Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Somewhere in Latin America
43. Hunting History Around Lake Atitlan
I had heard of an old mayan transport route that cuts between two of the volcanoes around lake Atitlan. Back in the day it served as the fastest way to traverse between the western side of the lake and the villages that lay on the other side of the volcanoes. I had spent quite a bit of time trying to get more information from the locals as to it’s whereabouts, but aside from most just looking at me puzzled or telling me to be careful I had no real luck. In the morning I was leaving and gramps here asked me where I was off to so early. I said what I was trying to find and, of course, he had the hook-up on the info. He said “yeah it’s possible” and drew me a map in the dirt as if it was easy peasy lemon squeezy.
He showed me how to first find the dirt roads that go north up and around the volcanoes and then where I should be able to find the town of Chicacao. From there I could ask where to find the old mayan route from one of the locals in Chicacao. Sweet, thanks gramps!
This early in the morning the lake was calm.
I climbed up and out of the lake and over the ridgeline towards the backside of the volcanoes.
Got out of town and onto the dirt. Somewhere in the distance over there is Chicacao, and hopefully the road I want to find.
The riding was good and the area had great views.
There were several small towns that I passed through, but none where Chicacao.
After a while I found pavement.
Some larger towns.
But still no Chicacao, so I kept going.
Here we go, this is what I’m looking for.
I found Chicacao and went looking for an old person who would be likely to know where the road is. I found Pedro. Pedro was a really nice guy and we ended up chatting for a bit about this area of Guatemala and how things have changed over the years. He told me where to find the entrance to the road and said it’s really not difficult, everyone here knows about it. He aslo told me where to find some good food in the market in town. Thanks Pedro.
Chicacao is a decently sized place, bigger than San Pedro I think but has zero tourists. Most people traveling don’t seem to make it over to this side of the volcanoes, guess there isn’t really anything touristy over here anyways. If you are here riding though and like the dirt, it’s a nice little ride out here.
I went to the market and found the place that Pedro had recommended.
When I was finishing up my tasty meal Pedro showed up to the tienda with his friend Henry. Pedro had ran into Henry after we had parted ways earlier and Henry wanted to come see the bike and say hey. Henry said he had a little farm in the area and I should come check it out if I have time. Shit man, “time” is exactly what I’ve got. Pedro was also riding the exact same bike that was my very first bike. Following him to his house and hearing the sound and smell of his old 2-stroke kawasaki brought me right back to childhood ripping around in the woods by my house. Love that smell and sound of a wound out 2-stroke.
Just a bit out of town we rolled up to his ‘farm’. Well shit, this is not what I expected his ‘farm’ to be like. As I threw the kickstand down and killed the motor all I could hear were tropical birds chirping away and all I could see was lush garden in every direction.
Henry grabbed his leather satchel which he carries his gun in and we went out walking. He said it’s safe on his grounds but you never know when someone might want to cause some trouble.
He’s got a fresh water spring on his property and he channels the water to his farm. He built a pool and diverts some of the spring water into it to keep if full and clean. His dogs like to drink from it too.
Aside from some staff that help run the grounds, he just lives here alone with his two dogs. Wherever he goes, they go as well.
He’s got a couple small ponds where he grows fish to eat, the extra get sold at the market and the nutrient rich waste water gets used to water some of the plants.
Henry’s farm is an ‘ornamental’ plant farm. So he primarily grows and sells plants that are desirable for decoration. Back in the day he sold to Japan, the US, Europe, you name it. Since the recession though he says there isn’t a big enough foreign market for his plants anymore, now he sells mostly locally at markets within the area and throughout Guatemala.
The water from the natural spring that he doesn’t use get’s sent down to a turbine at the bottom of a hill. He then uses this turbine to generate electricity for his entire property.
We walked for an hour or so around his place talking about the different types of plants and the history of the farm. His dad originally bought this land when he was just a little kid living in Guatemala city. It was a coffee plantation when they bought it. Everything he knows about farming he has learned from his dad and first hand by simple trial and error. Back in the day it would take them 3.5 days by horse to get from the city to here. Now it’s a cool 4 hours.
