Day 14: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 – Lake Tours and Volcanos

On Sunday, we spent the entire day touring the lake with Elisa, the AMSCLAE director, and her two masters advisors, Jean and his wife, who are from Sweden. We stopped at the different important ecological components around the lake including the two large tributaries (Rio San Francisco y Rio Quiscab), the raw sewage inputs from multiple pueblos and municipalities, and the water treatment area for San Lucas Pilas, which are laundry areas for people to wash their clothes.  We also stopped in San Pedro for lunch and I got a falafel; it’s strange because there are a lot of Jewish people living there so there were lots of signs in Hebrew.  It was really interesting listening to the questions Jean was asking about the lake, because they are the questions someone educated in this field asks to learn about a lake when first introduced to it.  He also talked about projects he thought of that could help the lake, such as a revegetation of the Quiscab River to lower the amount of sediment, phosphate, and nitrogen flowing into the lake.  Another project was the reactivation of the treatment plant at the San Lucas Pilas. In its current state, the water going from the pilas to the lake is not getting treatment because the pits made for the sediment to settle have filled in. Because of this, all the phosphates from the soap the people are washing their clothes in are going straight into the lake and helping bacteria and plants grow.  The increasing amounts of phosphate in the lake can lead to cyanobacterial blooms shifting the lake into a eutrophic state.  Some types of cyanobacteria release toxins, harming the lake’s environment and making the water extremely hazardous to humans.  The reactivation of the treatment plant will reduce the amount of phosphorus going into the lake.  Overall, I felt Sunday was a productive day because I learned a lot listening to the conversations Jean and Eliska were having.

Monday we had a little break from learning since it was the 4th and we hiked up to the top of San Pedro Volcano. To get to the top, it took 3.5 hours.  The trail was extremely steep, with an elevation change over 4,000 ft. and the top of the volcano being almost 10,000 feet high – it was a very tough hike.  It was the first large hike I have done since I broke my ankle so being out of shape and being careful about re-injury added to the difficulty of it. It was worth it though, because the view was astounding. Through the hike, there were coffee and maiz plants among many other tropical plants, fungi, and bugs. We had lunch in the town of San Pedro, then went back to the house.  I took a 2 hour long nap and most of us ended up not going to dinner because we had lunch around 4pm. Around 8 Robert, Sarah, and I went to a restaurant near the dock and had some appetizers while a thunderstorm happened over the lake – you can say that the lightning and thunder was our Fourth of July fireworks.

Today we went to the second day of a scientific symposium AMSCLAE, the government organization designated to watch over the lake, wastewater treatment plants, and drinking water plants, was hosting.  Unfortunately, all the presentations but Jean’s were in Spanish so I couldn’t understand much of what people were saying.  I took the time to try and brainstorm more for my proposal, which I think will be for the restoration of the San Lucas Pilas treatment. Eliska also presented during the symposium on the importance of aquatic macrophytes in Lake Atitlan. It was cool to recognize a few people there that I have met over the past two weeks and see their importance of the conservation of the lake.

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