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Lake Atitlan

Guatemala Journal
Wanderings

 

 lake atitlan

10 agosto
Last weekend
was a traveling weekend for the new teachers, visiting a lovely lake and lots of indigenous craft and textile markets. Leaving early on Saturday morning in a van, 15 of us had breakfast in Tecpan as we made our way through rural hills and farms, then stopped to shop at an outdoor market in the small town of Solola - a beautiful church surrounded by rows of little stalls. Each village has it's own blanket patterns and colors, and it's own unique patterns of huipils, the ornate blouses that women wear. It is not appropriate for a gringa to wear these traditional blouses, although many buy them to decorate their houses or bring home to somewhere. The farms are terraced over steep mountains, in places you would think would be impossible to stand, let alone grow crops. Every available space is used. Along the way there was an occasional large branch in the road and a car or truck and people along the side. I assumed they were working on the road clearing vegetation, but it was explained that when a vehicle breaks down, people cut a branch off a nearby tree and put it in the road to alert other drivers (even in the city). We passed many small villages with people in colorful dress carrying various loads out to market areas. The women carry their bundles on their heads, the men often carry loads on their backs with a strap across their foreheads. One boy carried my overnight bag that way the next morning as we were packing up to leave the lake.

From Solola, we drove to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán. We spent a few hours wandering around Panajachel, a picturesque town lined with shops and market stalls. After lunch and shopping in "Pana", we went down the hill to a boat dock and bargained with a boat owner for a ride across to our destination for the night. I had purchased a soft warm poncho at breakfast, a colorful blanket in Solola and a few small items in Panajachel, a woven vest and a rain stick used in making music, not realizing we had to carry all of this with us and our overnight bags from the parking area across the town to the lake for our next stop. Some in our group took rides on bike carts in twos. One of the teachers offered to carry my bag in exchange for some computer help later - I've already worked with a couple of the teachers to show them how to download their digital camera photos to their laptops. Always a good trade.

Lake Atitlán is a large mystically beautiful lake surrounded by three volcanoes. Once a larger volcano itself, it erupted in prehistoric days and the lake is the resulting crater. The two larger peaks around the lake are said to be lovers and when storms pick up the currents meet and there are stories about them competing or making love. There is also said to be a deep crack in the bottom of the lake that sometimes sucks people in. Another tale claims there is a monster in the lake. We docked at a hidden tropical paradise with small huts (no electricity) on a steep hillside. The little resort was called Arco de Noé (Noah's Ark). It was late afternoon by this time. Some went swimming and others (me, of course, included) wanted to explore the nearby village after a brief rest and cool drink by the lake.

As we set out, I found out that the village was a 15 minute hike, straight up a narrow cobblestone switchbacked road. The road led to Santa Cruz, a small, poor village terraced high up the mountainside. Our school director, Dr. Sherry Miller, is an amazing dynamic person who is part of the reason we are all here. She spoke with everyone we passed, and engaged several small groups in discussions in Spanish. Their native language is one of the many indigenous languages, Kaqchikel, but all spoke Spanish. We discovered from some little boys that there were at least four churches, one school and a library. We saw their common washing area, and several women at work there. Talking with a group of teenagers, one tried out some of her English. After a few lines of greeting, she asked Sherry "what is your name?". Sherry was so excited she exclaimed "woo-hoo!", so we all joked later that they were probably wondering if her name was really woo-hoo.

We entered the small library and Sherry spoke with the young man who was the librarian. He was in training to be a teacher and was working there as part of his internship for a year. This is how they are able to get most of their teachers in the school in these towns as well. He said there were 12 people in his family living together - 6 women and 6 men. Surprisingly there were two computers, one used to track the library inventory. Sherry promised him our librarian (in our group today) would contact him later in the year with some weeded Spanish books from our own school library collection. The school has many community projects going - each grade level in high school decides on a community service project and continues to work with that group through their four years, so there is some visible benefit and relationship besides just a one time event.

We left by boat the next morning, returning across the lake to our bus parked in Panajachel. I took the bike ride with a cheerful young driver named Rufio. We then drove on through the mountains to one of the most popular of the mountain village markets at Chichicastenango (you guessed it, commonly called "Chichi"). This market had more of an authentic flavor and prices are a bit cheaper. Although many tourists come for the markets on Thursdays and Sundays, it's not otherwise a large tourist destination as is Antigua and Panajachel. After a few days of practice, I'm getting much better at bargaining for goods in these markets. You have to act disinterested or disgusted because the asking price is so high, and offer quite a bit less, maybe half. If the bargaining doesn't get low enough, the best thing to do seems to be to let them know you are no longer interested and start walking away, and you will find out what their low price really is. I bought a piece of pottery, a copy of an old Maya style, and wandered off into the open market area checking out the stalls.

After making a few turns I realized I had totally lost my sense of direction (not unusual for me). There was an absolute crush of people down the narrow aisles, with an occasional man with a backpack of goods trying to squeeze through, a boy carrying a palette of eggs yelling "desculpe" (excuse me), small indigenous women, some with babies on their backs, weaving in and out of the crowds. The maze of stalls was seemingly endless, I was lost. I asked several people "Donde esta la iglesia grande" (where is the big church), and finally reached it. Climbing up the crowded steps and looking in all directions, I couldn't see a face I recognized from our group. So I went back down into the fray in another direction. Eventually I emerged into the streets again and found some familiar faces from our group. Feeling "shopped out", we headed back to the restaurant for lunch, entertained by a marimba player, before taking the long van ride back to the city.

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