Lake Atitlan – Heaven on Earth
Think Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Lake Bled or Lake Como, without cars or roads and you have some idea of how this place looks. Add a few picturesque volcanos for a spectacular backdrop and the Mayan people and culture for color and interest. The result is a place that is not only beautiful but completely unique.
Juan drove me to Lago de Atitlan from Antigua. The drive was longer than anticipated – somehow I was given the impression this was a 90 minute drive – this is not so. The van is packed with travelers and the ride – which turns out to take 3.5 hours – is incredibly bumpy. I joke with the Australian girl crammed next to me that Juan never mentioned the free back realignments. She tells me that she is traveling to Lake Atitlan to practice yoga. The volcanic islands are believed to be high-energy points which help in meditation.
Above the road on both sides of us are terraced fields of beans and corn. The women working in the fields look like paintings, each wearing nearly identical splashes of color. The women wear matching huipiles, blouses are made from rectangular weavings with openings for the head and the arms. You can know a woman’s village by the huipil she wears.
We pass through lovely countryside and towns specializing in reindeer decorations made from twigs for Christmas celebrations. When we reach the unposted turn off to reach Solola and Panajachel, I am stunned by the almost vertically steep, narrow, windy road ahead. Getting back up this mountain will be a challenge.
As we near the large township of Solola, the traffic stops and we witness the returning of hundreds of Mayan people from some sort of festival or celebration in the town. They are either walking past, crammed into the back of pickup trucks or on chicken buses festooned with balloons. Most of the people, especially the older ones, are in their traje typico – the formal dress of their town, making for a fascinating spectacle.
We stop to see the locals washing their clothes in the communal washing bins. It seems more of a social gathering than a chore. Why not turn something tedious into something more pleasant if you can? As I spend more time in Guatemala, I learn that this is a philosophy the Guatemalans take quite seriously.