Two pots of water are reaching boiling temperature in a dim hut. Five pairs of eyes are fixated on the pots, waiting hungrily for the first bubbles to emerge. There’s us and there is a Guatemalan family, smiling shyly. The Guatemalan mother opens a spaghetti package, throws its content in the water after which the package flies into the fire. Tom’s eyes grow big as plates: “No, don’t throw the plastic into the fire.” Two Guatemalan women look at him, then at each other. The father speaks some English and explains them in Spanish what Tom has just said. They all laugh.
The way to paradise goes through hell
We are spending the night in Laguna Lachua, in other words: in paradise on earth. This beautiful lake with crystal clear turquoise water, lined by fading mountains, is located in the middle of nowhere in central Guatemala. It is far from everything besides a town called Playa Grande (Big Beach).
There is no beach anywhere near Playa Grande. Instead, there is one dusty road filled with hundreds of people selling, buying and delivering goods, buses stop and go, busboys shouting the next stations. The only food in this town is chorizo (some kind of grilled sausage) and the hotel where we sleep reminds us more of a prison cell than any touristic establishment. The hygiene in toilet and bathroom makes you wonder if a shower actually makes you any cleaner. Just in case, you decide to touch nothing. There is one restaurant with decent internet. At first glance, it looks quite nice until you make a trip to the toilet where you cannot flush (no water) and the sink is filled to the brim with puke. Apparently, a group of local beer drinkers couldn’t handle their Gallos very well.
The place to enjoy the complete quietness
Compared to Playa Grande, Laguna Lachua seems like another planet. It’s so quiet there that I can actually listen to the noise my pen makes when it touches the paper. Besides me and Tom, there is one more person enjoying the lakeside pleasures. I take out my yoga book and try some headstands.
La chu ha- that’s how the place is called in Q’eqchi’ language, one of the 21 Mayan languages in Guatemala. It means unpleasantly smelling water. I put my nose up then close to the water- no, I cannot feel any unpleasant smell.
Instead, the environs of Laguna Lachua teem with rich biodiversity. It’s not recommended to go swimming further than 50 meters from the shore, unless you want to be accompanied by crocodiles.
I hear something in the bushes. It’s not my imagination. But what it is? In the morning, during the four-kilometre hike to the beautiful lake, our path crossed with a porcupine’s. Seeing us, he disappeared into the bushes as quickly as possible. On our way back we’d meet funny Central-American mammals who look like big rats. Their official name is agouti. No wonder- apparently, you can find approximately 50% of all Guatemalan mammal species here. So, our animal-loving readers, it’s definitely a place to check out if you want to spot some wildlife.
Laguna Lachua: How to break all the rules?
The word rules has an unpleasant favour. It makes you shiver with disgust and wish to break them all, right? Well, maybe not so in nature. Laguna Lachua has more rules than I have seen in any other nature park. It starts with an easy one: don’t trash. For Europeans, that rule is almost not necessary to write down. Even a seven-year-old puts his candy wrap in a trash can.
In Central-America, things work differently. Trash is everywhere and for a reason. For example, it’s completely normal when a lady on a bus finishes her chocolate milk in a plastic bag and throws the bag out of the window. While my heart skips a beat, the lady doesn’t even blink an eye, nor do the 40 other people in the bus. That’s how normal it is here.
But trashing is just one thing. You can also not eat or drink on the lakeside or in the lake. That’s a problem for the Guatemalans who love to stand in the water while eating chips and taking sips from their Coca-Cola cans.
Laguna Lachua is so beautiful and clean thanks to these rules. Unfortunately, not all of them are followed. During sundown, a big Guatemalan family arrives. Funnily enough, they manage to break multiple of these rules over the course of the next couple of hours. Here are some examples:
Who goes to smoke in nature anyway, right? Evidently, half a day in the fresh air is too much for the local father. He lets his children in their swimsuits pass and stays a bit behind to squat down and light a cigarette. Within a minute, I can smell it from ten meters away.
Don’t play music
We wake up early the next morning to check out the sunrise. I have to admit that during our six months of travelling we have maybe done it twice. The concept of gazing at the first sun rays of the day in a place of natural beauty sounds amazing, but the reality is that a pillow and a blanket just feel so much better in these early morning hours. This time, we manage to get ourselves out of the bed and walk down to the lakeside. We sit down and wait. The only sounds present are some early birdsong and maybe the roars of the first howler monkeys.
We cannot enjoy the peaceful setting very long. The local family has the same plan. They sit down on the pier and stare at the horizon. To make it more interesting, the father turns on music on his phone. Who goes to nature to enjoy silence anyway, right?
Don’t use shampoo or soap in the lake
It’s not that I have never done it. Sometimes you just don’t have a shower, but you still have to wash your hair. But here is no need to bathe in the lake. The campsite has showers, where you can make your hair as soapy as you want.
It’s our second and last day on the lakeside. We pack up our bags and decide to go and say goodbye to the lake. To our disappointment, the crystal clear water is gone. Father and children are swimming and shampoo bubbles on the shore.
We say our goodbyes and stay hopeful that the park ranger will take a look sometimes, to check if all the rules are followed so that the lake would stay as beautiful and clean as we saw it.