Guatemalan Highlands, Backpacking from Xela to Lake Atitlan

Sitting in the quiet early morning, watching the sun peek out over the vast volcanos in the distance, I was struck by the fact that it had taken two long days to get to this beautiful mirador. Eight long hours each day of pulling our sore bodies, laden with heavy packs, over boulders, into rivers and through valleys. Of course, not all of it was difficult or painful. The majority of the trek was passed peacefully, walking by awe-inspiring views in the company of good people. Our only responsibility was to put one foot in front of the other. Adrian, Spencer, and Pearce, the cheerful, supportive Quetzaltrekkers guides, lightened our moods when the going got tough with jokes, stories and games. Contact, a word game in which one person thinks of a word and the others have to guess it following a variety of rules, was a staple during our hike, as were sing a longs and snack breaks. Sadly, we could have saved a ridiculous amount of space and weight in our bags if we had known that Quetzaltrekkers provided snacks. Anticipating only getting three meals a day, we all stocked up at the Xela grocery stores the days before our hike with Guatemalan granola bars, Snickers and cookies. At the very first snack break, we all had broken into our food before Spencer could pull out the tin of trail mix from his bag. Amused, he told us that we each had enough snacks to feed the whole group that day, which was probably true. One of the many things that bonds this group is eating, which motivates us for most everything. When the group morale flagged on a particularly steep part of the hike, Adrian would only have to say, "Snack break in 20 minutes!" for us to push through our tiredness and continue.

Although memorable moments included eating papas fritas and papaya ice cream while watching locals play soccer in the rain, or the satisfaction of grilled chicken and hot cinnamon tea on a cold night at Don Pedro's house, most of the memories that stick in my mind don't involve comfort in food, but rather moments that challenged me. One of those moments is the race at Record Hill, which reminded me more of my high school cross country meets than a calm, steady hike. Staggering all of us by five minutes, the guides sent Pearce to the top of Record Hill, which is the steepest portion of the entire hike, so he could time us. Each of us waited, adrenaline pumping through our veins, at the bottom of the trail, waiting for our turn to try to beat the record of ten minutes. When Adrian yelled "Go!", I purposefully strode forward, hiking poles in hand, ready to compete. Five minutes later, all I could hear was my ragged breathing and the pounding of my blood in my head. I hadn't participated in organized sports in over a year, and the pressure to perform well along with the intense physical fatigue was an unfamiliar sensation. However, although I didn't come anywhere close to the record, the competition spurred even more motivation to keep going.

Going through something that challenged my mind and my body more than any other part of the trip except for the volcano hike was difficult but very worthwhile. Even now, when we run into problems or something is difficult, someone inevitably says, "Guys, we got through the three day hike, we can get through this." Few of us have every backpacked before, and knowing that our bodies carried us twenty one miles with heavy packs makes anything feel possible.

Thanks for reading,

Nina Duffy

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Author Nina Duffy Posted