Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Sacred Laguna Chicabal

Only a short truck/bus ride away lies the worshipped Laguna Chicabal. It is a pond in the crater of the old Volcano Chicabal, and is a very spiritual place for the surrounding Maya.
To reach Chicabal you take a bus to San Martin Sacatepquez, then hike about two hours to the entrance of the protected park, then another half hour to reach the pond. Because there were only three students of this Saturday morning excursion, we were lucky enough to hop in the back of the Director's red pickup truck and drive all the way up to the park entrance. Hence, a one day outing turned into a morning experience. To tell you the truth, I was looking forward to the hike...and I was also happy to have half of my Saturday to myself.
When you finally reach Chicabal there is a long path of 615 stairs down to the laguna and two overlooks -
one on each side of the main path. From one overlook you can see the cherished laguna.
From the other overlook, you can see three volcanoes: the towering Santa Maria, Tajamulco, and the active Santiaguito.
Every half hour or so, Santiaguito gives a little show with a shake, rumble and puff. If the wind is just right, the ash and sulfuric dust from the mini explosion will waft over to hikers. Luckily the wind was not blowing our way! Santiaguito's show as entertaining enough as we munched on pears, plantain chips and talked about earthquakes and medical services in Guatemala.
The laguna itself is quite small. Also very sulfuric, containing only a handful of adventurous fish. It is forbidden to swim in the lake due to its sacred importance. And if you try to visit in early May, expect to be turned away, as important ceremonials are practiced throughout the first week. But on any given day, you will most likely see a ceremony or worship of some sort.
The path around Laguna Chicabal contains little offshoots to official and unofficial "Maya Alters." We counted five official ones, where a wooden sign reads "Maya Alter," and probably 5-7 more with obvious remnants of candles, burnt ground from incense, and flower remains that were given as offerings in a ceremony.
On our early visit to Chicabal there was one group of Maya-Evangelicals practicing in song, prayer, and chant. And another two small groups conducting ceremonies and preparing food.
As always, it felt great to get into the country, see the small farms growing up mountain sides and see another side of life in this part of the world. Hello from the back of a red truck!

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