June 13, 2018

Visiting Guatemala After a Deadly Eruption

Visiting Guatemala After a Deadly Eruption


Mr. Chajón, the tourism minister, predicted that losses from cancellations last week and over the coming two weeks would add up to about $2 million. “The lack of knowledge translates into panic,” said Andreas Kuestermann, the chief executive of Porta Hotels, which has six properties in Guatemala. Occupancy levels at the three Porta properties in Antigua were about 10 percent below normal this week, he said.

Antigua received a coating of ash, he said, but neighbors and hotel owners quickly cleaned it up. Reservations at Porta’s two properties on the shores of Lake Atitlán, a vast, clear lake about 70 miles from Guatemala City that is overlooked by three magnificent volcanoes, are down eight percent, he said.

“The situation, as tragic as it is, does not affect these areas,” said Mr. Kuestermann, adding that visitors should “come on down.” Anita Cortez, who runs cooking classes at her Mayan Kitchen in San Pedro La Laguna on the shores of Lake Atitlán, said she had received calls from clients who had reserved classes months ago and wanted to check they could still come.

Right now is low season, so she has only a couple of classes a week; over the summer she expects to have groups every day. “Here, there is no sign” of the volcano’s wrath, she said, adding, “The weather is perfect.”

“It is totally peaceful here,” Ms. Cortez said. “If it weren’t for technology, for the news, I would think all was well in Guatemala.” In the area directly affected by the eruption, however, the loss of tourism threatened to compound the damage to homes and crops.

Many who live on the slopes of the Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes earned money as guides, porters or cooks for visitors, said Elder Dary Soy López, a guide with Asociación Aprode in San Jose Calderas, a town at the foot of Acatenango. Aprode, a nonprofit organization that supports Guatemalans deported from the United States, normally runs two overnight excursions to Acatenango each week, he said. Trips cost about $55 per person; each guide earns $40. “You get up each day and see the volcano and you thank the Lord,” Mr. Soy López said. “It sustains our families.”

But on June 4, Aprode had to evacuate a group of hikers who were approaching the top of Volcán de Acatenango. They descended in near darkness through a fog of ash and showering rocks blown north from the erupting Volcán de Fuego. Several had cuts and bruises. Since then, trips have been suspended. Even in San Jose Calderas, several miles north of the eruption, maize and peach crops were ruined by six inches of hot ash and rocks.



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