3:30 am.  At various times in the past I was still awake at 3:30 in the morning, and by staying up all night I’ve even managed to see a few sunrises.  Very few.  But in all my years I’ve not once set an alarm to awake at such a ridiculous hour.  I much prefer to stay snug in bed until the birds have caught their worms and there is an opportunity for a decent cup of coffee and perhaps a croissant

But sometimes in the course of life, no matter how old and crotchety we are or how set in our ways we might be, we must set aside our preferences and seize an opportunity that throws itself in our path.  And this is how I found myself flat on my back in a pile of mud, in the dark, a little cold, and now a little wet besides.  But I’ll get to that in due course

In our wonderful bit of home in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, we would awake each morning with a view of Indian’s Nose, a nearby (politically incorrect) mountain that somewhat resembles a Mayan face (from left to right the peaks are forehead, nose, lips, chin)

Indian's Nose / La Nariz del Indio

Indian’s Nose / La Nariz del Indio

Each day we would also walk by a local tour agency that would attempt to harass and cajole us into joining one of their tours.  “Chi Chi market!  Climb the volcano!  Sunrise from Indian’s Nose!”  Normally we would ignore such bluster, preferring to skip the organized tours and figure out our own way around.  But on this particular occasion we were walking home from dinner, alcohol coursing through our veins, when we were offered a minor discount.  All we had to do was be ready to wake up in 5 hours, hop in a small van, and then hike up a steep incline for an hour in the dark

“No Problem”, I slurred, perhaps with excessive machismo and a wisp of optimism.

A few short moments later, we arose to the incessant beeping of our alarm, clambered out the door, and stood waiting in the dark for our chariot to arrive.  We waited.  And waited.  And waited.  “This is typical.  Nothing in Guatemala ever happens on schedule, and our driver thinks the sunrise is going to wait for us,” I said.  Or more likely I just mumbled about how I could have easily slept for 5 more minutes

Our driver was either quite aware that we were running behind schedule or he was in training for his future career in racing.  The path to the trail head was along winding and narrow mountain roads with no view of oncoming traffic at the turns, but he never hesitated to take them at full speed.  Better for us all to die in a plunge to the earth than for him to lose his job for making the tourists arrive late to the sunrise…

Our guide was waiting for us at the trail head.  He quickly handed our group flashlights and explained we needed to move quickly, and then took off like a rabbit down the trail.  More due to our being at elevation for a month than our youth and vigor, we quickly left behind the rest of our group while we nipped at our guides heels.  That is, until we hit a small downhill stretch, wet with dew.  My feet flew out from under me and I fell flat on my back.  The shock of it all was much worse then the short slide down the hill, the friendly bush that halted my descent, or the small puddle that greeted me at the bottom.  At least the darkness hid the dirt on my jeans and the red tinge in my cheeks.  The guide’s dog gave me a quick lick of encouragement on my face

With just a moment to insure that I wasn’t hurt, our guide took off again.  The trail turned sharply upward, as the sky turned lighter.  With no time to lose we climbed higher and higher, ascending as fast as our legs could carry us.  I could feel acid in my throat and fire in my lungs.  My legs felt heavy and my chest heaved.  Faster, faster, we are going to miss it!

And then we rounded a corner to the biggest shock yet.  The whole world gave way, and we saw this

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

6 Volcanoes and San Pedro La Laguna

No film or digital sensor can truly capture the light, color, and depth.  No language can properly describe it, but the words “spiritual experience” seem to fit. In silence we stared out over the lake as the color shifted from deep red, to orange, and then ever so slowly to daylight.

I sat on the edge of the world and took it all in.  How big was the volcano that created the crater where this beautiful lake now rests?

The Edge of the World

The Edge of the World

The size of the San Pedro volcano became apparent with the entire village of San Pedro hiding in its shadow.

San Pedro Volcano over San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro Volcano over San Pedro La Laguna

The one active volcano in the distance belched smoke as we bore silent witness.

Poof

Poof

To the north, clouds appeared to flow like a waterfall through the pass over Panajachel.  Over the course of the day, these clouds would fill up this entire valley and eventually become the afternoon showers that covered the region.

Cloud Cascade

Cloud Cascade

What an amazing morning!  We had tossed aside our morning rituals and overcame our comfort zones, trials of all shapes and sizes, and mental and physical discomfort, and beautiful things came of it.  Were all of those years of sleeping in and starting the day slowly a complete waste?  Is this what life is like for “morning people?”

Think of all the things that I could accomplish if I would only arise earlier.  This could be a life changing experience.

I’m going to do it.  I’m going to be a morning person!  Just as soon as I have a nice cup of coffee and wake up from this nap…

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan Panorama

Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan Panorama

$:
Tour package (van, guide): Q80 per person (~$10)
Tip for guide: Q20 (~$2.50)
Laundry for muddy jeans: Q20

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