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Cicadas hum in the heat of mid-afternoon. Sunlight gilds the waters placidly lapping against the shore. This water is warm and so clear I can see the fish swimming about my ankles. Soon sunset will paint the skies above these jungle hills in peach and magenta. Dusk will fall, geckos will chuckle. And the night, ebony, velvety, pierced with infinite stars arrives.

 

This is the tranquility of Mariscos, on the southern shore of Lake Izabal in eastern Guatemala. When I want to escape, to find a bit of peace, I come here. Days are spent strolling down the country lane to Playas Cocales and Dorada, or up into the hills, past the settlements of rubber tappers and their families. I remember the first time I watched the latex oozing down the groove carved into the tree. The liquid, pooled into a cup, was cool to my touch.

 

Since the ferries from El Estor stopped crossing the lake, this village has been largely forgotten—except for the few who still remember its pleasures and Guatemalans who take their vacations here. It is both figuratively and literally off the beaten path. To reach this little-known haven, one gets off at the Trincheras Junction on the Atlantic Highway and catches a mini-bus. The last 15 kilometers wind through heavy forest, descending towards the lake sitting on the north horizon. It’s not hard to find one’s way around here—there’s only one road into town. As if to accent the town’s remoteness, the paved road abruptly drops into the dusty, dirt street that is Mariscos’ main drag. The ferry is gone but the dock is still there. The benches, once used by those awaiting the ferry to El Estor, now make for front-row seats for a dazzling lake sunset.

 

From Mariscos, one can hire boats to explore settlements along the shores, or to travel to El Estor, the Río Dulce and other points of tourist interest. You can also skip over to a few eco-tourism lodges, if you wish such comforts. Finca Paraíso has a cave and thermal springs, and Denny’s Beach is worth a visit. In Mariscos itself, there’s sailing, swimming, fishing, diving and other water sports.

 

Not too far away are the great ruins of Quiriguá, situated amongst banana plantations. Home to the most-intricately carved stelae, or standing carved stones, of Mayan artistry, these ruins tower over the landscape, chronicling Quiriguá’s ancient, bloody history, such as the glory of the capture and execution of rival Copán’s ruler, 18 Rabbit.

 

Ah, but the greatest secret of all: since the ferry has stopped running, the waters are much cleaner and quieter—so much so that even the manatees love it. Twice a year, in October and again in January-February, they swim up from the Biotopo Chocón-Machacas del Manatí and hang out by the old dock.

 

Someday I shall return to that plain, little village of Mariscos. Again I shall swim with the fish and resident manatees. Until then I can only reminisce fondly about the evening breeze brushing against palm trees, carrying the scent of almond blossoms. Be assured, that night chorus of cricket, frog and gecko continues in this paradise off the main road of most travelers.



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