We were enjoying to the maximum our stay at Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, prepared for the raining season, but we not nearly ready for Tropical Storm Agatha when she hit in June 2010.
The storm slammed the area with such ferocity and with so much water that boulders the size of bulldozers went hurtling down the highland right beneath our house. Water, earth, trees, rocks and boulders cut deep crevices into the hillside, carving out new river paths that will likely stay in place for decades.
To give you a sense of what it was like, just the noise alone from the debris and water tumbling down was at the decibel level of Niagara Falls, which is near my Canadian home and a place I am very familiar with. Think of the sound of that rushing torrent and you get the idea.
This was not the first time water had been an issue so that’s why neighbours had previously clubbed to together to build a sluice path so that water could drain from the hills in a contained way and into the lake. After about a day of Agatha, the sluices were breached and then, by the next day, the boulders had smashed the rigged waterways so that they were pretty useless.
We had no electricity for four days and felt ourselves lucky indeed. Many Mayans in the surrounding villages lost their homes and, worse, lives were lost among them. Landslides took their toll. Census taking in this part of the world is incomplete so it remains unresolved as to how many actually died there because of Agatha.
Even after Agatha lashed her last, the season continued to be historically crazy. That was the year the lake rose 3 meters over a matter of four weeks. People raised their docks three times. It drove so many trees and other debris into the lake that it slowed the boat taxis to a crawl. The skippers and their crew would continually stop to pick up large tree trunks and branches that could be dried and used for fire wood, a small blessing for people who rely on wood stoves for warmth and cooking.
When the rains finally stopped were able to climb out of our sturdy house and walk the deep ruts cut into the terrain where thickets of trees had stood. We clambered onto boulders to have a better look at the devastation.
We were set to leave for Canada in early September, but the rains resumed and we were delayed by more than two weeks because the highway to Guatemala city was impassible due to landslides.
It’s been more than a year since Agatha. And now we are returning to live on a permanent basis in Guatemala, basing ourselves in Antigua.
Rainy seasons, tropical storms, volcanic eruptions and sink holes will not keep us from this beautiful country. There’s too much else to celebrate every day.