Groggy with waking up at 6am on Saturday the breakfast was delicious, watermelon, strawberries, and bananas on banana pancakes, mmmm. A nice walk to the bus station on the other side of town, to take a 20 minute chicken bus to a small town where we would start our hike.
With introductions and setting the ground rules we were informed that one of our two guides forgot the money so one would have to head back to get it. With sunscreen applied and bags all loaded we headed for the hills.
It was a fast paced hike up the first hill and as I soon discovered whenever I had reached the last peak of the mountain, there was sure to be another much higher. With views of Tajumulco, Central America’s highest mountain, and various volcanoes around us we made our way peak after peak and ridge after ridge to our first break spot a field at 2900m. And on higher we went reaching about 3100m a couple times. Just before lunch my left knee started to hurt. I couldn’t figure out what was causing it to hurt. There wasn’t pain going up or going down, there were no sore spots, and no positions I could move it into where it hurt, just lifting it sometimes. I took some IBU Profen and grabbed a walking stick. Finally we reached Santa Catalina a small hurricane stricken town in the middle of the mountains. We set up our sleeping bags one of the rooms and a few of us headed out to the town bar. After a few beer and some chatting with some very colorful local people we headed back to our lodging.
By this time the local sauna was warmed up. Three at a time, we could enter the small garbage bag covered alcove. It was barely big enough to crouch in and there was a bench to the back. To the left when you entered there was a black metal bucket, and further to the left was a pile of rocks kept hot by a wood fire below. Closer to the bench was a red bucket with a smaller bowl inside, and a large green bucket under a tap. The idea was to take water from the tap and heat it in the black metal bucket then mix it again to a palatable temperature in the red bucket using the bowl, and then to pour this mixture over yourself to get clean. Also you could pour the cold water on the rocks to make steam. Our first attempt at this led us to the point of gasping for air as we crawled to the exit. Future attempts we much more pleasant and my knee was feeling quite a bit better. After about 20minutes each group had to head back and could then enjoy a pasta diner. I went straight to bed after dinner and despite the hard ground and uncomfortable makeshift clothing pillow, I kept my knee raised.
The next day at 6am, still sore from the previous day’s exertions, we headed to a small restaurant to have a rice, black beans and egg breakfast. It was quite good if you ask me. When we were all finished we got back on our way. My knee was a little sore from the previous day, but generally feeling fine. There is a part of the trek that they call Record Hill because they time everyone who goes up. It is a bit of a challenge and the fastest anyone has done it is 9minutes(or so they say) and they can do it in 12 minutes on a good day. The average was just around 20 minutes. I managed to do it in 26 minutes, and my knee was hurting again. Now, though, I had a better idea of what was causing it. Those tight narrow passes and twisting of the leg. It wasn’t until after lunch(more beens and rice anyone?) that we reached some streams where we were instructed to dawn our sandals and I dawned my Vibram 5 Finger Shoes. It felt good to be walking outside of the constrictive hiking boots. After a while though, I noticed that my knee wasn’t hurting anywhere near as much. Ultimately I decided to wear the Vibrams for the rest of the hike. I won’t give them full credit for my recovery though. Here is what I think was happening: I think that when I was walking on the narrow paths the hiking boots with full ankle support were preventing my ankle from absorbing any of the shock and instead passing it on to my poor knee. The Vibrams with no ankle support let my ankles do what they do best and absorb that shock allowing my knee to rest protected. Regardless I’ll keep this in mind next time I go hiking.
We ended up at Pedro’s House, his private residence and friend of the trekker group. We had a wonderful meal of more rice, beans, potatoes, vegetables, and chicken or spaghetti as well as fresh squeezed pineapple or strawberry juice. It was very yummy. Since we had to get up at 3am the next morning to catch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan we went to bed very shortly after dinner.
At 3:30 we walked 15 minutes to El Mirador where we pulled up our mats and watched over the lake as shooting stars flashed though the night sky on a regular basis and the dark night broke into day. After breakfast we made our way up to the Indian Nose where you could see another view of the lake, San Juan, San Pedro and more. In San Juan we had lunch at a women’s shelter that is supported by our trekking group. Afterwards we were free to go. I collected my bags and headed to San Pedro to stay the night. Next stop, Mexico for Christmas.