signed up for a boat tour around Lake Atitlan, which wasn’t much of a tour but rather just a boat ride since there wasn’t a guide. We were to be shuttled off into 4 different towns and get to spend a bit of time at each.
It is really interesting to see how, despite the short distances that separated the towns (some of which were only accessible by boat), that each and every single one had something different to offer for a different crowd.
San Marcos, our first stop, had this “earthly” vibe to it, with a lot of people seeking ‘spiritual energy’ walking around bare foot. The roads were narrow, and hostels were nestled in cozy gardens. In the main town, there was a nice community centre for kids to play soccer, and a amplitheatre for locals to perform and have announcements? Cool place!
San Juan was our next stop, and this town offered lots of Mayans selling beautiful weaves of shawls, scarves and guipils (a style of traditional Mayan clothing). Much more touristy, but the lack of tourists gave it a very quaint feel. The towns were all very small, and easily walkable end to end from within 15minutes.
San Pedro was next, and before we arrived we’ve already heard of it. Almost everyone we talked to had high praises for this town, which was as disparate as a “quiet town to relax in” to “where all the party happens”. When we arrived, we wandered a bit and instantly felt like this place wasn’t for us. It felt a bit cheesy, and the random people sitting on the streets meditating and making strange calls enticing us for a ‘journey into the spiritual side’ or whatever was game over. We did have some nice roast chicken lunch and a wonderful cup of coffee, though.
Santiago Atitlan was our last stop, and we were given a bit of extra time here for a good measure. A ‘town’ with over 600,000 people (or so our tuk-tuk driver told us), it was a big place compared to the others. One of the highlights of this town is the local deity, Maximo, who is worshipped by all of the local Mayan Brotherhoods. Nobody can really trace the origins of this ‘god’, but everyone knows about him and hosts one of the bigger festivals here in Atitlan. We did pay a visit, and with a small donation to the upkeep of the shrine (as Maximo likes to drink liquor and smoke cigars) we also snapped a few pictures of the god, and the shamans next to him…smoking. With all the fumes, dark lighting and the shady feel, it felt more like an HK triad 关二哥shrine than anything…haha.
We returned to Pana (that’s what locals call it) after that, and enjoyed some dramatic scenery while sipping a mojito, munching on nachos at a lake side patio. What a day! And to top everything off, while we were walking home and passing the usual street stalls of pie vendors (Yes, street side pies….so strange).
Then, out of nowhere this waft of smoke blows into our faces, and we both instantly recognize the smell…. barbecued meat!!! So we walked a bit further and there it was, in all of its glory, a chubby middle-aged lady with a charcoal grill turning out some succulent looking carne (meat). We poked around, and asked how much and was shocked…. the lady charged only 15Q for a plate of meat, rice, guacamole, frijoles and unlimited tortillas!!!!! That’s like, the price of two pieces of toast in Antigua!!! We each got a plate of chicken which tasted even better than it looked, and happily sat on the sidewalk and ate to our hearts content. A few locals joined in on the feast, but nobody attempted to make any banter, as whenever our gazes met, we knew that neither of us was willing to risk our food getting cold just to talk some nonsense about the weather.
Sometimes, all it takes is a nice, satisfying meal to make a great day even more memorable…. and a delicious street side stall to change your perspective of any locale.