Travels with V

Guatemala, Belize, Mexico

The blue gemstone of Guatemala

Lago de Atitlán

From Antigua we ride in a minivan on a north-westerly route to the blue gemstone of Guatemala, the iridescent  Lago de Atitlán, a blue eye framed by perfectly conical volcanoes. We’re going to celebrate New Year’s Eve here, in a remote lodge by the lake. It has only five cabañas and is only accessed by boat. 


La Fortuna de Atitlán is the name of the lodge, and the five cabañas are sort of hanging on a quite steep hillside. Our house i very small with only space for a double bed and really nothing more. But it’s idyllic, quiet and it has a small terrace for two chairs and a table. The bathroom is under open sky, which is lovely except for when it rains… 

We wish to explore the surrounding towns and flag down a small passenger boat passing by. It takes us right across the lake to the small town of Santiago.  In the mid 1900’s it was an incredibly poor indian village, but today it’s a bustling little town with lots of street vendors and restaurants. And of course a famous market. Remarkably quite a lot of the people in the streets are western hippie kids.

Many of the men here, especially older men, wear bright and colourful shorts, typical for this region.

Right by the market place there is a big church where we see people in extraordinary dresses gather. We walk over to it and in the open  church door we spot a wooden sculpture of a man dressed in what looks like a mexican soldier’s outfit from a hundred years ago. He wears a big sombrero han has a cutlass in his hand. Around him there’s a small group of men singing a hymn.

This is the patron saint Santiago, protector of the town and an example of the total mix-up of catholic and maya religions. 

Firework bombs go off, a signal for the procession to start. The saint is lifted and carried down the church steps and into the city. More correctly it’s danced around, a brass band playing waltzes has joined the procession. The saint sways from side to side. 

Santiago is of course not a saint in a usual sense. But this mix of the catholic faith the spanish invaders brought with them and the ancient maya spirituality is found in many places in Guatemala where mayan people are in majority. Santiago is regarded as a real saint and he is worshipped as one. 

Another popular and mystic deity, often portrayed as a tall slim man in a grey suit is called “Maximo”. We find idols of him everywhere in the market. He can be a powerful ally, even though he can’t always be trusted. A man-sized Maximo is housed with a family in Santiago for one year at a time. The day he switches to a new family there’s a ceremony to honour him. 

We continue by boat from Santiago to the infamous “hippie haven” of San Marcos, where we walk narrow paths between organic cafés, yoga schools and all kinds of strange drug related activities. 

Always keeping an eye on the animal life we manage to capture this little fellow scuttling over the road on an electric wire. We think it’s a Sciurus Variegatoides (Varigated squirrel) or maybe a Scurus Aerogaster (Mexican grey squirrel), that has found a yummy fig.

Our next excursion is not across the water but up in the high mountains north of Lago Atitlán, to the city of  Chichicastenango. The mix-up of catholicism and maya is even more evident there, so join us!

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