Guatemala's Erupting Beauty - My Family Travels
3 Atitlan
2 Antigua
1 Pacaya

"Stick? Stick? Es muy necesario!"

A small boy with impossibly tiny wrists held out a long wooden stick, his dirty face full of hope. Our guide had warned us to look uninterested in purchasing a hiking stick, but my instincts betrayed me. A smile crept onto my face as I gazed at the boy under matted black hair, and instantly, four more kids rushed up to me, all grabbing my arms and chirping, "Stick, por favor! Cinco quetzales!"

â–º  Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

It was at the base of the volcano Pacaya in Guatemala City where the little salesmen had swarmed us. I was touring Guatemala with a group of Spanish students from my high school. Our purpose was to see and experience as much of Guatemala in ten days as possible. We focused not only on tourist ventures, but also on visiting ministries working in Guatemala City. Today’s adventure was conquering the volcano leering above us.

Pushing past the children with a pang of guilt, we began the trek. The lush green of the hills below made a startling contrast against the volcanic black rock in the morning light, and mist was settling comfortably into valleys surrounding Pacaya. The volcano’s raw beauty was a welcoming sight to my companions after the trying experiences we had had already.

Guatemala is a country torn apart from the Civil War that started in 1960 and ended in 1996, but there is hope rising out of the wreckage. With every harsh image, there was something lovely to oppose it. Pacaya was certainly one of those breath-taking sights.

A view that rivals Pacaya is an overlook of Antigua called Cerro de la Cruz. Antigua is an historic city built in the Spanish Colonial style during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is also the site of the first capital city, before being decimated by the volcano looming nearby. Each building in Antigua must follow specific regulations to keep everything uniform, including, to my group’s astonishment, McDonalds!

Antigua hosts several tantalizing restaurants and a gigantic market with souvenirs of every kind. It is an opportune place to practice your Spanish while bartering for souvenirs. Fortunately, most of the venders know English as well.

Close to the end of our trip, our group took two days of vacation time. We drove our reliable bus down to the city Panajachel, a tourist town sitting on one of the most gorgeous lakes in the world; El Lago de Atitlan. Piling into one of several rental boats, we made our way out to the center of the lake. Mist was hovering over the gray, clear water. In the center, we had the opportunity to leap off the side of the boat. After spending a glorious afternoon by the pristine volcanic lake, we ate a local favorite dish at Comedor Mira Lago. It was one that had me a little squeamish; an entire fried fish, including the eyes, fins, scales and bones. Surprisingly, I ate every bite.

Driving back from Panajachel, we went zip-lining at The Atitlan Nature Reserve. Each cable led you over the jungle canopy with stunning views of El Lago de Atitlan. We even spotted a monkey perched above us while waiting to fly down the cable!

Guatemala is a country of contrasts, from the majestic landscape, to the impoverished streets, the upscale shopping centers next to slums, and the torn denim alongside heels and briefcases. More than anything I took from my journey, I appreciate the gracious hospitality and determination in the Guatemalan people to share their stories about recovery and hope for the future.

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