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Published: October 31st 2016
Welcome to Laguna Lachua
Entrance off the main road through the National Park
200 meters shy of the entrance to Laguna Lachua I grabbed my pack from the bed and waved farewell to the three kind men in the white beater pickup truck. These friendly chaps had taken pity on me, this pathetic foreigner standing on the side of the road so early in the chilly morning, hand waving frantically for anyone to give her a lift. The clouds were low, the weather was nippy, but my spirits were high. I had wanted to get to this lake for months and now I was a one-hour, 4-kilometer jungle walk away.
Before I was allowed to enter this protected National Park, however, I needed to register and pay the entrance fee as well as cough up the dough for two night’s accommodation at the hospedaje on the lake. Ledger signed, orientation over, I was giddy with excitement and ready to embark on the journey through nature to get to the Lagoon. I had been waiting ages for this and now it was almost a reality.
I was soon on my way. Alone. No sooner had I come off the first small bridge leading to the dirt pathway, I almost
stepped on a brown snake, about a foot long. It slithered across the trail in front of me and disappeared into the thicket. Welcome to the jungle, Suz.
Despite the minor freak-out, I rather enjoyed walking under the canopy of trees, and contrary to what I had originally thought, it wasn’t hot and muggy at all, rather quite pleasant and cool. In fact, I was reminded of walking through the jungles of Borneo, without the stifling humidity. Right from the get go, I sensed something different: a calm. There was such a sense of serenity, solitude and quietness. This is just what I needed, I thought to myself.
The first person I came across as I entered the camp was the amiable caretaker, Señor Conrado, who must have been about 90 (okay, this estimate is quite possibly slightly
exaggerated....) but still as nimble as a mouse. He told me he had lived out there for 14 years. Conrado went over a few rules of the park (in Spanish) and warned me about the danger of the rocks and the crocodiles. No doubt all this information was important, I just hoped my Spanish
was good enough to understand where it was I was not supposed to swim so as to not become dinner for some hungry animal. He showed me the fully equipped kitchen and then the sleeping rooms upstairs of a nearby thatched building. I got my own real bed with real box springs in a double-bedded private room. There were sheets, a mozzie net with no holes, blankets, two chairs and screening on the windows. This may not mean much to many of you, but for me it was just plain luxurious, given the kinds of places in which I would normally stay. There is an outhouse just outside and solar-generated electricity until 9pm.
I threw my bags into the room and hurriedly made my way down to the lake, as if it might not be there had I chosen to go later. I relished in the solitude and admired the calmness of the clear lake and the exposed rocks near the grassy shore. I slithered in for a refreshing swim. I sat on the pier and enjoyed the tickling “spa gratis” on my feet, the little minnows under the water having
Natural Fish Spa
The most important component for a natural Foot Pedicure were swimming right below the dock.
a field day with the loose skin on my left heal. Nearly a dozen large protected fish swam nearby, back and forth, forth and back. What a life they lead, never having to worry about ending up on someone’s dinner plate. About noon, the stillness was interrupted by a slight breeze. Soon, ripples appeared on the lake’s otherwise glassy surface.
I had only been at the lake a couple of hours but already I knew I wanted to go back to that special place. Next time, I would come back with friends, a tent, plenty of food, and a good book. And stay a week.
I had often heard other travelers say beautiful Semuc Champey was the highlight of their trip to Guatemala, but a few hours at the off-the-tourist-trail Laguna Lachua made me realize the beauty, solitude and tranquility in that protected National Park made it my haven, my favorite place in Guatemala.
I admired an amazing array of colorful butterflies fluttering about: bright orange, pale, as well as bright yellow, and a vibrant blue and red butterfly. One monster mariposa flew to the wooden slats near my
head and rolled out her yellow “tongue,” eating/tasting something before rolling her “tongue” back in again, only to repeat it over and over. I had never seen anything like that before. She was about 7” from my face and I was able to make out all her facial details with absolute clarity. Too bad she was camera-shy.
In the late afternoon I took a walk on a nearby trail leading me through the jungle. I heard and saw a woodpecker in a nearby tree, but the moment I stopped to listen to the jungle sounds surrounding me, the mozzies were relentless, making it difficult to stop for any length of time. Many nearby birds fluttered about, undisturbed by the constant flutter of my hand desperately swatting at the flying malaria carriers.
Still in my tank top and flip-flops, I headed back down to the lake for the 5:20 sunset. The water was perfectly still, just as it had been in the morning when I first arrived. I sat in one of the thatched palapas alongside the lake, taking in the majestic view of the water and the edge of the Cuchumatanes Range of mountains.
