Feeling the need to recharge myself and go within, I decided to head to Guatemala. It’s a place that connects me to my family of origin as my mother is from Guatemala, to the indigenous Mayan people and to the Spanish language that I love. I choose Lake Atitlan and made my decision to try Yoga Forest for the first time. After a quick stop in Guatemala City’s La Aurora airport, I made my way to the colonial city of Antigua.
Antigua’s churches remind me of wonderfully decorated wedding cakes, with white details on a pastel yellow background. Wandering on the cobblestone streets I passed colorful, colonial churches, crumbling ruins, and terra cotta roofs with red and orange bougainvillea trailing down the sides of walls. My first day and night were spent at the luxurious, intimate boutique Hotel Posada del Angel in Antigua on a quiet cobblestone street, where every detail has been curated by local connoisseurs who want to share Antigua’s Maya and Spanish heritages. Even the little soaps are designed by a local alchemist who created a signature scent called “Semana Santa” from frankincense, orange, myrrh, clove and cinnamon. Raw honey comes from San Cristobal el Alto, coconut oil from Belize, palm oil and cocoa butter from Guatemala.
I headed out on the Carretera Panamericana also known as Centroamérica 1 – the Panamerican Highwayto Lake Atitlan. A three hour drive on a collective brought me to Lake Panachajel, where I hopped on a boat (lancha) to San Marcos La Laguna, my peaceful, spiritual spot to escape the world.
Lago de Atitlan is one of the most inspiring places I have ever visited. Nestled between three volcanos that loom over the entire landscape, (Volcán Yolimán, Volcán Atitlean and Volcán San Pedro) at an altitude of 5,125 feet, it’s the deepest lake in Central America. As far as I can see are the deep blue waters that inspired Aldous Huxley to write. Viewing the lake in silence is a true recharge while being surrounded by jogate and mango trees.
A young boy came running up to me, asking if he could carry my bags and I let him because I wanted to give him work. As he lugged my bags to Circles Café, I began to see the familiar signs in San Marcos that I love. Mayan women selling basketfuls of avocados, children running up and down the main path, the smell of tortillas cooking as I passed shady coffee plants near the lakeshore.
It’s a twenty-minute hike up a steep hill to get to Yoga Forest and it’s worth it. If you are looking to disconnect, here is the place. No wi-fi without a twenty-minute hike back to the pueblo, no electricity in your room and a compost toilet. After living on a kibbutz on Israel, I learned that I needed very little stuff everyday to be content.
Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” By committing not to turn on technology first thing in the morning, I received so many benefits including going inside for all my answers. It required discipline to power off all electronics but the benefits are a much fuller life. At night I lay in bed listening to the sound of the crickets, birds and animals singing to their heart’s content. Solitude helps us ground to the world around us. Stillness and quiet is required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the messages our intuition sends us.
Off the grid, three local woman lovingly prepared meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh blue tortillas, oatmeal, and pancakes. Even the coconut to sprinkle on our food was freshly grated. These women embody my belief of “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Even when it’s not the easiest response, it’s always the answer.
The view from the top of the mountain of the volcanoes is the best scenery in all of Central America. Jungle foliage and trees were medicine to my heart. The highland Indians’ colorful clothes that they make themselves, their traditional way of life of farming, their local markets, and the art they create, are all like stepping back in time before all our modern ways. Add in the Mayan culture and it’s a place that comforts and speaks to my soul.
One terribly upsetting factor in San Marcos — and all of Central America for that matter — is all the stray dogs running around. One morning I saw a dog with a bloodied ear that had flies covering the wound. I found the only pet food store in San Marcos and waited an hour and a half for a mobile vet that was due to arrive. He never came but I exchanged contact with the girl who worked at the pet store. When I returned home I contacted her and a great big smile was on my face when she told me that not only had she found the owner of the dog but also that treatment to heal its ear had started.
There is so much to do once you’ve settled in at the lake. Exploring other villages by boat, studying Spanish,seeing the weaving and arts created by locals and of course, yoga and meditation. Not to be missed is Las Pirámides meditation center on the path heading inland from Posada Schumann, where you can have a massage, practice yoga in the morning and early evening, and come to study metaphysical and meditation courses. Lake Atitlan is not a place just to travel to, it’s a place to come and live for an extended period. After moving to Israel when I was twenty years old, I developed a serious case of wanderlust and I have never stopped exploring. Part of why I travel is to have no regrets at the end of my days, because I will have explored places out of my comfort zone, traveled alone at times and had serious adventures. Not to mention getting out of my comfort zone taps into parts of my brain that create new synapses that stir creative thought. Not everyone has traveled to a place like Lake Atitlan as it requires work and an adventurous spirit to arrive there. It’s a promise that you will never forget the beauty and sounds at the lake, the smell of fresh tortillas being cooked, and will return home with peacefulness from being surrounded by the beauty of not only the lake’s water but also the indigenous people with the warmth and kindness in their hearts.