Sometimes it feels as if we're letting our guidebook and the iOverlander app dictate our trip. They're both incredibly handy, but they often seem to lead down an invisible predestined trail, so well-trodden by the travelers before us that its deep indentations in the earth prevents us from veering off.
So when Vince posted an invite on an overlanding Facebook page to anyone who would like to join him on a weekend trip to Laguna Brava, a place he said was rarely visited by foreign overlanders, we jumped at the chance. A few days later, after inviting our friend Benjy and changing our planned course, we met Vince, his friend Lucy, and his dog Rocco at a random hardware store. After short introductions, we were tailing his FJ Cruiser and Benjy's Landrover down a busy highway through work-a-day towns veined with populated sidewalks, and taking detours around markets that always appear to be thrown up last minute in the middle of the street.
Gradually the picture outside changed to dirt roads, modest Guatemalan homes, men on horseback, and tiny women in colorful Mayan clothing that seem to harbor some hidden super human strength; powering up steep hills, carrying massive amounts of wood on their backs.
Like everywhere we go that's off the beaten track, we're an oddity and people tend to stare. We've learned long ago that the energy we put out is what we get in return, and instead of staring back through our shield of glass we roll down our windows, say hello and smile. More often than not we get an exuberant wave and a toothy grin.
Vince explained to us that, although they are eager for more tourism, the area we are going to is weary of strangers because they've had trouble with companies attempting to come in and mine their mountains. Because of this, we need a permit from the town to continue to the lake, and guides must come with us. Vince makes it easy breezy, though, with his connection in the town and his fluent Spanish.
The entire village seemed to be at the town hall when we arrived.
After a long descent down a muddy, dirt road, and what I thought were some harrowing sharp turns, we arrived at our camp spot.
It sits next to a river in a picturesque valley so close to the Mexican border that we jokingly consider hopping over for tacos and a few Tecate. During proper introductions we find out that Vince and Lucy are both from the states and work for USAID in Guatemala. Lucky for me, and possibly unlucky for them, I spend some of the evening bombarding them with questions about the country and culture.
Benjy cooking us dinner with his collapsible oven (that we're quite jealous of).
The next morning we walk a wet trail to Laguna Brava.
The first sighting of the blueish-green lake flanked by mountains is breathtaking.
The day was rainy and overcast, but it didn't stop us from playing in the clear, cold water, lounging in our hammocks, or taking a tiny boat filled with two dogs, four people, and too much not-at-all-waterproof camera gear on a precarious outing.
The next day Vince suggests we drive to El Cimarron. A short hike later we find ourselves peering into a deep, surreal hole who's origin is apparently unknown. The bottom seems to have its own ecosystem filled with trees and birds.
A few of us are incredibly scared of heights, and only braved the edge for a photo.
After lunch we part ways, but not before our hosts generously lead us on another beautiful mountain drive.
We can't thank Vince and Lucy enough for their incredible hospitality and for taking us on one of our most memorable adventures!
This was our guide Mateo. We found out later, from Vince, that he passed away a week after our time at Laguna Brava. He radiated a calm, warm presence and always seemed to have a content grin on his face, as if there was nowhere he'd rather be than where he was in that moment. We're honored, if only for a brief moment, to have met him.