Sunset was spectacular: the sky went from brilliant orange to a dusky pink. Thirty minutes after the fireball disappeared, a magnificent orange hue illuminated on the still waters. Sitting alone by the lake, I thought to myself how incredible it was to capture real honest to goodness natural beauty. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw anything so remarkable or had been to a place so amazing, a place that defies all purpose/meaning, that epitomizes gorgeousness like no other – and to think it is in the middle of the jungle, and only a one hour walk from civilization. I can only hope this place never gets spoiled or “too easy” to get to and loses the allure due to mass commercialism. So, shhhhh, don't tell anyone....
Sunset over and darkness quickly enveloping the jungle, I headed back to camp to see what I could put together for dinner.
Once back outside after my meal I stood in the middle of the camp property and tilted my face towards the sky. The stars were brilliant; they measured in the zillions. The air was clear with no light pollution to obstruct
Daytime wall art
...but careful, they disappear during the night.
the view. If I knew I wasn’t going to be laying on a snake or a colony of ants I probably would have settled down on the lawn somewhere and gazed upwards for the rest of the night. I tired my best to pick out a few constellations and even saw a shooting star. What a magical, magical place this is, I thought to myself, pleased I had finally made it to this wonderland.
Lights went out at 9 and within one hour I found myself listening with fascination to the howler monkeys going ape shit outside my window! They were really living up to their name, howling up a storm.
By 7:15 the next morning I was awake and so was the sun, so I threw on my two sweaters and headed to the lake. When I stepped out of my room I noticed the three bats were back on the hallway wall outside my door. Last night when I turned in, they weren’t there, no doubt fluttering about the darkened jungle scrounging for a decent meal.
It was so warm in the sun despite the early hour
of the morning, I immediately stripped down to a t-shirt. The mist was rising next to the far palapa when I got down to the lake. I was alone with only the nature, the morning sunlight and a peaceful calm.
I listened to the distant howlers, watched the little fish jump near the shore and enjoyed the different early morning cacophony of birdsong in the surrounding trees. There was an ever so slight breeze to just barely ripple the surface of the otherwise completely calm lake.
This is one perfectly peaceful place to calm the nerves, find inner peace and just stare, stare, stare, letting one’s mind just empty to take in the unspoiled beauty of this part of Guatemala.
On my way to the kitchen to see about coffee, I discovered a wayward path and took it, discovering along the way a tangle of vines, twisted tree trunks, the constant flitter of falling leaves, the knocking on wood by nearby woodpeckers, the buzz of the persistent mosquitoes, morning chirping from unseen birds. I got to the end of the trail that culminated at the river and was thankful there were
no crocodiles to be seen.
Back at camp I laid on the sun-drenched grass in the afternoon, reading my new book, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What would it be like to live in this jungle for 100 years?!
I walked down to the lakeside palapa for sunset and was rewarded with another astounding afterglow – another brilliant orange - about 30 minutes later.
Watching the sunset and listening to the evening jungle symphony warming up, I noticed a distinct absence of cicadas. I heard them in the jungles at Semuc Champey, in a different part of Guatemala, but hadn’t heard them yet at the lake. There are, however, lots of insects and very distinct and different bird sounds, varying throughout the day.
After dinner I headed to the palapa for some stargazing, and once again, the stars were in abundance and shone brilliantly, the night sky perfectly clear and free of obstructions. I was alone out there in the pitch dark. No crocs, little light, just peace, tranquility, and solitude.
On a midnight visit to the outhouse a foot long black-striped
maroon snake crossed my path. In the morning, I asked about the snake and found out apparently there are two types of snakes that fit the description; one is poisonous and dangerous and the other isn’t. Either way they are known as coral snakes. They look so alike the only way to tell the difference is from the head. Of course I wouldn’t have known cause I wasn’t studying the head as it slithered past me.
I spent some time at the tranquil lake, enjoying another early morning stillness. Mist rose off the lake as the skies lightened, the clouds and water got pinker in the dawn’s glow, and before 7 the sun poked its head out of the cloudless east. Another brilliant day was beginning. Howlers monkeys in the distant trees were communicating with each other, big fish were jumping and splashing with early morning catches and the birds were greeting the day with their song.
By mid morning I was packed, my bed stripped, and I moved over to a tent for one more night at Lachua, because I. Just. Wasn't. Ready. To. Leave. Yet. I then plunked down on an outdoor
hammock with my engrossing book. I spent the languid day swimming in the refreshing waters of the lagoon and lounging on the fraying but sturdy hammock.
