Friday, November 11, 2011

Lake Atitlan

Somewhere far and tropical.  Maybe even alien to our own cultures. A lake surrounded by forest, tiny communities that all speak different Mayan languages, a volcano, and home to many retired people from around the world, Lake Atitlan is a must see in Guatemala.  It's not your typical tourist place. To get there, we took a local bus into the high mountains and descended into the community known as Atitlan. It's full of wonder and beauty.
Let me tell you.  Guatemala has so much to offer.  It's really an incredible place.  Just when you think you've seen it all, another amazing place appears before your eyes.  I love indigenous cultures and this isolated "island" is home to 13 separate Mayan cultures!!!  We hired a guide to take us around the lake and for a beautiful hike.  While he spoke Spanish, it wasn't his native language.  To get to the village of San Marcos(where we stayed), we took a boat to cross the lake.  It was rainy and cold while we were transported to the docks.  I noticed right away that Spanish was not the main language of this area.  I sat in the boat with my sister thinking, "What are they speaking?"  In fact, I don't think some of the Mayans spoke Spanish at all.  This area is safe to visit, but there are a couple things you should know before you go.  One.  Watch your money.  Several people staying near us had their money stolen.  The young lady hid her money under the mattress and later discovered it was gone.  Be careful.  I wear a money thing around my neck which hides under my shirt at all times.  I don't trust anyone.  Two.  Hire a guide to take you around the area as tourists have been robbed along the sometimes torn up road. Three.  The Mayans are Mayans and not Guatemalans.  I made the mistake of asking our guide about a Guatemalan issue and he told me, "I'm Mayan, 100%.  If these Guatemalans want to try and take our lands, let them try.  We'll show them our forces."  Indeed.  The Mayans did take back their lands in the late 90's as the Quechua did in Bolivia.  The Mayans number around 12 million in the country while the "Westernized" civilization make up around 3 million and mostly live in Guatemala City and Antigua. Again fascinating stuff and still fresh in the minds of locals.
The village of San Marcos was really nice.  Let me describe to you what happened here.  Nothing.  A great hike.  The BEST one hour massage in the rain forest by a French lady(oh how I could relive that experience again).  A community of outsiders who worshiped the moon and chanted at sun down. And an amazing and friendly group of Mayans who lived in very basic homes.  Lake Atitlan is home to a group of retired Americans, Europeans, and Canadians.  Some areas have expensive homes while most still retain their local charm. 
It is a popular place to visit.  I fell in love with the village of San Carlos.  We hiked there on the semi functioning road.  Every village spoke a different Mayan dialect.  If you pass several churches, please be aware that it may not be possible to enter while a service is going on.  It all depends on the village you visit. 
I'm a giant with bird legs.  Most normal human beings look like my sister and our guide.  I also fell in love with the castor bean plants all around the lake.  It was definitely a weed here and in some spots...out of control.
There are some nice restaurants here in San Carlos.  Most of the tourists head to this little town for a day visit, but again, if you're looking for some quiet time to reflect, I highly recommend San Marcos.  Some friends went to Guatemala recently and I gave them the same info I'm sharing with you all and they were absolutely sold on the place.  They came back with smiles.  I think this is a wonderful place to take your significant other, friends, or family.
I wear ugly clothes on hiking trips because I can get rid of them easily.  This was a backpacking trip and therefore, I left several shirts behind at each place we went so that I had room for the incredibly beautiful fabric Guatemalans(and Mayans) sell around their country.  Peru and Guatemala both have some amazing designs!
This was a pic was taken from our hotel room.  It is a really beautiful place.  Below, my sister is checking her bed for spiders.  Electricity goes out at a certain time at night and candles are provided in rooms.  If it's one thing Guatemala has a lot of, it's spiders and scorpions!!!  Always check under your bed, around your sheets and under your pillow for hiding insects.  I'll write more about this in a post on Lanquin coming up.  Some of you may be horrified by the story.  I know I was. We learned our lesson well after that experience....hence my sister obsessively checking her bed sheets.
More tomorrow......


  1. It looks like a wonderful place to hike and explore. I love the vegetation, especially the castor bean plants. But, scorpions...yikes!

  2. great place:) Thanks for sharing. wait for my blog

  3. Yeah, a very exotic, far out place. There are so many things I can learn from your adventures here.


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