August 12-26, 2015

Antigua shocked me in the most beautiful way.  Every day I awoke to a vibrant blue sky and surrounding lush green volcanos coupled with cobblestone streets and crumbling Spanish colonial architecture.  Panaderiás were everywhere, the scent of freshly baked everything filled the air.  A latte and large chocolate croissant for $3?  Yes please, every day please.  Dive bars, mezcal bars, sushi bars, live music, salsa nights, coffee shops, rooftop restaurants: this city had it all.  Within 24 hours, I signed up for Spanish lessons, private salsa lessons and yoga class.  My days were packed but I was thoroughly content. 

City view from Cerro de la Cruz

Volcán Fuego erupting in the distance

Arches at Tanque La Union, also known as Lover's Park

Volcán de Agua

I met two guys at my hostel, Martin from the UK and Omer from Israel, both long term travelers.  When I wasn't busy with Spanish, salsa or yoga, we spent the remaining hours together roaming the streets, going to museums, and trying out different restaurants.

Martin and Omer both insisted that I HAD to do the overnight Acatenango hike: an all-day trek up Volcán Acatenango with (if you're lucky) a spectacular volcanic eruption show accompanied with jaw-dropping views of Guatemala.  Having hiked enough volcanos at this point, I wasn't entirely convinced.  Sure, witnessing a volcano erupt is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it also wasn't guaranteed: the clouds could block your view.  They assured me the entire trip was worth it, "an absolute must," and proceeded to show me some pictures. Feeling swayed, I checked the weekend's forecast and it said mostly sunny. 

Done. I signed up the following day.


August 22-23, 2015

At 13,044ft high, Acatenango is the third highest volcano in Central America.  It last erupted in 1972 and is currently a dormant volcano.

The ascent takes 6-8 hours.  The trek takes you through corn fields, farmland, dwarf pine trees, and tropical dry forest until you reach base camp, situated at about 12,300ft.  From base camp, you have a front row seat of Volcán Fuego, an active volcano.

The final ascent to the summit of Acatenango is at 4am to catch the sunrise.  

(to the left is a view of Volcán Fuego from the top of Acatenango)


One of the dogs that followed us all the way up the trail

Shirt tease

When we reached base camp, Volcán Fuego, the active volcano, was blocked by big fluffy clouds.  The guide assured us that the clouds would likely clear by sunset. 

Sure enough, the clouds cleared in a couple hours and soon puffs of smoke billowed from Fuego.  Often times we would hear what sounded like thunder from the eruption.  

Base camp

Volcán Agua

Once the sun had set, the REAL show began: we could see lava spewing out of Fuego! Never knowing when it would erupt, we would scramble to get our cameras every time we heard a boom or saw red sparks off in the distance. 

Volcán Fuego erupting at sunset

By 10pm, after a pasta dinner paired with some boxed wine, we all retired to our tents to get some rest.  I barely slept a wink: it was cold, the ground was uncomfortable, and Fuego kept erupting throughout the night, startling me awake with its thunderous booms. 3:30am quickly approached, and, feeling completely sleep deprived, I reluctantly layered up for the hour long ascent.  This portion of the hike proved to be the hardest:  it was steep, the air was thin, and as we got higher, the winds kicked in, chilling me to the bone.  The ground was soft like thick sand, our feet constantly sinking, making it harder to gain any ground.  Hardly anyone spoke a word; the sounds of heavy breathing said enough.  

And then finally....

...we made it!  As we took our last steps to reach the top, in a borderline cliche moment, the sun rays burst through the clouds and blanketed Guatemala as far as we could see.  The sun shined in all its glory, and for a minute there, I waited for it to bask me in its warmth.  

It did not. The winds were so strong I thought I was going to simultaneously blow off the mountain and freeze to death.  I quickly snapped a few photos and then ducked inside the crater to shield myself.

