Wandering: Tales of Guatemala
IT'S TIME FOR THE FINAL STAGE OF BRITTANY MURPHY'S SOUTH AMERICAN ADVENTURE... HERE SHE SHOWS US THE BREATHTAKING MAGIC OF GUATEMALA...
Apricot skies turned fiery orange and sun flares broke through the window glass to illuminate every person on that shuttle bus. Faces turned out to soak in as much of the fleeting landscape as possible, and I couldn’t help but smile.
I’d been through Mexico, Cuba and back to Mexico again and, finally, I was off to the country I was most excited for.
The colours from the passing jungle storm seeped into everything as we flew across the Belize border. The dozen or so travellers passing through on my bus fell silent. It was a perfect welcome to the country, one I anticipated to be filled with magic.
The first stop, Flores. A picturesque little pocket of the world, propped up on a tiny island on Lake Petén Itza. Colonial-esque villas and cafes lined the narrow streets. Tuk Tuk’s whizzed about and ferrymen sailed the Islas’ waters to journey willing passengers across the flat dark expanse. Around, mountains of Petén stretched out, rising to the clouds. It was picture perfect, yet pictures do it no justice.
Caught up in the moment, I booked a sunrise tour to nearby Tikal – an ancient, ruined Mayan city. Tikal is beyond your wildest imagination, and certainly beyond mine.
Every day since I had arrived in Guatemala I had my breath taken away. By beams of light in far off mountains, by ruins, by colours, by the sun and even the rain. “Every day,” I hurriedly wrote in my journal, “I have been struck by the beauty of this land. Untapped and on tap.”
The next few days were spent at the mountain top hostel. An oasis. Flowers on the hillside led your eye down, butterflies and dragonflies fluttered about the place. Birds sung in the jungles that surrounded us. A river gushed in the valley below. The sun cast shadows of giants up on other giants. A group of new friends sat and watched the rising super moon… blaming it for the unusual mood in the hostel that day.
“We are made of water, after all, and the moon is the ruler of tides,” someone said.
The city of Antigua was stunning and conflicting. In the hours I ventured out I found cobbled streets, colonial buildings, and volcanoes. I got lost in markets and greedily ate my beloved grilled corn.
Next, I found myself on another bus bound for Lago Atitlan… the final leg on my Guatemalan adventure. Night travel is not usually recommended for women alone in the country but I chanced it with the reassurance of a girl from our hostel that it was a full bus and it would be fine. Winding through the mountains, patches of light stretched out before me as we came up and into view of the Lago. The villages were laid out like constellations against a dark watery sky. Fireworks, usually high above you, popped and sounded below me – an explosion of colour in the black.
I spent the next week café hopping, writing, painting, and swimming in the village of San Pedro la Laguna. San Pedro’s little laneways and backstreets make everything feel like a secret... A lovely secret. It’s a magnetic place. A place to get stuck, and many do.
“A flock of white birds, mountain flowers and the rising moon” and “Chichicastenango markets are a brilliant chaos.”
When I finally left Guatemala, I did so gladly, knowing I had pushed myself. Knowing that while the words were mostly lost the memories were there - in the ache in my legs and the colour of my skin. I hiked, I climbed, I saw. I lazed, tasted, and drank until I was full. I made friends for a lifetime and burst with excitement about returning home.
In the days that passed I dreamt of Tikal and all its magic.
Words & Photography Brittany Murphy