San Marcos, Exactly What I Needed but Also Not

I escaped to San Marcos La Laguna. That’s what San Marcos feels like, an escape. It’s a tiny town right on the edge of Lago Atitlan, an expansive body of water that is surrounded by volcanoes. It is just as beautiful as it sounds.

San Marcos is unlike any of the other towns on the lake. I could feel it as soon as I stepped off the boat. From the dock I walked through a small alleyway lined by murals and plants, past places called the East West Healing Center and Las Piramides del Ka, in an atmosphere that transported me back to Rishikesh and Shambhala. I felt instantly at ease. This would be the place to take a break from the indulgences of Antigua and settle all the thoughts in my mind.

I reached the end of the alley and emerged onto the only real road in town. A basketball court was directly in front of me and tuktuks on either side. The only semi-congested place in this peaceful town that was about as busy as the FiDi on a Saturday. A bit down the road I found Hostel del Lago and the ideal outdoor chill space that I was looking for. Part of my escape to San Marcos was to work on a video, photo editing, and blog posts that I had been neglecting since I started hitchhiking, not to mention many catch-up phone calls. Del Lago’s patio was where I would take care of all of that.

San Marcos is something else. It’s one of those places that is really hard to describe why it’s so special. It could be its gorgeous setting and quiet car-free atmosphere. It could be the numerous yoga and meditation centers, offers of Thai massage and reiki classes, and stands selling crystals and space cookies. It could be the kind of people who are attracted to a place that offer such things. Or, as people say, it could be the energy. You can’t be in San Marcos without acknowledging its energy.

I split my time between personal work goals and San Marcos specific activities. Each day I attended something I was curious about, something that I had heard would be there and was part of the reason I was attracted to this town. I started with the cacao ceremony. Keith’s cacao ceremony was rumored to be an enlightening, deeply touching, can’t miss experience. I joined the twenty or so participants in his shaded outdoor space and was handed an intensely bitter pure cacao drink that I could sugar or spice up to my liking (I opted for the chili powder over the natural cane sugar). Then Keith talked while we waited for the cacao to work its way through our systems. About 45 minutes later I felt a deep sense of concentration; I sat in a meditative position and closed my eyes, letting the cacao get me into a sort of trance. I felt ready for what was about to happen. Then, nothing really happened. My high hopes were dashed as Keith focused his attention on just a couple of people there, turning the rest of us into flies on the wall of these personal therapy sessions. I left after three hours disappointed and ready to go back to work. Other people said he led great group meditations or moved them to the point of tears, but I didn’t have this experience. I just drank some bitter chocolate and tried to take seriously the girl who with an extended hand pulled the invisible fear out of someone’s throat, held onto it, and released it to the sky.

My second San Marcos activity was attending two sessions at Las Piramides del Ka. I had heard of their Moon Course when I was in Bacalar – a four-week program running from new moon to full moon that has morning classes on a variety of topics and afternoon meditation and culminates in a week of silence – but didn’t want to commit the time to it, so I was happy to discover that anyone could drop in for a class or two and see what it was about. I went to an evening meditation in the pyramid. The space is incredible for meditation and you could tell there was a special energy in the room, but I just couldn’t get into it. My mind was racing with all the other things I had come to San Marcos to sort out. Disappointed, again. The next morning I went to a class on lucid dreaming. Having had some intense dreams where I knew I was dreaming but unable to get out of it I was hoping for some insight as to how to control my dreams. Instead I got an hour talk about tricks to remember my dreams, like sleeping with my head to the North or East, lighting the same incense every night, and meditating before falling asleep. The thing is, I already remember my dreams, almost every day. Right now I could tell you what I dreamed last night. Sometimes I actually have a hard time forgetting my dreams. So it wasn’t really what I was looking for either.

I gave San Marcos one last shot with a Mayan ritual in the mountains. Friends and I met up with our shaman in San Paulo and walked an hour up into the mountains and scaled down a steep slope on our butts and hands to arrive at an impressive cave. Carved into the edge of the mountain, this cave had a giant tree growing horizontally out into the sky, shading it from the sun and hiding it from the lake below. It’s been used for Mayan ceremonies for ages and has some very powerful energy; people have experienced very intense things there. As he lit the candles smoke whirled upwards and was illuminated by rays of sun. I could see why this place was so special. We talked, we meditated, we played drums, we waited for our ceremonial food to show us something. And as soon as it started to, we were told it was time to leave. We were convinced we would die trying to climb our way back up the mountain and almost celebrated our success. Then we went back to the hostel and sat in a daze for two hours before everyone fell asleep. I think I slept 18 hours that night. Again, this did not live up to the hype, and I was left feeling disappointed.

Three tries, three strikes, I was out. Time to leave San Marcos. However outside of those activities, my personal goals were achieved. The rest of my time in San Marcos I did finish my video, photo editing, a number of blog posts, and had many necessary conversations. I had an idea what I wanted to do when I got back to Antigua but most importantly had decided to stop thinking so much. Getting away from Antigua to a totally different world was what I needed, and I realized that most of all when I got back to Antigua. I felt like I’d returned to an old friend. It was chaotic and overwhelming for the first night, but after that everything fell into place.

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