This is an unripe coco bean pod. This is what chocolate comes from.
When you smash it open you get a meaty center which has a bunch of individual beans inside the meat. The white meat itself is actually pretty sweet and nice to chew on, but doesn’t taste like chocolate at all. The chocolate flavor just comes from the beans.
Henry is waiting for his last big harvest. Aside from plants, he’s got 50,000 trees like this one. They are used for making wood cabinetry, tables, chairs, etc. In another 5 years they’ll all be big enough to harvest. He says he plans to buy a new car, maybe a house, and retire.
He won’t be cutting this one down though, this is Guatemala's national tree. It’s fucking enormous. It’s hard to get scale, but the spindly looking trees in the background are the same size as the tree in the previous picture.
Fully impressed and blown back by the tranquil beauty of this place, we went back to his house for a sit and some fresh lemonade. No alcohol here in the house for 10 years he says. Henry has lived a very interesting and hard life, which has come full circle to where he’s at now. A life of drugs, booze, and women in the city almost killed him. It took nearly 40 years for him to figure it all out, but living here alone on the farm full time, he’s really been able to have time for himself, and through it he’s learned what really matters to him. He lost his family, his friends, and almost his life in the process, but he says he’s happier than ever now and wouldn’t change a single thing.
Can’t say I blame him. Winding the days out here, working his farm, and kicking back fresh lemonades in the afternoon heat doesn’t sound half bad.
A badass guy with a strong green-thumb and a newly lightened heart - dude’s a fucking renaissance man. He even could jam out some ragtime on the old piano.
We sat and chatted for an hour or so about everything from women, to life in the fast lane, and then eventually finding meaning in all of it. This painting is of a mayan god breathing night and darkness onto the volcanoes. I saw it and was reminded of the task at hand. If I was to find my way through the two of them and back into San Pedro, I was going to need to end the convo and head out.
Henry offered a place for me to stay but I unfortunately had told a friend that if I didn’t make it back by midnight that something was likely wrong. Thanks for all the hospitality Henry, you are a fascinating character.
Just outside of town I found the old mayan transport road I had originally come here to find. Mission accomplished.
The road zigged and zagged deeper into the bush and climbed higher and higher into the volcanoes.
As I neared the saddle of the two volcanoes I found heavy clouds, cooler temperatures, and then...road construction?
Unfortunately it looks like they are paving from Santiago (on the lake) up and over the volcanoes and down the old mayan trail to Chicacao. Seems like people want to be able to come up here more easily and take photos of the amazing vistas.
On a good day you can see the lake and volcanoes in one direction, and then turn to the other side and you can see the pacific coast and ocean. With views like this I guess I can’t completely blame them. Most people (locals and tourists) come from the lake side though, so hopefully the construction will stop here and not continue on down into Chicacao, which would effectively erase this amazing little piece of history.
I soaked in the views that change with every passing second. The cloud-cover here shifts so quickly that one minute you have a clear view of the lake and then 20 seconds later you are socked in and can’t see anything. It creates an eerie disappearing act with the enormous volcanoes that you are saddled right in the middle of. The ride down to Santiago was markedly faster with the pavement, and soon I was back on the lake heading towards where I had started early that morning, San Pedro. This photo was the last picture I took right before I had the unfortunate accident with the dog. I’ve already written earlier about it so I’ll spare the details.
It was a great day of riding and exploring, one sweetened by both the making of a new friend, as well as accomplishing what I had set out to do. I found and rode a piece of Mayan history that may not be around in it’s original form for much longer. For that I feel privileged. Modernization is definitely a two sided mistress, with one hand she giveth and the other she taketh away. This is how life is though, it’s always a compromise, and you can never have it all. Glad I got to see this special place before it is no more.
SeanPNW screwed with this post 01-05-2014 at 12:18 PM