Practicing my backflips from the tree in San Pedro. Photo courtesy of Everett Redus.

I woke one morning in agony. Cold sweat covered my body and there was fire in my eyes. The light seemed like poison but I wasn’t sure if my eyes hurt more opened or closed. I was bedridden on the dirty concrete floor on the outskirts of Cobán for three days, leaving the house only to talk to the street doctor. It was malaria. I contracted it in Semuc Champey, during the lovely nights of falling asleep uncovered under the stars. I took the medicine I was given, luckily catching it in the beginning stages. And just as quickly as I had fallen ill, I was cured.

I thanked the family for all their love and help, then left for the mountains. I moved more quickly than I had before. Lying sick in bed, I could think of only one place in my mind, and four days after leaving Cobán, I reached it. The stories I’d been told by both my parents and Cameron had instilled a deep longing, and I had finally arrived at Lago Atitlán.

Fishermen's wooden canoes in Santiago with Volcan San Pedro in the backdrop. Photo by Everett Redus.
Fishermen’s wooden canoes in Santiago with Volcan San Pedro in the backdrop. Photo by Everett Redus.

The views from the pueblos were breathtaking, and the lancha rides across the water were exhilarating, but none of that was enough. I had the lancha driver drop me off at the dock I had chosen. I walked up onto shore and stood looking at a ghost town, the skeleton of what was once a society. I walked slowly down trails leading around the town. There had been no human traffic for quite some time, the only tracks being of dogs, rodents, and lizards. I spent the whole day hiking and following animal trails. I scaled rocks and climbed trees growing from the cliff face, high above the water lapping at its base. Up and over the mountain I walked and crawled, with no little effort. And as the sun prepared to set, I came down into Santa Cruz la Laguna, and the hostel where Cameron had worked so many years before.

A view of the water from my tent. Photo by Everett Redus.
A view of the water from my tent. Photo by Everett Redus.

A few days later I found myself in a tight spot. I had left the town on a small trail, but at some point I had left the trail as well. I was near the top of the ridge attempting to crawl straight up through the gravel. The slope was nearly vertical, and the earth was very loose. Campesinos had burned the field to grow crops so everything was charred. I was searching for a camping spot, so I had all my belongings with me, which made progress even more difficult. There was nothing to do but dig my arms as far into the earth as possible and pull myself up. I struggled on in this manner until I heard the laughing. I looked up and saw two old women in traditional dress, watching me and thoroughly enjoying the show. They waited for me, on the correct trail, as I slowly made my way up to them. I stepped onto the trail out of breath, drenched in sweat, and charred black from head to toe. The humor was not lost on them. We chatted and laughed as we walked our way down the trail. They took me to the most magical camping spot I’ve ever stayed. It was a large area on top of a rocky cliff, with panoramic views of the lake, volcanoes, and mountains. I cooked eggs and beans over the fire, then sipped coffee as I watch the clouds change color, then disappear into darkness.

One of many sunrises watched from the shore as we cook breakfast on the fire. Photo by Everett Redus.
One of many sunrises watched from the shore as we cook breakfast on the fire. Photo by Everett Redus.

For two weeks I moved around the lake, camping wherever I pleased, yearning to know every inch of the land. The water and air gave me drive. The earth and trees gave me shelter. I had finally found a place that I could spend the rest of my days without wanting.

I went hiking one morning along the lake with two friends. We climbed trees and ate fruit and coffee berries that grow all throughout the hills. When we were caught in the rain we climbed into caves and made fire under a rocky overhang. We continued on, swimming and skipping rocks. And the wonderful day was made perfect when I made my discovery.

The waterfall in Tzununa. Photo by Everett Redus.
The waterfall in Tzununa. Photo by Everett Redus.

No more than five minutes before, I had been explaining all my previous discoveries to my friends, telling them how I stumble across things that I couldn’t have imagined being any more perfect. I had risen, walked to another rock and sat back down. I wasn’t sure why I did it; it struck me as odd. But I sat, staring at the volcanic rocks without really looking at anything. Suddenly I realized what I had been looking at. There was an old weathered piece of pottery, with a man’s face molded onto it. It was broken to where only one eye remained, and the mouth was wide open in exclamation. My face must have looked quite the same. My companions were speechless, and I couldn’t believe that I had once again found something that held such personal value for me.

