by Susana Raymundo
The beauty of the Laguna Chicabal is obvious at first sight, with the Volcano Santa María looming in the background and the shimmering, tree-surrounded lagoon in front. What surprises many is the abundance of wildlife in the area.
The last time I went there, we were in a group and one person who had gone out in front motioned for us to be quiet. We thought she was taking a photo, but as we drew nearer we saw what she was looking at – a rare and endangered quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.
As we walked around the area, scaling rocks and fallen tres we saw fish of many shapes and sizes who sometimes jump from the water, flapping a fin as if to say hello or goodbye.
While still largely a wild place, a few comforts have been added for visitors – barbecue grills, picnic tables and a wooden kayak which is useful for getting to the other side of the lagoon when the water rises in winter and walking along the shoreline becomes difficult. Steps (620 to be exact) make the ascent and descent into the crater easier, but certainly provide a workout for the legs.
We like to rest by the waterside, feeling the tranquility of the water, listening to the birdsongs and watching the fog play on the lagoon’s surface and looking at the plants and rum bottles that have been left by the Maya during their ceremonies here. The lagoon is sacred for the Maya – they say that whoever swims here will disappear forever, that the water is insulted by the swimmers and swallows people whole, taking their soul and body never to be seen again.
It’s an important site, and the Maya expect visitors to respect it, but they would never say “don’t swim or fish or sleep in our altar” – instead they say that you will drown if you swim here, that spirits will haunt your dreams if you fall asleep on the bank, and if you fish, you will pay dearly in other ways for your catch, but they rarely elaborate, and leave people to make their own decisions.