A bus picked us up in Antigua. A few hours later, we alighted at Panajachel. Now we had to figure out how to get to our AirBnB accommodation. Pana, as it is called, is where the ferries (or “lanchas”) begin their routes, transporting people to various towns situated around the lake. Our home was at a private dock, as our hostess had informed us, and we had to make sure the ferry guy knew the place and made a stop there.

Before any of that, we had to get ourselves (plus luggage) to the ferry. And this is when I truly realized the value of backpacks. When you take a variety of transportation options (bus, ferry, etc.) and end up having to trundle your luggage up and down rough hillside paths and stony slopes… you realize pretty quick that roll-on suitcases aren’t going to fare well. Au contraire, a good backpack functions excellently in such situations. It packs a lot more than your average suitcase (at least, the carry-on types), and it is easier to move and carry around, if you know how to use the various straps and fasteners. And backpacks fare a lot better on ferry decks and inside bus holds.

Finally, our lancha stopped at the private dock. I was exhausted, and not just from the exertion of dragging/lifting my suitcase over the gravel road, as fast as I could, so we wouldn’t miss the ferry. I was tired from my attempts to figure out Spanish. The ferry was mostly filled with locals, and I soon realized that English wasn’t going to get us far at Lake Atitlan.

We finally got off at the private dock, and had to figure out where the house was. There were several paths going up the hill behind the dock, and we assumed they led up to separate homes. Which one was ours? The thought of lifting our bags up those steep steps without even knowing if we were on the right path, literally… Tears lurked beneath the surface, threatening to burst forth any moment.

One failed attempt (struggled up a winding path, reached a narrow metal gate, rang the bell, nothing) left us stumped and tired, wondering what to do next. A young boy walked over, and when we mentioned the name of our hostess, he offered to lead us to the right house. It was the home next to this one, and yes, we had to ascend another flight of steps before we made it to the front door.

I wish I could really describe L’s home to you because it was truly a work of art. It was a gorgeous wood cabin, snugly sitting on the hilly slope, split across three levels. The walk-in level comprised of a little kitchen with a tiled countertop, a dinner/breakfast table and benches, concealed storage cabinets, and a narrow corridor to stow away bags and sundry items. Did I mention that the view from the kitchen window was framed by graceful vines, surrounded by dancing hummingbirds? Lake Atitlan shimmered in the sun outside, warm and blue and inviting.

At first glance, it seemed like the kitchen was woefully inadequate. I couldn’t see any cutlery or cooking vessels, or salt or oil or condiments, or even the water filter mentioned in the house instruction sheet. I was growing angrier by the minute, most definitely aggravated by fatigue. After much grumbling and “I hate this place” exclamations, we stepped out to survey the surroundings. P walked a little ahead of me and ended up running into the homeowner. Phew! She told him where to find everything! The storage cabinets were cleverly hidden under the stairs that ran up to the loft bedroom. We opened them to find everything we needed.

Finally made it up the narrow stairs to our loft bedroom. It was a sweet little space, minimally furnished with a mattress on the floor, soft pillows and blankets. Curtains flanked the four glassed walls, and the ceiling was a pyramid-shaped skylight. Volcano San Pedro rose up in the distance, shrouded by clouds. But you couldn’t miss its bulk, not at all imposing but more like a friendly guardian of Lake Atitlan and its inhabitants, human and otherwise.

Have to share about the eco-friendly composting toilet at this home. It was located at the lowest level, and you had to alight a winding flight of stairs to get there. Inside was a toilet, a spade and and a bucket of sawdust. You can guess the rest! Needless to say, this wasn’t my favorite type of toilet although I appreciated the intelligence of NOT constructing a conventional toilet (meaning, sewage tank) in such proximity to the lake. But it took some (or a lot) getting used to… you are forewarned.

There was something near-magical about the time we spent at Lake Atitlan in L’s lovely home. As I write this post on a rainy, dull afternoon in Atlanta, it almost seems unreal that a place like Atitlan even exists. But it does, and it’s home to many. It is a precious blue gem of a mountainous lake, flanked by Mayan villages and a dormant volcano. We awoke before dawn on many a morning, drawn towards the lake and the fishing boats, lured by the promise of a cool, gorgeous sunrise. And Atitlan delivered, every single time.