Retreat!

San Pedro La Laguna
San Pedro La Laguna

Finally back in action after 10 days away. The travel alone (cab to the plane to the plane to the van to the bus to the lake, and back) was enough to leave me loopy for two days each time. But it was so incredibly worth the effort; Guatemala is a special place.

I spent a day in Antigua, a cute, colorful old town full of earthquake-ruined cathedrals and bizarrely international cuisine. Korean food, anyone? We managed to get by with only pidgin Spanish; the town is full of expatriates and used to backpackers. It must be a Lonely Planet pick. I would go back just to see the Santo Domingo again; it’s a wrecked convent restored to a five-star hotel.

Then the retreat took us to San Pedro, a village of 13,000 known more for its parties than its spirituality. (San Marcos, across the lake, boasts the hippie expat colony.) Indigenous culture was amazingly preserved; women walked with household goods on their heads, and all ages wore the multi-layered, multi-colored traditional dresses and pants. We heard several of the 22 Mayan dialects (Spanish is their second language, too), and a local shaman performed a Mayan fire ceremony on the 4th of July. The town was very welcoming; I was only ignored a few times, and never harassed. And the bugs left us pretty much alone! The carnival music and fireworks, celebrating the town’s anniversary until midnight each night, unfortunately did not.

There were 21 retreaters, counting the two teachers (Amanda Zapanta and Ariel Karass). Most were strangers to each other, but within two days we were chatting about our bathroom luck and giggling during yoga class. It was so open, warm, and fun not at all the serious, meditative boot camp I’d been expecting. (I’d never been on a vacation retreat before, only the ashram retreats at Sivananda!) We practiced yoga twice a day, but we also went kayaking, hiked a volcano, rode horses, got massages, ziplined, shopped the markets, and went dancing. Wine and coffee were freely enjoyed. I considered moving in with the chefs.

And, of course, it was beautiful. Our hotel looked directly out on the lake, so we woke each morning to full-sky sunrises over glittering water. Three volcanoes and a chain of mountains hugged the shoreline; millions of birds sang their songs all day long. When we hiked the volcano, there was a moment at the top where the clouds parted and the entire surface of the lake appeared, like a mirror in the sky. We got the same view from the zipline full horizons on either side, brain trying to reconcile the impossible experience of floating. My heart was beating fast with joy.

I’m trying to transition back to asphalt now. I’m still wearing my ratty friendship bracelet (tho it’s turning my towels pink and blue), and greeting friends with “Hola!” The stimulation of the city is intense after a week in nature, but I feel like I’m surfing rather than suffering. A week away, an amazing group, was enough to gel something into place. I’m carrying bright white clouds all throughout me.