Sunday, 13 January 2019

Geographic Evolution, Lake & Volcanoes

At 5125 feet, or 1562 metres, in altitude above sea level, Lake Atitlán is an 'endorheic' crater lake in the western highlands in the Sierra Madre mountain range of Guatemala. This means that it is technically an enclosed drainage basin, with just two small rivers flowing from it. Three dormant volcanoes (Atitlán at 3537 metres, Tolimán at 3158 metres, and San Pedro at 3020 metres) tower moreorless the same height above lake level as the lake lies above sea level. The explosive conception of this landscape came with the cataclysmic volcanic convulsion 84,000 years ago that formed a “caldera” lake.

The first volcanic activity in the region occurred in the impossibly distant past, some 11 million years ago, and since then the region has seen four separate episodes of volcanic growth and caldera collapse, the most recent of which began about 1.8 million years ago and culminated in the formation of the present caldera. 

With an ambient climate today composed of a wet season from May to October and a dry season from November to April, temperatures are generally from 20 - 25 C by day, dipping to 10 - 15 C by night. A unique aspect of the climate is what is referred to as Xocomil (of the Kaqchickel language meaning "the wind that carried away sin"). This wind commonly picks up during afternoons across the lake; it is said to be the encounter of warm winds from Pacific meeting colder winds from the north.

The lake runs 12 kilometres east to west. and has a surface area of 130 square kilometres. There are twelve communities formed into Mayan towns and villages dotted around the lake. The largest towns are Santiago Atitlán, San Pedro La Laguna, and Panajachel. Villages include San Juan La Laguna, San Pablo, San Marcos, Tzununá, Jaibalito, Santa Cruz, Santa Catarina Palopó, San Antonio Palopó, San Lucas Tolimán. From Santiago Atitlán  to San Pablo la Laguna, the Mayans are Tzutujil, from San Marcos to San Lucas Tolimán they are largely Kaqchikel. The large town of Sololá, eponymous with the state that takes in Lake Atitlán has a population of 14,000 and sits perched some 600 metres above the lake, over five kilometres by steep, winding road below. The population of Sololá state is 424,000, an amazing 94% of which is indigenous. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Magic, Mystery & Mythology

The view from Pasajcap over Lake Atitlan, New Year's Day, 2019

One could look out over the sparkling waters of Lake Atitlán until the end of Time and never have one's fill. set in a landscape that is unimaginably scenic, this magical lake exudes a deeply resonant energy and enchants most of those fortunate enough to experience it.

After a tumultuous history of evolution, the southern and western sides are now protected by three imposing volcanoes – Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro. Lake Atitlán is also a very deep lake. At over 1,100 feet, its most profound depths have never been sounded, giving its waters their unique cobalt-blue/green colour and adding to the lake's mysteriously magical beauty. Not surprisingly, Lake Atitlán is considered to be a sacred site in Maya mythology. 'Atitlan' is understood to be a Mayan word meaning 'where the rainbow gets its colors.' This majestic composite landscape of volcanoes, mountains, lake and sky enriches body, mind, spirit, and soul.

A lancha departing Paxanax, near Santa Cruz

On a sun-drenched morning in the November to April dry season, the aquamarine waters sparkle and shimmer as motorboats, or *lanchas*, ply their way between towns and villages, stopping off to pick up and deliver at residential docks along the way. After noon the Xocomil wind from the south marches speedily across the water, disturbing the calm and agitating the liquid surface into an undulating quiver. The air is breezy yet balmy.

During the May to October wet season, the scene is markedly different as the rains - sometimes heavy, even relentless - stream, pour and teem down and visibility is poor. The distant clear vistas of *el verano* recede from view, hidden in memory. Vegetation becomes vibrantly verdant on the fully forested slopes of the volcanoes, on semi-tropical trees, grasses and shrubs, and in the steep cleared farm fields of the mountainsides spilling into the lake.

At night, the lights of the twelve towns and villages that ring the lake sparkle under the moon and panoply of stars, the volcanoes silhouetting the horizon against the nocturnal sky. In the distance Fuego spits out fire from its cone, reminding us all - as if we needed it - that we are still very much alive. Quiet descends except at festive times when fireworks are unleashed. A zealous and proud population slumbers ahead of another striking sunrise.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Geographic Evolution, Lake & Volcanoes

At 5125 feet, or 1562 metres, in altitude above sea level, Lake Atitlán is an 'endorheic' crater lake in the western highla...