Hiking Cerro De Oro On Lake Atitlán

Sunday, August 4th we hiked to the top of the Cerro de Oro.  

We had arrived at IMAP ( - amazing place) on Saturday night and were greeted and situated in our new, beautiful home (complete with a HUGE volcanic rock jutting into the living room, and a beautifully painted outdoor octagonal kitchen) by Cristina, a joyful, strong, patient, young Guatemalan woman.  She told us that the next morning at 7 her father was leading a hike up the ancient volcano.  I was exhausted but how many chances would we have?  - just this one. 

Cerro de Oro had been intriguing us since the planning of this trip in the states.  We would later hear tales of greed, mysterious mortal failures, and spiritual riches bestowed on heart-centered people by this ancient giant.  I had a feeling - I really wanted to go.  Lucia was finally convinced (long story full of coincidences) to wake up at 6:30am.  

A little after 7am, we met the other two travelers, Diane and Jimmy, both permaculture enthusiasts from the US, and Chico, our wonderful guide.  Most people here speak the local dialect and/or Kakchikel, and Spanish is their third language.  Chico barely speaks Spanish, but he knows enough to keep people safe, always smiling and connected with the heart energy.

We finally took off down a little dirt path on what was supposedly a one-hour hike.  I had my doubts, as all having to do with "time" here is otherworldly at best.   After less than ten minutes I was panting and needed to stop.  (I found out one week later that our altitude at the lake was one mile above sea level!)  We took our first break under  the huge tree you see in the middle of the picture collage.  Chico told me to rest "sin pena" (without embarrassment) and to stop as much as I liked.  He signaled me to get to the front of the line so everyone could follow at my pace.  To be sure, I was really embarrassed, but it was either do as Chico said or possibly have a heart attack.  We continued and I was chatting it up with Diane, an economics major from Iowa.  I asked the group to stop again.  I was having a hard time.  We were about 20 minutes into this.  Chico told me to breath in and out of my nose, only.  He said this would be good for my heart.  I decided I would not talk to anyone, anymore.  I connected better with the spirit of the mountains and I asked for mercy from the spirit of Cerro de Oro, as every breath in and out of my nose took concentration and sacrifice.  I gave the hike my all.

We journeyed through many small farms, taking a left in the middle of a corn field, here, and then a right up a small ancient looking stone road, there, passing men carrying truly enormous loads of firewood or bean vines on their heads and backs. We took a left on a more modern looking road, and then up and down and through jungles full of coffee, corn, beans, squash, cactus fruit and all sorts of other herbs and edibles I am not familiar with.  All this cultivated jungle was strewn with volcanic stones of every size imaginable. 

After about an hour we came to the base of Cerro de Oro, which looks like an elephant! (see picture bottom right)  Once there, it was straight up - just me (and the others, of course - with their own stories!)  and the spirit of the ancient volcano - I was praying and also ooooing and ahhhhing at the amazing views!  Lucia was taking a million pictures every few feet - each time the views were getting better and better!

When we got to the elephant's rear end, there was a ceremonial site. Lucia and I offered some hair we pulled out from the back of our necks, and said a little prayer of thanksgiving.  The group sat to rest.  After a while, we heard a holler from very high!  It was Lucia, perched on a massive volcanic rock above us!  I could not even see her.  I told her, calmly and firmly, to come down this minute so as not to hold up the group.  I knew that people were counting on this hike ending at a certain time so they could go on with their plans for the day.  She said she would do so.  She did not come down.  I repeated my motherly request - and that is when I realized what was happening.  Lucia was stuck more than 20 feet up in the air.  She could not come down.  "Mama - I can't get the camera!"  "Forget about the camera, Lucia - see if you can just get down, please."  At this point we were all huddled around the base of this enormous, pointy boulder of lava and Lucia was literally hanging by her fingertips (!) from the top - her little bare feet groping around for a foothold.  "You're doing great" I called up (this is always what I say when I find her casually enjoying herself somewhere unfathomably high that has my whole nervous system shaking to the core.  Jimmy, the tallest of us, tried to reach Lucia by climbing on a nearby rock but he could not get close.  Diane put her pack down and began to scale the bottom of the rock, but it was hard going and she did not get any closer.  I remained as verbally calm as I could, but really this was a bit much.  Chico took off his hiking boots and socks and was clearly ready to put his whole self into the task and do whatever it took to get Lucia down safely.  I stood at the bottom looking up and keeping as positive and calm as I could.  I knew I was in no physical shape to do anything at all except pray and say nice things.

This is when Lucia suddenly came sliding down the flat face at top speed toward me.  She landed like a cat on a pile of leaf litter inches from a jagged rock the size of a bear.  

"Well, that was brave of you" Diane exclaimed to Lucia.  Then Lucia told us that, actually,  it was an accident because she had been aiming to land her feet on a little bump of dirt jutting beneath her, but when she dropped onto it, it broke and she fell the next ten feet. 

Thank God (the gods?) etc.  But the camera was still up there and I had a renewed sense of its importance.   We could actually see it.  Everyone took their places again to rescue the technology.  Jimmy poked at it with a long, loopy stick/vine until it fell.

I've included for you a collage of our hike.  (It took two hours and ten minutes, although Chico can do it in a relaxed hour!)  Really, this is a magical and beautiful place full of the most lovely people!  We leave today and I will do my best to post about other adventures! May you all be well! 


cerro de oro hike .jpg