My attempt at a shot with a GoPro in the wind


Fuego still erupting in the early morning

Thirty minutes later, we started our descent.  Hungry, tired and cold, we were ready to get back to base camp ASAP.  We were in luck.  Rather than slowly descend the volcano, the ground was so soft, we got to run down!  But not trail running, this was half running, half falling down the volcano without hurting yourself.  It was like running through quick sand that didn't sink all the way.  In other words, it was soft and mushy and you would live.  We ended up with handfuls of dirt in our shoes but got to base camp in half the time.

My friend Ashley, another solo female traveler, running down Acatenango 

After a bagel breakfast, we packed up our gear and worked our way down the mountain on a different trail, a journey that only took 3 hours.  Soon we were back in Antigua and I was fast asleep.

Hiking Acatenango was one of the most intense yet rewarding experiences I've had to date.


August 25-September 7, 2015

A little slice of heaven, Lake Atitlán quickly became one of my favorite places.  I had only planned on staying for 4 days but ended up staying 10- and would have stayed longer if I had time.  

The lake fills the majority of the caldera that was formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago.  It is the deepest lake in Central America and home to Mayan descendants.  Their culture remains strong with traditional dress still being worn and Mayan languages spoken among the locals.  

I spent one night in Panajachel, a tourist hot spot filled with street vendors and restaurants, then made my way to San Marcos La Laguna. There, I would be staying at a hillside yoga retreat called The Yoga Forest.


A magical hillside retreat with enchanting panoramas of Lake Atitlán.  In addition to meditation and two yoga classes each day, this place won my heart with its permaculture design and living, delicious vegetarian meals, soothing vibes, and sunrise views from my bed.

Stairway entrance to the retreat

Stairs leading to the yoga Shala, where we'd practice

The Yoga Shala

Sauna, heated by burning firewood

Herbs and plant varietals

Locally grown produce

My cabaña

Open windows, let the breeze in..

The name of my cabaña was Lakshmi.

Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, love, prosperity (both material and spiritual), fortune, and the embodiment of beauty.

In between yoga classes, I usually came here to read, journal, or absorb myself in the silence.

One of my favorite things about TYF was waking up at 5:30am, just as the sun was rising.  I didn't even have to move from my bed to witness the sky transform.  I just opened my eyes and watched as the dark blue sky fade into shades of light gold and pale pink, the colors reflecting onto the still waters of the lake.  

To A Curious Mind, Nothing Is Ever The Same

Fridays were make-your-own pizza night

Isis, super sweet; she usually hung out around my cabin

Monty, troublemaker; always trying to steal your food

Almost every meal was accompanied with handmade tortillas.  Add a dash a salt to them and they were so, so good.

Everyone I met at The Yoga Forest had a different reason for being there; some had come to slow down from the daily grind, others to try yoga for the first time.  

Jenny from Germany

Lani from California

Ian from D.C, always strummin'

Gildas from France

Studying in the Shala

Manuel from Germany

Lyssa from PA, our yoga teacher and my roommate

This was month 4 at the lake for Lyssa

Antoinetta, a local, was one of the yoga retreat workers.  She was shy but sweet when she spoke to me in little Spanish.  One day she asked me to take her photo, which surprised me since it usually went the other way around.  I gladly took some photos but when I tried to get her to smile, she shook her head no.

Culture fushion

Later, I snapped some shots of Antoinetta with some other workers and was able to catch her laughing with her friends. 

When it came time to leave the Yoga Forest, I felt refreshed, relaxed and empowered.   Even though I had interacted with other guests and locals, I had spent most of my time either inward or alone.   I had reflected on my current travels and my travels to come.  In two days I would return to the U.S and, if I stuck to my plan, I would fly to SE Asia weeks later.  I knew, deep in my heart, I wanted to continue my travel journey, despite the unknown, the fears, and the risks.  I wanted to do it and I was willing to do it, alone.


"I could only choose between the bull that would take me back and the bull that would take me forward.  And so I walked on." - Cheryl Strayed

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