I turned 21 on Lake Atitlán, a volcanic lake in Guatemala that is sacred to the Maya. Lined with volcanoes, Atitlán is perhaps the most beautiful mountain lake in the world. Lush tropical forest covers much of the mountains down to the water. Atitlán, a mile above sea level in Guatemala’s Sierra Madre highlands, is bounded by three volcanoes on the southern shore. Each volcano rises almost two miles high.
Atitlán is sacred to the Maya. It is said Atitlán is an energy vortex, one of the few in the world along with Machu Picchu and the Egyptian pyramids. Seven villages of the Cakchiquel and Tzutujil Maya surround Atitlán. An ancient Mayan city lies submerged in the lake. “Atitlán” means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Guatemala means “land of many forests” or “land of many trees” in Quiché.
There are no roads connecting many of the villages. People go from village to village by boat or trails along the shore and up and down the mountains. The Maya grow corn and coffee in land cleared from the rain forest.
The spectacular natural beauty of the lake, volcanoes, and jungle in Atitlán is marred by poverty, the history of genocide in Guatemala over the past 60 years, and mass deaths from hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
I turned 21 in Panajachel, a town on the north shore of Atitlán. I was mesmerized skipping one stone after another across the glassy waters as the sun set and the sky and lake grew dark at twilight. Other people on the beach called me “El Loco Tira Piedras” that night.
There was no moon and no clouds that night. Atitlán is remote and high with no light pollution. I lay on my back with a woman on the beach staring up. More stars than you can imagine filled the sky. Constellations and the Milky Way were easy to see. Shooting stars streaked across the sky almost non-stop. Far away lightning storms silhouetted the mountain ranges surrounding Atitlán. From time to time thunder bolts would light up the sky above us. The surface of the lake was as smooth as a mirror that windless night. Reflections on the water doubled the number of stars and shooting stars and thunderbolts we saw in the sky. The silhouette of a lone Mayan man in a flat canoe glided silently across the lake in the dark. The stars and lightning bolts and thunder seemed like a mystical Mayan ritual. A cosmic, hallucinogenic light show. A giant pinball game in the sky.
I learned later that there is no better place in the world than Atitlán to see the annual Perseid meteor showers in early August each year. I returned to Atitlán last week.
“A breathtaking description by @Robert_Garcia of going home 2 the world’s most beautiful lake bit.ly/2bB1PQ0” @DrHarGold
“Que narrativa tan hermosa y descriptiva senti estar ahi me llevaste a ese lugar, gracias Robert.” Raul Macías What a beautiful and descriptive narrative, I felt like I was there, you took me to this place, thank you Robert