The best things in life are for free and often I don’t take time to appreciate them. I have gotten accidental glimpses of the most amazing sunsets riding home on a city bus. Why didn’t I jump out of that bus, lay down a blanket and have a picnic while watching the sunset? Because I had no time.
It’s a bit different when I travel. In El Remate, the sunset became an event to look forward to. I made sure that my watch was accurate, bought a cheap beer and walked to the end of a pier to check it out. Sitting and talking on a little wooden bench with Tom, all of a sudden we fell quiet, realising that we didn’t need words, didn’t need movies, TV or any entertainment.
The whole sky coloured pink, then it turned all the shades of purple and the show ended with deep indigo. Lake Peten Itza, smooth as glass, mirrored every single marshmallow cloud in the sky. Little birds made their dance and flew so close to the surface that they almost touched it.
Long after the first stars had lit in the sky, we still sat there, speechless of the movie that nature had just shown us. We walked to the shore, crossed the road and climbed onto our balcony, glancing one last at the sleeping lake.
Relationship status: it’s complicated
My relationship with Guatemala has been difficult. I went from admiring the yellows, purples and greens on Maya traditional clothes to hating the only food options in Guatemala’s small towns, tacos and fried chicken. From loving the carnival of colourful houses in old colonial town Antigua to finding ourselves in towns that were basically just one hot and dusty road with loud music blasting from the speakers of the only supermarket. I have loved Guatemala and I have hated it, but I hadn’t yet encountered a place where I lost my heart.
After volunteering at Finca Ixobel near Poptún I had only one wish left- I wanted to see the famous Maya ruins in Tikal. We passed Flores, supposedly a cute lakeside town with a Mediterranean feeling. I don’t know if my passion for travel was running low or it was something else, but I couldn’t find charm in this place.
The walking promenade was so flooded that walking there meant jumping from rock to rock and sometimes not making it. We could not find a decent swimming spot in this town. Nothing looked clean enough. Finally, giving up, I dipped myself into the smelly, foggy water, only to notice a sewage pipe two meters away. I climbed out of the water and hoped that I didn’t catch any nasty disease.
Slow travellers as we are, we decided to make one more stop before reaching the number one sight in Guatemala. “It’s a small village near the lake. People like it because it’s calmer than Flores,” read Tom. I was not convinced. Why should we waste our time on another loud village next to the smelly lake?
Off the main road
Being spat out of the local bus in El Remate, we stood for a moment in confusion. The place looked much smaller than we expected. The road winded down along the lakeside. Walking down this road dotted with guesthouses and eating places all drowned into greenery, my heart started to melt. It was quite cute actually. And the lake looked so calm, so peaceful. In the clear water, I could see my toes and the fishes swimming around my legs. What was this place?
There were not so many people and the silence was like a balm to my ears. I wished I had a longboard or a bicycle to cruise along the curvy street through this green tunnel, enjoying the lake views and leafy trees. I wanted to swing in a hammock and melt into the moment.
First thing after throwing our backpacks into our room, we fished out our swimsuits to test the water. Of course, everything didn’t go as smoothly as we had imagined.
Chain-drinkers and loud splashers
We shared the pier with two rowdy drinkers. Both of them occupied one hammock. Next to both of the hammocks stood at least ten blue local beer cans with white letters “Ice Dorada” on them. Swinging in the hammock, they scrolled down their playlist of “biggest hits in Guatemala”. The bubble seemed to burst. Maybe we’d just imagined that the place was quiet and calm?
Next thing we saw, three kids, ages from kindergarten to elementary, marched proudly into the direction of the water. One of them held a huge green blow-up mattress under her arm. We put our books aside and admitted that we’d been wrong- it was probably not going to be very peaceful here today.
The kids were cheerful and happy. They hung on the ladder that went into the water and started their game- to use the green mattress as a rowing boat. Of course, it didn’t work very well. Their boat went upside down constantly. The waterfront turned into one big splashing parade, accompanied with loud shrieks and laughter. Their fun didn’t last long. From afar, we saw a male figure approaching. It was an Uruguayan volunteer who arrived to chase the children from the water so that paying guests could drink and read in peace. Two more hours and the drinkers were gone as well. After a couple of exceedingly beautiful sunsets and morning coffees on the lakeside, I was in love with this place.
One day we went for a hike. We admired the eagles in the sky, the monkeys in the trees and the snakes on the road. At the end of the walk, we sat down on a little beach. We were the only people there. It was so quiet that it felt like I was back to Estonia.
Opening the door early in the morning and taking a deep breath of fresh lake air, I started to feel that I belonged in El Remate. I wanted to stay in the lakeside paradise, where the guest house owners didn’t close the bar door for the night, where the green parrot lived next to the kitchen and the black tarantula crawled out from under the stairs in the evenings. But the road was calling again. We had to let go the quiet dream and dive once again into the unknown.