IMPORTANT: During this travel I met one person from Montreal who was robbed when she was walking between the villages around the lake. Also, she personally met another guy from Belgium, that was attacked and robbed doing the same hike. It is highly inadvisable to walk between the villages and is better to take a boat.
Lago Atitlan is a caldera of a volcano. This theory was established in 1980 but you may be able to tell it by the fact that is surrounded by cones, 3 of them. As a matter of fact roughly the entire Guatemala in this troubled area has lots of volcanoes and the result is many earthquakes. After all the research done last night I took the classical tour on the lake that left at 8:30am. I woke up much earlier and I went to the lake that in the morning is extremely calm and pensive. It is a stretch of water of 5×11 miles and is surrounded by volcano peaks. It is so calm and peaceful that you may not think that is created by such turmoil. After a quick and large breakfast, with eggs and yogurt with fruits, I tried to find an agency to buy a ticket because last night I run late watching the game and the agencies closed at 9:00pm. Finally I found some guys in a hotel who opened earlier and I left to the dock, a kind of overstatement, and I got on Santa Fe boat that does this lake tour. Very few people were present at that hour considering that is another tour at 9:30 am for the same price Q75 that returns with the same boat at 3:30pm. The ride on the lake was mesmerizing in the crisp air of morning. You feel that you are in a very clean and far away territory, somewhere mystical like all the Maya traditions that surround you. I had a great chat with Patty from Chicago who was working for Jimmy Carter habitat for Humanity in Honduras for a while. The first stop was San Pedro de la Laguna, a pretty large town, where I went in the center to visit the church and the market. The church was interesting and it had a ramp instead of steps in front looking even more like a pyramid. The Maya are very diverse and the many tribes who fought among each others are still preserving their dress code, their traditions and way of life. It was not one Maya, but lots of tribes that formed this Maya World and here we find two of them, their names being very complicated to spell. In the market I had an incident because when I was shooting the camera fell together with the tripod, but luckily they are built pretty robust so nothing happened except that something insignificant cracked. From the market I went to the shore where there were lots of restaurants and yoga places. A lot of people stay here, being very cheap and spending weeks learning Spanish, the schools in Guatemala being famous for their efficiency and low price. I met so many Americans, mainly, who are here and apparently all who come here spend at least a week to learn Spanish. The result is that they want to practice the language and they try to speak Spanish with me. I am OK with that but most of the time, 1-2 weeks of Spanish tops does not help at all when you were not exposed to other languages. At 11:00 we came to the boat and left for the second village, Santiago de Atitlan. This one is different, the local people being dressed in different embroideries and it has a church that had in the middle a hole that according to their tradition it has the entrance to the underworld. Statues of saints are dressed each year by the local women in new clothes and look very hip and Maya women are praying in the church.
Close by is the statue of the God of the Lake, Maximon, whose story is extremely interesting and complicated. Is venerated everywhere in the highlands and another location dedicated to him is in Zunil. Maximon liked very much the women and he was castigated by God but was still venerated by the priests. The main result is that the offering he receives is in money, aguardiente and cigarettes. Nothing else! It is a wooden statue with a cigarette in his mouth. I got there after I asked some local people in the church. At the pier, when we arrived, local kids were running crazy to get you there asking for more money than the entire day trip on the lake, but the statue is very close, 3 blocks right when you leave the church. You still have to find it inside a house, of corrugated metal, in a cramped room that is full of candles and incense burning. But when you arrive there the atmosphere is overwhelming you, the place having a mystic like all the other Maya places. If you take picture you have to pay and for my video camera they asked a lot but as usual they cut the price in half and we got a deal. Maximon is not alone, but is constantly surrounded by two men who sustain him. I got out quickly and I run to catch the boat that was leaving at 1:00pm and to reach the third place and the last, St Antonio de Popolan. Meanwhile Patty stroke a discussion with another couple, also retired as far as I understood, on the boat who were going to Honduras where they own an island, and this was because some friends of them bought another island and it was fun! They were very nice and friendly people but I did not have a chance to talk with them. This village was simpler and the only interesting thing was the church and the Maya women dressed in embroidered blouses and men having some kind of skirts.
We left from there at 3:00 and we arrived in Pana at 3:30pm. I went to the shore where I watched men collected sea weed that they use to feed the animals. Quite a show to see how they do it. I shot the entire procedure. After that I started my new research regarding how to get to Todos Santos and come back to Quetzaltenango till Thursday night, in order to be Friday to major market in ST Francisco de Alto. One over the other, transportation is sparse and you have to be very flexible or to have so much time that it does not matter. So, the bottom line is that either I have a 6:00am bus to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico that will drop me in Huehuetenango and take a 3 hour bus from there, or get a bus tomorrow directly to Huehue from Los Encuentros. I still don’t know how to do it, but tomorrow I will go in Solola for the market. This is a very famous market, one of the most authentic from the country, just one step behind the one in St Francisco de Alto. But the problem is what you do with your luggage when you visit a place where you do not stay overnight? If I could find a place to leave my large backpack in Solola, I would not need to return to Panajachel, but I could leave directly from Solola. I will figure out this mystery tomorrow. Before I closed the day activities I went to visit a museum tucked inside Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo, a chain of 5 start hotels in Guatemala, very nice but the museum was useless. So, after that, I did my email, phones and got again a great ceviche de pescado from a different restaurant on Calle Santander.