Travels with V
Guatemala, Belize, Mexico
The blue gemstone of Guatemala
Lago de Atitlán
From Antigua we go with 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 is the big church where we see people in extraordinary dresses gather. We walk over to the church and in the open church door we spot a 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 sword in his hand. Before him there’s a small group of men singing a hymn.
We learn that this is the saint Santiago, protector of the town and an example of the confusing mix-up of catholic and maya religions.
Two 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.
This total mix of catholic and mayan religion is found in many places in this part of Guatemala where mayan people are in majority. Santiago is of course not a real saint in the eyes of the catholic church but here 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 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!