A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs around a campfire after a hearty meal cooked by Don Pedro’s wife, and delicious starwberry and pineapple licuados (smoothies). Now, it is time to get moving as we are heading towards a grassy mountaintop to watch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan.
We are on a three-day trek with Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit organization which makes schooling accessible to local street kids. As the name implies, Quetzaltrekkers organizes different multiple-day treks. With our two passionate guides who work on a voluntary base, we are about to start the last part of our three-day adventure.
As we walk uphill along a small road, we are joined by two police officers whose mission is to scare away potential robbers. After a steady climb, we pause when one of the officers enthusiastically points in the distance and says: “Volcán de Fuego!” A choir of “Ah’s!” and “Wow’s!” fill the dark night, as we are all puzzled by the sight of the red lava blown by this active volcano!
We put our heavy bags down on the damp grass underneath a pitch-dark sky lit only by constellations of stars. A few shooting stars distract us from the ultimate view on Lake Atitlan and the silhouette of its surrounding active volcanoes: Volcán San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan. It is quite cold and some of us crawl back into their sleeping bags to take in the view on the constantly erupting volcano Fuego about 50 kilometres away. A huge ash cloud starts to appear above Fuego, soon tainted red by the rising sun while the deep blue color of Lake Atitlan becomes visible.
Lake Atitlan is said to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and we cannot think of a better way of approaching it than this fantastic 3-day trek. Beyond the adventure of sliding down steep slopes in cloud forests, conquering summits with mountain views, crossing rivers, and experiencing a traditional temazcal (Maya sauna), this 45-kilometre hike took us through remote villages amongst the poorest of Guatemala where locals have to cultivate corn and peas on steep deforested slopes to feed their families, and carry firewood on difficult trails to cook and stay warm. Far from the touristy crowds at Lake Atitlan, facing this reality shows how important the action of Quetzaltrekkers is.
Claire & Marcella
- Several organizations organise treks in this region, yet Quetzaltrekkers is non-profit and makes sure your money is well spent. Founded in 1995, it has consistently funded housing and schooling of street children of the Quetzaltenango area thanks to an international team of volunteers.
- Contact Quetzaltrekkers for volunteering opportunities, hiking through the mountains of Guatemala to help street kids.
- As Quetzaltrekkers operates from Quetzaltenango (nicknamed Xela), make sure to spend some time in this city to discover local non-touristy markets in the area (San Fransisco El Alto, Totonicapán, etc).