The bright, yellow sun creeping through the window woke me up before my alarm did, bidding me to get up from my deep sleep. It was another day in beautiful Guatemala, the roosters cackling loudly outside alongside the sounds of the morning Tuc-Tucs driving by. For two weeks, this was home.
I looked at my alarm clock – 5:30 AM. Lovely.
Despite my overwhelming desire to go back to sleep, I got myself out of bed in time to meet some members of our service group outside the room, all of them still sleepy but ready to embark on our morning adventure – a sunrise hike. Eyes drooping from tiredness and muscles sore from our service work, we began our quest just after 6 AM, led by a local guide named Juan Carlos. A man of indigenous Mayan heritage, he knows the mountains quite well, leading trips of foreign volunteers in San Lucas Tolimán on morning hikes upon request.
From the get go our group members realized that we were walking at an incredibly swift pace. I chuckled a little bit to myself because it reminded me of the days at school where I’d be late for class – walking quickly enough to get there in good time but slowly enough to still look like a sane human. As we approached the mountain, I stopped to look towards the pinnacle. I found that I had to turn my eyes almost vertically to see the top of the mountain – a sure sign that this hike would be steep. We found our path and began to ascend the mountain, and we began our hike.
Soon after our start, the air began to thin and breathing became a little more difficult. By about 20 minutes in, I was already heaving and feeling a little lightheaded. The path steepened significantly but we didn’t slow our pace. Our only saving grace was the cool morning air, a soothing treat for our tired lungs. At some points, we had to grab onto hanging tree branches for support, the path too steep to climb without additional support. It seemed like that goal, that pinnacle, was almost certainly unreachable.
After about an hour of walking, hiking, climbing, and even crawling, we finally made it. The group was all smiles as we hiked up to our final destination – a small ledge overlooking both San Lucas Tolimán and Lake Atitlán. Although we were separated at points and we were all out of breath, we did it. And it felt amazing.
The whole experience made me realize that I am wholly out of shape.
But it also made me realize that the benefits of this seemingly impossible hike greatly outweighed the struggles. As we ascended to our ultimate destination, the beautiful sights of Lake Atitlán peeking through the treetops took my breath away. I suddenly felt energized, like I’d just conquered something BIG. Although it was still early in the morning, I felt wide awake, and looking upon the striking landscape of the Guatemalan Highlands and the expanse of the lake was truly a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Gazing out towards the lake, a cool breeze blowing through my loosely tied hair, I felt a growing sense of accomplishment and relief.
As I stood at the edge of the overlook, Rafael came up beside me and, as we marveled together at the sun sparkling on the lake, I realized that I was at home. Sometimes, as a traveler, it’s easy to forget how lucky I am to be able to see the world in the ways that I do. But then, tiny moments like these make me realize that the world is a big place and I still have a lot more to see, do, and learn.
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