Greetings from the muy bonito y muy pequeño pueblito (beautiful and tiny village) of San Marcos on Lake Atitlán. As I mentioned in the previous postings my “plan” for the month of September was to immerse myself in as intensive a series of learning experiences as possible. I’m about three quarters of the way through and I’m equal parts delighted and exhausted to let you know that I’m exceeding all expectations.
As I noted in one of my previous posts about this upcoming destination the word "Atitlán" is a Mayan word that translates as "the place where the rainbow gets its colors". and Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing." How can I NOT go??
Ruby and I awoke early on Saturday morning (Sept. 13, 2008) to a stunningly beautiful clear day in Antigua and were soon out at the curb with our luggage awaiting the van that would drive us to the second largest city on Lake Atitlán, Panajachel. As you can see in the photo Ruby is all set to go and carefully guarding our luggage as i take in the beautiful morning and grab a few more photos. The van arrived a few minutes later, initially said he couldn’t take a dog with him, but with a bit of Spanish persuasion that she would sit on my lap the whole time he relented and we were off on the 3+ hour drive to Panajachel. It was a fun drive out of Antiqua as this was the the weekend before the big Sept. 15th celebration of Guatemala’s independence day and we drove through throngs of mostly young children and their parents as they made their way along the streets to marshalling areas where they were setting up as marching bands ready to converge on the city later that morning.
As we left the relatively large city of Antigua behind, we drove through the beautiful countryside with crops of corn planted everywhere on the increasingly mountainous hillsides as we climbed up through the very curvy mountainous roads and worked our way into the lake filled valley that is Lake Atitlán to the largest town of Panajachel on the north coast of the lake.
Panajachel was a bit of a “paradise lost” experience as it is the central landing point and take off spot for all of those like us who come from all parts of the globe to see this famous lake. So it is overrun with gringo tourists, mostly seems to be Europeans at this time of year at least and for some reason a LOT of people from Israel. A big student and younger generation backpacking type of crowd but a great diversity beyond that too. However there was no getting around the stunning beauty of the lake if you looked beyond all the touristica vendors. Which is just what we did by scouting out a small restaurant nestled into the hillside and overlooking the lake. Here is a shot of our table which we had just vacated as the afternoon rain storm came in and I was able to watch it while sipping my espresso and watching the mountainous shoreline disappear and then reappear amongst the storm clouds and rain. All quite beautiful.
Ruby and I were able find a cheap hotel for the night as we decided to stay Saturday night in Panajachel and then catch one of the many “launcha” power boats that would ferry us along the lake side to the small village of San Marcos where we would be staying for week #3 of Spanish immersion. The hotel in Panajachel was one of those fun “experiences” where we didn’t get too much sleep with all the noise from the partying and general street activity which reverberated through our room on the ground floor. For reasons I have not been able to get an explanation for it is a popular pastime here in Central America for people, mostly young men it seems, to set off strings of firecrackers at all times of the day and night and for no apparent reason or special occasion. Mortar attacks would actually be amore apt description as these things are unbelievably loud and you literally feel the percussion when they go off as they rattle the windows and your chest. It is about the only occasion that I’ve seen Ruby have ANY reaction to a noise and she dislikes them as much as i do.
However we were up the next morning to another very bright day and I thought some of you would get a kick out of the shower in the room. These units are quite popular and very practical in that they are on demand water heaters as well. So when you turn the shower on the wires you see activate a heater element in the shower head and you get hot/warm water a few seconds later. AS you can see in the photo, the electrical standards here are a bit more lax that we are spoiled with in many other countries, but I’ve yet to get any shocks, though my hair does seem to be a bit curlier than usual? <g>
We grabbed a tuk-tuk (the small 3 wheeled motorcycle powered carts that buzz around most cities here like gnats and take you anywhere and everywhere for a few cents most of the time) to take us and our luggage down the the “launchas” dock. These fiberglass boats are like the “pangas” I’ve described previously that we have a the marina in El Salvador except these ones have hard tops on them and bench seats inside and run like busses on the lake leaving about every 30 minutes to make the rounds to all the different small lake side villages. They take us gringos but mostly they are filled with local folks going to work, taking their wares and products with them, going to school and otherwise just getting around.
On the left here you can see Ruby and one of the boys who befriended here as they both help to make sure the launcha driver gets us to the docks properly. These launcha are typically powered by large outboard motors ranging from 75-250HP and the drivers are very skilled at getting us into the small wooden docks that dot the lakeshore. As is the custom wtih street busses in the cities, the protocol seems to be that you just stand on the dock and that tells the driver to stop and pick you up. It is all very informal and worked really well as you can catch one pretty much anytime with only about a 20 minute maximum wait most times of the day. Costs are about $1-3 to get you pretty much from any one spot to another on the lake so you use these anytime you want to go anywhere outside the village you are in. The only catch is that they only work in daylight hours and so there isn’t anything available after about 6pm.
On the right here you can see another shot of one of our launcha rides. I find the people here to have a great beauty to them. The women in particular are almost all dressed in the traditional Mayan and local clothes which are elaborately embroidered in vibrant colors with great meaning and stories to the emboidered figures if you take the time to ask them. And these don’t seem to be worn for us tourists as these are everyday working clothes and not some fancy dress they put on for our sake. I also get a kick out of the juxtaposition of the different ages and cultures that all mix together. In this picture on the right for example you can see this young lady with a large stack of the eggs she is taking to sell at the market balanced on her lap and providing a table from which she can dash off a quick SMS text message on her cell phone. She and her mother beside here explained to me that they were on their way from their home in San Pedro to Panajachel to sell their eggs because they get a better price there. Cameras never seem to be able to capture such beauty but I hope a little bit of it shines through for you as it does fro me an you get a sense of it coming through some of these photos. Look at the people in this on on the left here and see what I mean as this beautiful collection of people and generations allow me to join them on their trip along the lake to their next stop.
As for Ruby and I, we were headed for our next stop, one of the smallest villages on the lakeside called San Marcos. The ferry/launcha ride took about half an hour as I drank in the splendor of this truly stunning coastline. Another week, another village and more experiences with language, culture, location and learning coming up!
Hope you are enjoying the ride vicariously as much as Ruby and I are enjoying bringing it to you. I’ll be back to you shortly with the experiences in San Marcos.
Hasta la vista mes amigos!