We spent two days in the towns surrounding Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is a caldera with three surrounding volcanoes. It is known as the “Mayan Atlantis” because divers have found ancient Mayan treasure in the middle of the lake. On the way, we moseyed through the famous Chichacastananga market. Chichacastananga means “place of the poison plant.” It is also known for being the discovery place of the first Mayan text.
We glimpsed a view of a traditional Guatemalan cemetery. The colorful and festive nature of the cemeteries represent the Guatemalan view of death as a celebration.
The first night, we stayed with Mayan host families at a home stay in San Jorge La Laguna. It is a small town of 3100 people. Whitney and I stayed with a family of four and one adorable abuelita. Although their first language is kaqchikel, one of 23 Mayan languages in Guatemala, they learn Spanish in school. As we blustered our way through our limited Spanish, we learned about their way of life and their experiences with other Intrepid travelers. Their sense of community support and intergenerational living is something to be admired, but I couldn’t help but notice the heteronormative gender roles that are still so deeply ingrained. The father, Felipe, took us on a walk to a few look outs over the lake before dinner. The mother, Christina, dressed us in traditional suits of the village that are all hand sewn. The home was cozy, but the sounds of roosters and honking chicken buses woke us around 4am.
The next day we went to Panajachel, a classic backpackers’ hot spot. We spent the day ferrying between different towns. Twelve of the towns around Lake Atitlan are named after the apostles, a reminder of the predominantly Catholic country. Our first stop was called Casa del Mundo, a beautiful hotel and restaurant nestled in the hillside. We took a very steep hike up to the neighboring town, Santa Cruz.
Afterwards, we hit up Santiago Atitlan. We strolled through the markets and visited the main church, known for a bloody massacre during the Guatemalan civil war. We also learned how to wrap a tocoyal, or Mayan female headdress that weighs two pounds, from a lovely woman named Concepcion Ramirez Mendoza. She is a Mayan woman, now over 90 years old, who was photographed for the 25 cent coin.
Afterwards, we went to San Pedro for lunch. After a brief hammock interlude, we caught a ride “local style” in the back of a pickup truck to San Juan. There, we frequented a female owned cooperative for weaving textiles. A local woman showed us how they spin and dye the natural cotton fibers for weaving. Next up was a chocolate shop. I was incredibly pleased with my chocolate shake and we bought a few bars of fancy chocolate for snacking. Before heading back to Panajachel, we stopped at an herbal medicine shop to learn about the various local plants and their uses.
After a sunset dinner and quick gelato stop, we were done in for the night, exhausted and happy.