In the late afternoon I walked to the mirador for sunset, about a 20-minute amble down the main path alongside the lake. It wasn’t as spectacular as the past two nights so I started to head back on the already darkened jungle path. A cacophony of cicadas started up their nightly orchestrations, something I hadn’t yet heard here at Lachua. Every couple of steps I heard different sounds, as if different music was being played in separate jungle neighborhoods. A large bug flew right into my leg and a big owl flew so close to me as I neared the camp, wings fluttering up and down in the still night air. Once back to camp I headed immediately to the boardwalk and the lakefront so as to not miss the orange sunset glow, which was by far the most spectacular of the past nights. The luminescence lasted for ages, a brilliant dark orange, water as still as I had ever seen it. I stayed at the water’s edge marveling at the
fireflies lighting up the grasses along the shores of the lake.
After dinner I took my nightly walk down to the lake, where first off, I saw another huge spider - this one was on
the boardwalk - and then two sets of beady glowing yellow eyes peered at me from the jungle thicket to my right. I would venture to guess they were raccoons but couldn’t say for certain. Eventually they scampered away, out of the light of my head torch. I got to the palapa, and there, half submerged on a rock was a crocodile. It was a baby, but a croc nonetheless.
There were lots of brilliant stars out again in the crystal clear night.
Much later, I left the lakeside and headed back to camp, and soon drifted off in my tent, comfy and warm under a borrowed sheet and blanket.
Sometime in the early morning I heard the howler monkeys; some sounded awfully close to my tent.
I woke early, walked straight down to the lake, and thankfully had the water and the palapa to myself. The water was rippling in the
slight breeze, a few clouds were in the east but there was no mist that morning rising from the water near the shore.
By 7am, the sun was officially above the tree line and the air already quite warm. It was so quiet and calm I fell asleep on the wooden floor of the palapa, the calming lap of the water lulling me back to dreamland. Peace, calm, solitude and sun – and the occasional splash from a large fish jumping; what a perfect final morning at Lachua.
I had a late breakfast, using up the last of the food I had left. I gave Señor Conrado the final 1/3 of my now-hardened bread. I didn’t really like it but Conrado dunked it in his coffee and gobbled it up – you’d think the man hadn’t eaten in a week!
In the past days I had seen birds with brilliant yellow breasts and some sporting light brown freckled bellies as well as a few snakes and one iguana type lizard. I saw colorful and large butterflies and even a bunny. Last night on the trail from the mirador an owl flew
low past me. This morning, two lizards darted in front of me. On my jungle walks I could hear the shrill trill of warning of an intruder by birds unseen. Crocs, bats, spiders, howler monkeys, you name it, they are all here.
Yesterday I watched leaf cutter ants not only carrying bits of leaves but also my purposefully-dropped peanut skins. Round and round in circles they went, unsure what to do or where to go yet able to carry with ease such large objects hoisted on their backs.
In the early afternoon I took one final walk to the river, sitting on a fallen log and listening one last time to the nature all around me. I had an incredible inner calm, a perfect peacefulness I didn’t know if I would ever find again. I bid farewell to Conrado and left Laguna Lachua behind, knowing I’d be back one day. I was sad, there was no doubt about it. I had found my paradise.
I arrived back at the entrance to the park, signed the guestbook – in attempted Spanish – and then trudged down to the gravel road to try and flag
down a passing vehicle for a ride back to Playa Grande Ixcan, the “big city” of this municipality. Within moments of arriving at the road, two guys driving a red and white truck heading to Playa picked me up, and 40 minutes later, dropped me at my hospedaje in town. They didn’t charge me for the ride, just gave me a handshake, a smile and exclaimed “good trip” when I got out of the car.
I got a room for the night and then went to inquire about onward transport for the morning. I was surprised that many locals remembered me from when I had stayed prior to heading out to the lake, and even asked me how I liked it there. After I got back to the hotel, I lay on the hammock for a bit and then skipped up the steps to the rooftop to watch the fiery orange ball disappear behind the trees on the ridge on the west side of town. It might have been a tad dusty in that town but it sure was lovely and people were super friendly. I enjoyed walking down the street and having people smile
sweetly, meaningfully at me. They are patient with my fudging and faltering Spanish and don’t look at me as if I am a walking wallet, simply another human being who has discovered their dusty town so off the tourist track.
Like Playa, the pleasant dusty town so far removed from the rest of the world, my relaxing stay at Laguna Lachua was better than I had anticipated. It was a positively perfect escape after so much go-go-go. I relished in the much-needed mental and physical break, and much to my delight chose the most wonderful, unspoiled and tranquil spot to let the stress go for a few days.
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