Monday, March 29, 2010

Cruisin' around the lake.

The landscape around Lake Atitlán is dominated by three volcanoes.  On the right is Volcan San Pedro.  On the left are two volcanoes - Volcan Tolimán in the foreground and Volcan Atitlán slightly obscured in the background.

Today we left Pana to visit several of the villages located alongside Lake Atitlán - Santiago Atitlán, San Pedro La Laguna and San Juan de La Laguna . The only way to reach the villages is via boat so we started out this morning headed towards the boat docks.


Soon videotaped a panoramic view of the lake from the boat dock.




We boarded the boat, one at a time.
Our first destination of the day though would be a place to grab a bite. Sue had told us not to eat breakfast before we left - she was going to be taking us someplace *special* for breakfast.

It was about a thirty minute ride to get to our breakfast destinatination.  It was a bright, sunny day.
I kicked back and enjoyed the wonderful views of the lake and its surroundings.

















Before we knew it, we had arrived though none of us, except for Sue and the boat captain knew where we were. One by one, we disembarked the boat. 




















Getting off the boat required some care and attention. The choppy lake waters were really rocking the boat.



We then  proceeded to walk uphill. What? Exercise before downing a bazillion calories? Unheard of :-)

What greeted us at the top of our climb was a small hotel,  its structure clinging on to the hillside.  The hotel's restaurant had views overlooking the lake.  Sue went in to check on our tables and came back with the news that there were no tables for us :-(

Instead, we could sit on the hotel's covered balcony and have our breakfast there.  If you ask me, the other guests can have the indoor tables.  It was much too beautiful a day to be stuck indoors.












From the balcony, we had a picture perfect view of Volcan San Pedro.
























We placed our orders and spent our time waiting by chatting and admiring the spectacular view.   Here's a video of the view as taken from the hotel's balcony.



Two hammocks hung from the roof of the balcony.  I simply could to resist.  I plopped myself into one and that's where I stayed until the food arrived.  Surprisingly, it was really windy day but warm enough that it felt like a refreshing breeze.

 I love, love being cradled in a hammock!

Breakfast was nothing to write home about but the spectacular views and the company more than compensated.  After we paid the bill, we used the hotel's facilities and then headed back down to the dock to wait for the boat to return.  While we waited, we took a group photo.  Lucky we did it here because this would turn out to be our only group photo.

From left to right - Mark, Ernie, Carol, Julee, Maria, Soon, Valiant, Mo and Byron.  Can you tell it was a super windy day? :-)
Soon took the opportunity to catch some rays.  By the end of the day, he had shed his winter white skin and had taken on a nice shade of sunburned red :-)

Our next lakeside destination was Santiago Atitlán, the largest of the three villages we would be visiting today. 

I could have sworn that the wind had kicked up more since we left Pana.  The boat clipped through the choppy waters as we headed south towards an narrow inlet of the lake. Lucky I don't suffer from motion sickness or else breakfast would have ended up overboard.



A short, very bumpy boat ride later and we moored at the boat dock in Santiago Atitlán.

The village of Santiago Atitlán.


















The view that greeted us as we got off the boat.  We're definitely in a village.


















The street leading to the center of *town*.







From the boat dock, we walked towards the center of the town.  All along the way were handicrafts vendors.  Today, I was not in the mood to do any shopping so I turned down all offers of "Precio especial para usted" (Special price for you.)













As usual, I was the last to arrive at the *town center* - too busy taking photos along the walk.   Waiting there for us was a flatbed truck.  Everyone was climbing on board.  Of course, clueless me.  I had no idea where we going until someone said we were headed to see Maximón. Who?  Okay, I'll worry about that later.  In the meantime, I have to focus on climbing and as usual, I was the last to get on board. There was a metal bar for us to hang onto. We definitely needed to hang on as we were going to be standing the entire time and the side panels of the truck were not very high.....you could fall overboard if you were not paying careful attention.

Valiant and Sue had secured themselves spots at the front.

As the truck chugged down the road, we slowly began to adjust to our mode of transportation. It didn't long for us to actually start enjoying the ride.  Along the way, tuk-tuks passed us by.... filled with passengers.  They must have been wondering what the heck we were doing on the back of this truck when we could have ridden, relatively comfortably, in a tuk-tuk.  We laughed at that thought. all the while clutching the metal bar for safety.


Hanging on for dear life!

Enjoying the ride.

Tuk-tuks tailed us.

There were scenic views of the lake as we rode along.

Since he had the best vantage point of all of us, Valiant shot a quick video of our ride through town. Come hop on board the flatbed truck and go for a quick cruise.




Okay, now that I'm comfortably settled in for my ride, I can now ask the question, "Who's Maximón and why are we visiting him.  I think it was Carol who explained it to me that Maximón is a venerated Mayan saint and that he's worshipped by the people living in Santiago Atitlán.  Apparently, he's a bit of a cult figure that according to an entry in Wikipedia:

....resides in a different house each year, being moved in a procession during Holy Week. During the rest of the year, devotees visit Maximón in his chosen residence, where his shrine is usually attended by two people who keep the shrine in order and pass offerings from visitors to the effigy. Worshippers offer money, spirits and cigars or cigarettes to gain his favour in exchange for good health, good crops, and marriage counseling, amongst other favours. The effigy invariably has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and in some places, it will have a hole in its mouth to allow the attendants to give it spirits to drink.

Okay.....I have to admit.  Even if I had read this description before I went to Guatemala, I still would have had no idea what to expect.   As we rode in the truck, I finally understood that we were on our way to see Maximón in one his chosen residence, located a short distance from town center.

Before we knew it, we had arrived.....in the middle of nowhere....at least I had no idea where were were :-)

One by one, we climbed off the truck. 

