How pleasant to be met by Marta at the airport! We spend the first night in Guatemala City, a chaotic metropolis with broken, crowded streets, street kids, ….
In a minibus we drive down from the coffee town of Coban through beautiful tropical karst landscape. In a village with a colourful market, more and more traditionally dressed indigenous people get on board, it gets really crowded and the young Australian backpackers behind me start to complain… but hours later we see our accommodation (firmly in Canadian hands by the way), the pretty wooden huts with hammocks in front of the doors, the bar by a green rushing stream that comes shooting out of a cave entrance a few km away…. and everyone is happy again. How beautiful Guatemala is! Welcome to the travel bubble! (But what is the real Guatemala? Not perhaps the packed buses after all, leaving a little boy in the dust lugging home an incredible load of firewood?) With candles in hand, we swim through a cave river, climb up beside an underground waterfall…. and again in the open air, after a few jumps from the 10 m high bridge into the river, we are in Semuc Champey: some sinter pools separated from each other by more or less large natural dams with waterfalls invite us to swim… but the highlight is that the big river coming through the gorge lined with karst cones disappears above in a waterfall in a hole and flows through a tunnel under the pools!
Christmas in Antigua, a pretty colonial town, at times the centre of power in Central America, dressed up to look almost fake. In the background, the volcano Agua rises into the sky, a little further to the right, Fuego and Acatenango are mostly in clouds. It is impressive how many monasteries there were here, at that time monasteries, in order to promote Christianisation, were given huge estates along with the forced labour of the indigenous people living on them, which attracted many destitute immigrants.
Actually, the entire history of this country is a single catastrophe, with a long series of brutal dictators, countless went missing, and massacres, civil war, forced labour and unrestrained exploitation, the monopoly of the United Fruit Company, colonisation…. as a tourist, only those who also read between the lines will be reminded.
Humboldt called Lake Atitlan the most beautiful in the world and here I have the feeling of sitting in a painted picture: the blue of caldera lake surrounded by steep green slopes and the two volcanic cones on the opposite side….
On the way to Mexico, I storm the 3772 m high Santa Maria volcano en passant, alone and at night, at the top at sunrise. A perfect cone seen from the north, but during the devastating eruption in 1902 the entire southern half was blown away. In its place, the Santiaguito dome complex has since emerged, deep below me. Every now and then, small pyroclastic flows detach from the dome and sometimes smaller explosions send up a cloud of ash. The view in the other directions is just as fantastic, the cones line up close together, almost all of Guatemala’s volcanoes are visible.