunity to hike a mountain (called Nariz Maya or Indian Nose) at 4 in the morning in order to see the sun rise over Lago Atitlan from its peak. And, because we had to get to the mountain from the town of San Pedro across the lake, I also took advantage of the opportunity to experience San Pedro’s vibrant nightlife before hiking this mountain at 4 in the morning. I think it goes without saying that I was quite tired, but in the best possible way. Although at the moment of being woken to go on this hike, I second-guessed my decision, when we got to the top and the clouds cleared a bit as the sun made its way up into the sky and reflected off of the still water below, I knew there was no better way to be spending that time.

Daycation in San Pedro La Laguna

Around the lake are many pueblos, each with their own unique vibe/atmosphere. The pueblo I live in, Santiago, is mostly known for being the most traditional, a place where you can truly immerse yourself in the Tzu’tujil Mayan culture, observe ancient religious celebrations, art forms, and other customs, and…that’s about it. It’s not really much of a tourist destination or adventure site. But, that’s what I love about it – it hasn’t been gringo-fied yet, and it’s a great place to work and truly live amongst the locals.

Some of the other towns, however, are known for their nightlife, attractions, restaurants, etc, and it is nice to have some options just a boat ride away! So, yesterday, my friend Katie and I went to explore San Pedro la Laguna. Here is what I had heard about San Pedro before visiting:

  • weird old hippies live there
  • they have a notable nightlife
  • certain substances are highly available
  • tons of gringos live there and have taken over the lakefront

After visiting, I can confirm that most of these things are quite accurate. But, we also discovered a lot more!

San Pedro definitely has a very different feel to it than Santiago, which was first notable when people began speaking to us in English as soon as we disembarked from the boat. And all of the restaurant menus were in English. And all of the people walking the streets were speaking English. And we went to a bookstore and all of the books were in English (actually, they had some variety of other languages as well, but shockingly, no Spanish). Basically, being in San Pedro feels like you’re in some beautiful tropical location that ISN’T Guatemala.

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But, it’s pretty charming. From the Santiago dock, you walk a winding path that is closed in by fences and trees, so it feels like a sort of neighborhood back alley road, but is crowded with restaurants and hotels. We arrived around lunch time and were pretty excited about the overwhelming number of restaurant options compared to Santiago, so after popping into the bookstore, we decided to eat. One of the first places we came upon, El Barrio, had a killer brunch special so we ate there. A mimosa, all you can eat waffles, pancakes, hash browns, breakfast potatoes, granola, yogurt, and fruit, PLUS an omelet cooked with whatever you want PLUS a side for 40Q (around $5!) They had a nice outdoor seating area, excellent service, and the food was just delicious, and certainly the largest quantity of food I’ve eaten in one sitting since arriving in Guatemala.

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We continued wandering, checking out stores and restaurant menus, just to have some knowledge of what was available for return trips! I had seen a few signs for a health food store that I was curious about, so we tracked that down, and I was like Leslie Knope in a waffle shop. They had tea (high quality teas in a variety of flavors), brands of dark chocolate bars that I hadn’t seen since Whole Foods, freshly ground peanut butter and cashew butter, granola, nutritional yeast, soy burgers and fake chicken nuggets and hummus and TEMPEH. I had to restrain myself (but I did buy some tea, chocolate, peanut butter, and tempeh.) And I will definitely be back.

We made our way onto the main street by the dock to Panajachel and decided to get some French press coffee at a cafe looking out over the water. We also indulged in a cinnamon roll purchased from a woman off the street, and the chocolate I bought at the health food store.

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We felt like tourists, but we also enjoyed that feeling for a while…before getting the boat back to sweet home Santiago.