Praying For Rain From Inside Volcano Chicabal
The Mayan ritual of La Perdida Por La Lluvia marks a time when farmers and shamans come from far and wide to pray for rain from inside the crater lake on Volcano Chicabal. It just so happened to be the day after the ceremony that a friend and I went to check out this mystic Mayan magic for ourselves.
Our journey began in downtown Quetzaltenango or Xela as it is commonly referred. A microbus costing only $0.68, picked us up on a random street corner and we were off.
The small town of San Martin Sacatepéquez was our destination, and we were blazing down the highway. However, when riding public transportation in Guatemala, one should expect to make at least a hundred stops to pick people up for work and drop kids off at school. Even though you are driving deadly fast, it doesn’t mean you’re actually getting anywhere quickly.
The door flew open as the bus came to a screeching halt. The driver yelled San Martin. This was our stop. We hopped out and started our two-hour trek up through the town. Our determination would last about ten minutes before we pointed one finger at the ground and hitchhiked the rest of the way up to base camp. The ride was long and bumpy, but we had a great travel companion that seemed to handle it much better than we did.
The Furry Road Warrior
After what seemed like an hour of dodging low hanging branches and the loose machetes flying about, we finally arrived at our destination. A collection of little red huts surrounding a wide-open field of bright green manicured grass.
Volcano Chicabal Base Camp
A wrinkly old man sitting in the first shack with a grin from ear to ear kindly asked for fifty Quetzales each. This would be our entrance fee.
I have yet to be on an adventure in Central America where I wasn’t joined by a furry companion of some sort. Without fail dogs and cats seem to just show up looking for a trail buddy for the day. This time, of course, would be no different.
The Trail Runner
Meet Chico. The name I give every animal that I come across. It means boy or depending on the sex; chica means girl. So being able just to say “hola chico” keeps things fun and light without getting too attached. I meet way too many stray mangy animals to become attached. If I did, it would destroy my soul.
After we made our introductions and it was clear Chico was tagging along, we made our way towards the bright red trailhead marker.
The Monument Of Volcano Chicabal
The extinct Volcano Chicabal sits 8,920 feet high in the sky. It has long been used as the sacred grounds of an annual ritual called La Perdida por la Lluvia (the prayer for rain). Local Mayans come from far and wide to visit the crater lake that rests at the top. It has been put under conservation in hopes to protect and preserve the place that is so special to the Mayan people.
We were a little confused by the sign’s spelling of the volcano. It clearly reads Chikabal which is the only time we found it spelled this way. Everyone else we met spelled it Chicabal, as well as all of the brochures in town. Who knows? Maybe just a spelling error.
And So It Begins
From the first step, the hike was relentless. All uphill and muddy from rain the night before. It was, however, an absolutely beautiful walk. Small jungle animals dove in and out of the bush while hummingbirds glided effortlessly between wild pinkish purple volcano flowers that lined the route.
Budding Volcano Flowers
Once we reached the mirador at the top of the ridge, we were rewarded with our first view of Laguna Chicabal. Surrounded by a lush forest of green and reflecting a mirror image of the sky above.
After a few moments of sitting there with our mouths open, we realized that there was another observation platform right behind us. That’s strange.
What could there possibly be to see in the complete opposite direction of the main attraction?
Don’t Look Now But There’s Volcanoes
The ones you see here are Volcanoes Santa Maria, Santo Thomas and the one smoking on the lower right is Santiaguito which holds a special place in my heart.
From the day I started traveling, I had looked forward to camping on the crater of Santiaguito. Sleeping right next to a massive eruption the size of the Empire State Building that went off every hour or so. Well after almost a year of traveling I’d finally arrived, and I was so excited to get the chance at some true adventure.
As it turns out the Guatemalan government in their infinite wisdom had recently made camping on one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the World illegal. I spent the week combing the town trying to find someone, anyone who would take me up despite the danger. The answer was a resounding no. It has been the greatest disappointment of my travels thus far.
Mental Note: I’ve been told I have a problem of convincing myself I can do anything when no one is there to talk me out of it. This usually leads to events such as falling off a waterfall or let’s say, trying to stand atop an erupting volcano (Don’t tell my mother).
After taking a moment to make peace with the missed adventure of a lifetime, we set off down the ridge towards the shores of Laguna Chicabal. 615 wet, muddy steps were all that stood in our way.
615 Steps To Go
The path was all downhill and fairly easy apart from slipping with almost every step. The weather changed drastically every few feet. The sun peaking through parts making it suffocatingly humid then shadows suddenly taking back the path leaving it cold and dark.
Volcano Crater Jungle
Then all of a sudden the dark shadowy path started to show signs of daylight. The early morning sun began creeping through the trees that were getting less and less dense every few feet. In the distance, I could see an opening. We had finally arrived at the shores of Laguna Chicabal.
We Have Arrived
The Ritual Of La Perdida Por La Lluvia
Every year like clockwork forty days after Easter, farmers and shamans come from all over the region to pray to the gods for rain and a healthy harvest for the year. If they find the roots of the trees surrounding the lake submerged in the crystal clear water they will take that as a sign and plant their seeds the next day.
During this time beautifully ornate flower arrangements are set up at the four cardinal points around the lake. The pilgrims sit there all day praying and making animal sacrifices. Yeah, that’s right, I said animal sacrifices!
Lakeside Prayer Offerings
It could not have been a more perfect day to be at the crater lake on top of Volcano Chicabal. The usual clouds that roll in around 10 A.M. enveloping the lake held off the entire time. An occasional rogue cloud would dip down just grazing the surface only to dissipate moments later.
Having learned from the locals, I took that as a sign. Only my interpretation of the sign was to take a sunny afternoon nap. So that is just what I did.
A Perfect Day At The Lake
When I awoke, it was just as beautiful as when I’d closed my eyes. The sun now higher in the sky, it was starting to get a little toasty. So we took one last look around the lake and started our hike back out of the crater and down the steep hillside.
The path was all overgrown and some of the brightest green I have ever seen. One thing I love about Guatemala is the many shades of green. Just when you think you’ve seen them all, you go only an hour down the road and the color of the trees and vegetation is like nothing else you’ve seen before.
Green, Green And More Green
This time we managed to make it the entire duration of the trail on our own. Another kind senior man was waiting for us at the bottom of the hill.
Xela? He asked. We of course obliged and hopped in for another rough and tumble $0.68 ride back home.