Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lake Atitlan Days

View to the south

Lake Atitlan speaks to me, in so many ways. Her voice is clear and pure. This is a place to come to cast off the old, to breathe new life into jaded minds, to rejuvenate tired bodies, to elevate mired souls. She liberates, beguiling, transformative.

The people here are almost all indigenous Mayan. They speak their own languages, the women and girls all wear traditional dress on a daily basis, and they welcome the sprinkling of outsiders who come to share in this elevated landscape and aged culture. Of course, the bigger towns like Panajachel, Santiago de Atitlan, San Pedro la Laguna (where we are staying) have modern-day trappings such as restaurants, bars, tour operators, catering to travellers and tourists, but the markets, churches, most stores service the local population above all. The hustle and bustle of these small towns on market days is accentuated by vibrant colour and hearty banter.

We get around by walking a lot and taking $2 tuk-tuks when loaded down with shopping, tired, or just lazy. They are everywhere and ever-ready. Our AirBnB-rented chalet is a twenty-minute walk south of town along a paved road. It is perched above the road in a private garden overlooking the lake. At night, we look out over the gently-twinkling lights of the villages along the north shore. By day, the speedy lanchas ply the waters connecting each village and town. Using them, we have visited San Juan, San Marcos, Jaibalito, and Santa Cruz in our two weeks to date. More on them in due course...

Yesterday, our outing took us south to the end of our road and along a dusty trail prompted by magnificent views over the mountains, volcanoes, lake and shoreline. The vegetation is sere in this dry season with many trees flowering and coming into bud and leaf. Volcan San Pedro hovers over us, its slopes a kaleidoscope of greens thanks to its natural state. Each tree and plant finds a niche. The sky above is radiant blue, but white cloud invariably collects around the peak as it does now.

Our pathway is clean and clear but for some horse droppings. The old rubbish dump is no more, and the signs prohibiting dumping are adhered to. The locals here are very waste-conscious as they protect their lake's fragile eco-system. No plastic bags, little bottled water, no paper in the toilets. Ceramic water filters purify water from the tap.

Our road is called Calle a la Finca and, sure enough, the trail leads to an abandoned coffee estate. Built in the 1930s using solid stone construction, with an almost football field-sized drying area, production ground to a halt (excuse the pun) in the 1980s, perhaps due to a slump in price or competition from other growers as global consumption took off and corporate conolidation took hold. Two families are now custodians of this enclave. Just down from their simple abodes is a rocky cove where we chose to be baptized by the waters of Lake Atitlan. The waters were fresh and invigorating, the vista panoramic.

View towards San Pedro, to the north

Tomorrow, Atitlan will reveal herself in another way.