Enchanting Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

I am always grateful that I have the opportunity to visit different corners of the world, but some places possess such a spirit that I feel extra lucky to have been able to witness them. The little village of San Antonio Palopó on Lake Atitlán is one of those places.

As I write I have the pleasant lake breeze brushing my hair back and I can hear the soft laps of the water against the shore.  Local women dressed in their colorful huipils with their hair swooped up by multi-colored cords walk by with sacks of goods balanced on their heads and men who push their wares of woven bracelets to the small amount of tourists are resting on shaded benches. The soft chatter of the local language can be heard all around as well the rhythmic sounds of local music. I have just finished a pack of 4 vanilla wafer cookie sandwiches that I bought yesterday for .50 Quetzals (7 cents!) at the corner market and sit here contemplating, with a full belly of cookies and a typical breakfast of eggs, pureed black beans and fried plantains, which pretty ceramic mugs I will buy from shop owner, Fernando, this morning. All my days should start like this.

Lake Atitlan

One of my first views of Lake Atitlán at sunset after an 11 hour bus ride from San Cristobal de Las Casas in Mexico to Panajachal in Guatemala.

 Lake Atitlán is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and is the deepest in Central America.  While I can’t attest to its depth, the volcano-lined lake was indeed one of the most beautiful I have seen in my life.

Jen and Lake Atitlan

From bus to tuk tuk!  To get to my hotel in San Antonio I got a breezy ride in this chariot at sunset with the most magnificent views and a chauffeur willing to stop whenever I asked for a picture…even one like this where it looks like I commandeered his ride :).

Lake Atitlan

The view from my room in Hotel Nuestro Sueño in San Antonio Palopó.

Frankly, there wasn’t much to do in this little town, but after a rather bustling 10 days in Mexico, I was grateful for the reprieve. The quiet nature of the town allowed me to discover its people who are Cakchiquel Mayan (Cakchiquel is their first language and Spanish is their second) and hike the surrounding mountain sides.

As a note, in the above picture the men are cleaning the lake of the seaweed type plant that is seen on the dock. When I asked them what they will do with the piles of green foliage, they said “just throw it away.” A little disappointed it wasn’t a local delicacy or used to weave floor mats, I replied with, “No es muy interesante.”  To which he just smiled and agreed, “No.”

Jen and Locals

Selfie with two adorable, giggling locals!

My hotel owner, Richard who is originally from California, said it would obvious to me on how I would find the trails to hike up into the mountains. It wasn’t so obvious. There were multiple sets of stairs that would head straight up into the hillside village, but I thought they were all private entries into people’s homes. These two young girls saw me standing perplexed and waived me up one of the stairwells. When I asked, “Puedo pasar? (Can I pass?)” They emphatically said, “Si!” and met me halfway up.

Their cousin, Maria (who I originally thought was their mother), came out also. I complemented her traditional attire and asked about a huge loom I spotted while coming up the stairwell.  Clearly she was piqued at my interest so after she tried to sell me a blouse like hers as well as give me a lesson on how to tie my hair up with one of the colorful woven cords (which I ended up buying for no other reason than to do something for her), she invited me to see some of her friends working with looms higher in the village.

Walking in San Antonio Papolo

Maria leading me up one of the passage ways. They are actually considered roads in the village.  You can see maybe why I thought these were not for public access :).


Where the weaving magic happens!

All the brightly colored textiles of the region that are made into scarves, skirts, belts, hair ties, bracelets and much more have this humble beginning. Working on dirt floors and in ramshackle houses, women use traditional, laborious techniques with wooden looms and wool spools (according to Maria wool is less expensive than cotton so it is used more).

To make one belt it will take this young women one day…and she does it in-between cooking and other required household duties. While I am always enchanted to get a glimpse into the life of others in lesser developed parts, it also makes me undeniably grateful, albeit sometimes confused, that I was born in the land that I was. I am the observer, not the observed, and I go home to insulated walls, hot water, reliable electricity and all the opportunities available on the planet. Things that should never be taken for granted.

Buying bracelets from locals

Time for the hard sell! :)

These ladies were lovely to allow me into their lives for even a short time, so I was happy to buy as many bracelets as I could carry. Anyone close to me should expect one for Christmas.