Finding the pottery tied my weeks at the lake together. Atitlán had sent me adventure then sent me a gift, letting me know that I was on the right path. It seems that everywhere I go, these signs find their way into my hands, whether I’m looking for them or not. The arrowhead, the tooth, the pottery – these are my most valuable possessions, and because I place so much value in them, I continue to find them. They are so much more real to me than any souvenir. They are not simply a representation of my trip, but an integral part of it. Finding hidden treasure is a childhood dream that I haven’t lost. It takes patience, and a headful of imagination. Whether it be physical artifacts, a new place, or ever a new person, there’s always treasure to be found. So many are content to never step outside of what they know, or to reach beyond what is easily accessible, but all you have to do is look. Every great adventure in my life has been led by the desire to find something more than I could see.

The pottery head I found on the rocky beach. Photo by Everett Redus.
The pottery head I found on the rocky beach. Photo by Everett Redus.

I left early the next morning on a chickenbus. I had made a last-minute decision to accompany a friend to Xela, further to the north. I stayed a week there, taking in the extreme views, hiking mountains, and visiting sacred Mayan lakes. But I could not keep fighting the magnetic pull I felt, dragging me back to Lago Atitlán. So I returned, and resumed the easy business of existing at the water’s edge.

A heavy dose of the color green is what I needed, and I met a few other travelers who shared in my condition. Short excursions to remote beaches transformed into all-day cookouts, which in turn transformed into multiple day campouts. There are no fences separating man from the land, so camping is always free. And when your list of expenses consists of nothing but vegetables and tortillas, living becomes quite simple. Not to say that we always came out unscathed, or that everything happened exactly as we hoped. But everything certainly happened exactly as it should.

On the third camping trip is when the first problem presented itself. Every time we went out, the meals we cooked became more elaborate, and the first night of the trip had been the best yet. We made potatoes, stuffed with butter, garlic, and spices; red peppers filled to the brim with cheese and chorizo; tomatoes, onions, and zucchini. Everything we wrapped in foil and cooked to perfection on the coals. There’s no match to the satisfaction you get, sitting cross-legged in the sand at dusk, eating food fresh from the fire with bare, filthy hands. All told, we ate far more than was prudent, and we realized it in the morning. We had some food left, but not nearly enough for another lunch, dinner, and breakfast, so we had to find a solution. It was too far to walk back to town, but there was a house within a reasonable distance, so we set out to see if they would sell us any eggs or vegetables. Within an hour we were returning to camp in dejection. We sat down to survey our bag of food and make rationing decisions. But over the next few minutes we began to realize an even bigger problem. The food bag was nowhere to be found. We all dug and looked, but I was the first to find the tracks. Two dogs had come from the far end of the beach, stolen the food bag and the trash bag and left, all while we were on an unsuccessful hunt for more food.

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I have a certain ability that I feel I learned from my brother – the ability to view the present situation as if I was retelling it at a later date. I found our circumstance unbearably funny, long before we were anywhere close to solving the problem. Luckily, my friends were able to share in my humor. I find that laughter is as good a solution as any, and that lighthearted people will usually fare well in the world, as did we. There were passing fishermen in wooden canoes that were willing to sell us some of the day’s catch, and after three transactions we had a healthy pile of fish ready to be skewered over the fire.

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Before I realized it, I had spent a month and a half at the lake. I was enthralled by the local culture and the infinite wilderness. Staying in wild places is what keeps me sane. The uncertainty and risk are the factors that make a trip an adventure, and I try to keep them present in my daily life as much as possible. Uncertainty and risk inevitably bring mistakes and pain, but it is the way in which you deal with it that shapes you as a person. The important thing is to keep a green outlook on life. Not green as in the size of you carbon footprint, but green as in new and full of life. To live green is to view everything as fresh and new; to take what you’re given and use it for your benefit; to work for the growth of others as well as your own. Cameron’s favorite color was green and he personified it completely. Scientifically, green is the color of life feeding itself, and Cameron realized the importance of feeding our minds properly. So don’t let yourself become gnarled and twisted by the winds of hate and injustice, but use that energy to create something even more beautiful. Remember that we are all just saplings in this world, and that every thought and action has lasting effects on our growth. But most importantly, keep yourself mentally and physically immersed in the color green.

*Featured/top image: Practicing my backflips from the tree in San Pedro. Photo courtesy of Everett Redus. 

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Everett Redus

Everett Redus was born and raised in Baytown, Texas and will be pursuing an education and career in photojournalism after his journey to South America. His hobbies include hiking, climbing, knife-making,...