I followed the crowd through a small wooden gate.  We entered what look like someone's front garden.  There were a few small buildings including one that had brightly colored plastic flags hanging outside the entrance to one of the buildings.

Shhhh.....Maximón's inside and I'm told that if I want to take photos, I have to pay 10 quetzales and I get take two photos. I interpreted that payment as "tourist ripoff but considering it's highly unlikely I will be in this neck of the Guatemalan woods ever again so I decided I would sacrifice 10 quetzales to Maximón.

I entered into a windowless room that was only lit by candles. The smoke of the incense would have been unbearable had I not buried my nose into the crook of my elbow. Through the smoky darkness, I found the dish to drop my 10 quetzales into. I held my breath, quickly snapped two photos and darted back outside. I was inside for so short a period, I didn't even notice all the offerings that had been laid out for Maximón. Someone said later on that he even had a lit cigarette in his mouth.  Here are the two photos I took of Maximón flanked by his two attendants. Yes, I'm showing off the photos cause they cost me10 quetzales :-)


























Thankfully, our visit to Maximón's residence was a short one.  We all climbed back on the truck for the short ride back to town center.



When we arrived back into town, we got dropped off near the mercado. With ssome time to spend before we had to get back on the boat, we walked through the market. Surprisingly, none of us bought anything. As we exited the market, we found ourselves standing across the street from the town's church....a very modest structure facing out onto a large plaza.

The Church.

Plaza

We entered the church through a side entrance and found ourselves in an inner courtyard. There, women were bent over a fountain, scooping up water into plastic jugs. We watched the women for a few minutes, wondering what they were doing with the jugs of water. So we followed them as they headed inside the church. There, we saw a larger group of women, mopping the church floor. They were cleaning the church in preparation for the upcoming Semana Santa celebrations. Amazing. I've never seen a church being cleaned before. All the pews had been removed and our guess, from seeing the men lolling around just chatting that they had done the *hard* work of carrying out the pews.














Mopping away.  Soon videotaped the ladies in action.



I didn't get a chance to get a close look at these dolls to figure what they represent but I thought they looked beautiful.

Taking a break.  I love the vibrant colors and patterns of the native Mayan dress!

The church courtyard.  Even some of the structures outside were being cleaned and repaired in preparation for the upcoming festivities.

When it was time to leave, we retraced our steps back to the boat. This time, my brother was lured in by one of the handicraft vendors. He wanted to buy some placemats. He left with a bedspread :-) It took about half an hour and some tough negotiations but he boarded the boat with a beautiful patchwork quilt made from pieces of cloth from Mayan clothing. Yes,....my brother bought a quilt....large enough to cover a queen size bed. He lugged that thing around until we got back to the Pana. I have to admit, it's wonderful textile....the handiwork is phenomenal.

View of the mountains from the boat dock at San Pedro
La Laguna
Back on the boat, we headed for our next destination - San Pedro La Laguna....about 20 minute ride from Santiago Atitlán. San Pedro La Laguna is best described as teeny, weeny lakeside village inhabited mainly by backpackers and folks interested in alternative lifestyles. It's a very laidback kind of place and backpackers flock here because it's a much cheaper place to stay compared to Pana.

Downtown San Pedro.  You can stand at
one end of the street and see the end
of the town center!














After a short walk through town....which is so small, you can walk the main drag in about 5 minutes....we retreated to the cool comfort of a restaurant alongside the lake. Ernie and Carol were already there enjoying a meal. As we got seated, we spotted Mo and Maria on the outdoor deck waiting for their meal to be delivered. I think we just had liquid lunches that day - licuados de frutas (fruit smoothies) hit the spot.


Waiting to board the boat.

The next and last stop of the day was San Juan La Laguna....an even smaller village than San Pedro and virtually no tourists. In fact, I didn't see any non-Mayan faces other than those in our group.

Posing on the boat dock at San Juan La Laguna.

Views of the Lake from San Juan La Laguna.  The reeds, growing in the water, are used for thatching on the roofs
and for weaving mats and baskets.
Walking down *main street*.  No road.  No cars....just motorbikes and tuk-tuks.  That's how small this village is :-)

Yes, that's my brother clutching the black plastic bag that held the quilt he had bought in Santiago Atitlán :-)

We never saw a town center but we
did see bananas growing :-)






On our walk, I came across two women weaving textiles. I had to stop and chat with them. Rosaria is the daughter and Dominga is her mother. Rosaria does the weaving and Dominga spins the wool into thread. I asked Dominga how old she was and she said 85. 85 years young and she still works side by side with her daughter seven days a week. I hope that I will be that active when I reach her age. For some reason, I was completely taken by these two women and it did not take me long to decide to buy one of their textiles from them.








Rosaria used the strap loom that is typical of Guatemalan weaving. San Juan La Laguna is known for its textiles woven natural colors i.e., shades of brown, black, white, etc. I really wanted to buy something from these two women but I could not get myself to picking out something in the natural colors....so subdued compared to the bright colors typical of Mayan textiles. So, I picked out a multicolored runner and did a half assed job at negotiating. It was more lip service than anything else. I would have given these two hard working women full price for their textile.

Dominga, sitting on her ankles, using the strap loom to weave.
Dominga, sitting on the hard ground,
quietly spinning clusters of dyed wool
into thread for weaving.

There wasn't really anything to see or do in San Juan La Laguna so we didn't stay long. By now, it was mid-afternoon and I was ready to head back to hotel and chill out.

In retrospect, there's not a lot to see in the villages we went to visit but I'm glad we did.  They gave us a brief glimpse into how locals live their daily lives along the shores of this beautiful lake in Guatemala.   Little did I expect it but I would soon return to one of the villages :-)


Bye bye San Juan La Laguna!