Making lunch

Taking a break from weaving to make chorizo and tortillas for lunch.

I was not invited.

San Antonio Palopo

With a bag full of bracelets, I bid farewell to Maria and the others. As I left Maria, I asked her if she could point me in the direction of the trails up into the mountains. She didn’t want to tell me because she was worried I would fall. Reluctantly, after some American persistence, she did tell me to follow the little paths into the fields above and then, clearly nervous that she had just directed me to my doom, said, “I have to go to my casa now.”

I did exactly what she said and soon I was off the paved paths and on the rocky, narrow trail that led into the terraced onion, corn, bean and coffee fields. I spotted a gorgeous waterfall in the distance and made that my destination. Along the way I constantly met farmers who were hard at work seeding or caring for their fields. I didn’t talk to all of them, but I did talk to most. Charmed by the diversion, they were happy to keep pointing me in the right direction of the waterfall. Like in the village, they all wanted to know where I was from and what was my name. In return I would ask about their fields (San Antonio happens to be famous for its onions…one of the farmers cheekily asked me if I wanted to help him seed!). I usually left them chuckling to one another and exchanging some sort of commentary in their native dialect…I am sure “crazy American” was part of the exchange.

San Antonio Papolo

In route to the waterfall I would look back and see this!

Waterfall in San Antonio Papolo

Goal achieved!

However, had it not been a farmer who noticed me turn down the trail in the wrong direction and then shout up to me to go the other way, I would have never reached the beautiful waterfall. Kinda made finding it more special knowing it was a community effort to get me there.

I spent about 30 minutes taking pics and enjoying the mist of the falling water on my face before turning around to head back. On the path back to center of town, I walked with great care down the rocky and sometimes slippery trail.  Last thing I wanted was to disrupt the work of all the farmers to come pick-up my mangled body from their onion fields.


55 year old Jose!

Like on the trek up, I was able to find conversation with farmers as I headed home. I ran into a group of three of them taking a break and gabbed with Santos, Christian and Jose for about 20 minutes. They were just as curious about my country as I was about theirs, and one of the questions that I found most interesting is when Santos asked me if, “America was more expensive than here.” Uh, just a little. :)

Jose (above) took it upon himself to guide me part of the way back to the center. Knowing I was single (as he was too), he took advantage of our alone time to propose marriage and promise me a lovely wedding in Guatemala City. He pointed out that he owned all the corn fields around us and someday he will be build a home with a lake view on the land. Every time he stopped to try to convince me with some new grand gesture, I would simply say, “Jose! Vamanos!

We parted shortly after this picture was taken (he insisted I take it) with a hand shake and “despedidos.”  I thought he acted quite a gentlemen, yet sure enough when I was about 50 feet down the path I heard him say in my direction, “esexy.” Oh, Jose!

San Antonio Papolo

Elections in Guatemala will take place in about 2 weeks.  Painted signs like this as well as many hanging signs and candidate supporters yelling talking points from loud speakers can be seen and heard throughout every part of the country.

Jen going to Panajachal

After the hike and a nap later, I grabbed a “pick-up” for 5 Quetzales to head into the bigger, more touristy town of Panajachal to explore. The bench in my truck was not well secured to anything. Every time we rounded a corner I was sure it and all of us would topple over. However, looking around as I white knocking anything I could get my hands on, it appeared that I was the only one concerned with that…or anything for that matter. Rookie.

San Antonio Papolo

Beautiful Lake Atitlán!

Before two days ago I had never been to Guatemala and didn’t have expectations of what I would encounter. I am so pleased that I chose this magnificent lake with its interesting communities to introduce me to the vibrant country. I was not only enchanted, but pleasantly surprised at the friendliness and welcoming behavior of all I crossed paths with. I was beguiled by the native language, traditional wardrobe and felt supremely lucky to have had to chance to intimately glimpse into a culture and life that is so different than my own. This is why I travel.

Onward to the colonial capital of Guatemala, Antigua!

from One Girl’s Adventures http://ift.tt/1JZ2yXt


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