We were also able to visit a coffee farm while we were in San Juan. The beans they grow here are exported to California, Alaska and Japan.
San Juan La Laguna has quickly become our favorite town on Lake Atitlán. The town is a model for how other towns can increase tourism and commerce by keeping the streets clean and promoting the products produced in the town. The town has its act together!
We used the same tuk-tuk driver to take us around and to show us other areas we had not seen on our previous visit, including another women’s cooperative that is focused on preparing and dying cotton.
Another demonstration of preparing the cotton.
Our friend Julia trying her hand at the process.
A demonstration of how the cotton is dyed with various plants to get the desired color.
DiploMom ended up buying some of these place mats for our table.
We were back to Lake Atitlán this past weekend as DiploMom had a friend in town for a visit. We have really enjoyed being able to visit many of the towns around the lake, as each one has its own distinctive feel and personality. We started our morning off with a first visit to San Marcos La Laguna, where we had a nice breakfast and enjoyed wandering some of the narrow walkways that lead to the various yoga, meditation, and holistic centers in the town.
San Marcos is the town for all things esoteric, and for lack of a better term, spiritual. It made for some interesting people watching as we constantly speculated on what had brought the motley assortment of gringos to this place, what their stories were and how long they were going to be in the area.
Ancient Mayan religion and the influence of Catholicism collide in syncretistic fashion in the Evil Saint, known as Maximón. Maximón is venerated in the western highlands of the country, especially around Lake Atitlán, where he is moved to a different house each year. He is quite fond of drinking and smoking and these items are typically brought to him, as well as being indulged in by those there to pay their respects. The locals will ask Maximón for blessings and success, but also for revenge or success at the expense of others.
We were barely off the boat in Santiago Atitlán before I was being approached about visiting Maximón. I had read in our guidebook about Maximón, so I knew I wanted to visit, I just wasn’t immediately sure if I had the time. Besides, DiploMom and my sister-in-law where busy browsing the market and weren’t ready to visit at this point. If I wanted to go, it would just be me. I started negotiating with one of the men who had approached me. It would cost more to be there to see the ritual, which would be interesting, but I didn’t have a full hour to spare. I mainly just wanted to say I visited and to take some photos, so we worked out the details – the fee for him to take me to the house, what it cost to enter and how many photos I would be able to take. I probably could have driven a harder bargain on his fee, but I was in a bit of a hurry and frankly didn’t feel like extending the process for a couple of dollars.
I paid him about $9 to take me there, a couple of bucks would net me 2-3 photos and about a buck would get me into the house. With the details essentially settled, I headed up the road with my guide, hoping that it would be easy to find DiploMom on my return. We hadn’t been walking too far when he indicated we needed to turn off the street. What we turned into was a really narrow alley that seemed like the perfect place for a gringo like me to get mugged for his camera and money. For a split second I started doubting the wisdom of my visit, but we promptly took another right turn and I found myself outside of Maximón’s house.
I was the only tourist in the house and my guide explained a bit more to me about Maximón, much was what I had read in our guidebook, but I also learned that Maximón also understands German and Italian, besides English, Spanish and the Mayan dialect spoken in the town. My cost was going to be around Q85, but I only had a Q100 bill. Fortunately for me, Maximón had change tucked away, so I was able to pay my fee and take some photos.
The coffin on the left with the festive Christmas lights is apparently Maximón’s father.
Once I took my photos, it was pretty much time to wrap things up. As we got up, my guide told me I could make any requests to Maximón, which I politely declined. On our way through the alley to the main street, I passed another group of about 5 tourists on their way in. It would have been interesting to have had a bit more going on at the shrine, but if we make it back to the town, I might visit again if I have more time to see the ritual. And for a few quetzals more, I can take as many photos as I want.
I’m glad I made my visit and I had no problems reuniting with DiploMom. They had made their way up the street and I promptly found them on my way back down.
We hired a boat driver on Saturday and were able to visit three of the other towns on Lake Atitlán – San Pedro La Laguna, San Juan La Laguna and Santiago Atitlán. Each has its very own unique feel. We enjoyed breakfast at San Pedro, which is the spot for the party set, with its Gringo Zone full of bars, cheap hotels and restaurants. San Juan is smaller and much more quiet and clean. Santiago is the largest of these other towns outside of Panajachel, with a very large market area and plenty of locals asking if we want to visit Maximón, who I’ll be posting about later.
In San Juan we visited a woman’s cooperative where they make Mayan dresses and other clothing all by hand – no machines are used in the process.
We were taken around town by a friendly tuk-tuk driver, who we will use again on any future visits.
DipoTot got her first ring here in Santiago Atitlán.
We stopped by the beautiful Hotel Atitlán in Panajachel on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The hotel has beautifully landscaped grounds and many paths to wander about on.
DiploTot became quite a fan of the large chess set and was not pleased when we finally had to pull her away to go have some dinner.
One area of the grounds had a pen with around 6 or 7 rabbits. Here is DiploTot “barking” at them and making her dog noise.
Time to leave and head back to Guatemala City, DiploTot, but we’ll stop by a Christmas Tree farm on the way.