Friday, January 2, 2009

Goodbye Panajachel, Hello Santiago Atitlan, Friday, December 12

Friday morning, we awoke early for a last breakfast in Panajachel. We went to Deli Jasmin, a tranquil little place towards the end of Calle Santander, just before the waterfront.

Holly C., Morgan, Sarah, Tricia, Maureen, and Mary all came.

We had a scrumptious breakfast, and then it was time to say goodbye. It was hard to believe that the volunteering part of the week was over, and that we wouldn't see everyone for a while. They were such a fabulous group of ladies!

We left the Deli, and Michael and I walked down Calle Santander to get out some money before we departed for our next stop: Santiago Atitlan, which is across the lake from Panajachel.

I took a picture of one of my favorite murals. I love anything with the national bird, the quetzal.

We packed up our stuff at Dos Mundos. BTW, Michael proved once again what a gentleman he was by bringing me flowers from the market one day! You can see them on the nightstand.

Then it was time to head down to the waterfront. We made arrangements through the hotel for a private boat. Yes, it was far more expensive than taking a ferry or collectivo, but we figured our safety was worth the extra money, especially since a ferry had sunk recently in Lake Atitlan. In the end, it was less than $40.

So, someone from the hotel drove us down to the docks, and we got on our very sturdy little boat. There was a little confusion, since the teenage boy who was carrying our luggage stuck around the boat. I was trying to think of how to ask how to ask my question, and all of the sudden, I thought of "La Bamba." "Estas marinero?" I asked. Yes, it turned out he was the one who was in charge of the boat.

And we set off.

The boat was fast! We quickly approached the volcano that had seemed far away.

And then we arrived at the private dock of Posada de Santiago.

We quickly got checked in to our accommodations: a stone cottage by the name of Casita La Palma. You can see the palm tree carving on the front door.

The cottage was small, but very inviting. We had a working fireplace with wood all ready to go. There was also some interesting art on the walls.

Outside our casita, we had a little lawn.

We spied a gecko on the wall of the neighboring cottage. Thankfully, he didn't try to sell us car insurance.

We also had our very own hammock!

This was the path down to the lodge, which was the site of the restaurant, bar, and information desk.

We decided to jump right in and take the short walk down the road into the city of Santiago Atitlan. Friday is market day, so we didn't want to miss it.

We followed the pickup trucks into town and down the streets we believed would lead us to the market. And we were right. We suddenly found the sprawling warren of tented stalls selling clothing, shoes, and kitchen needs. There was only one gringa in the vicinity, and we had seen her coming out of building that seemed to house an NGO.

No one hassled us or tried to sell us anything. There were no children or women carrying tourist textiles. It was very different than Panajachel.

We found our way to the indoor food market. It was quite incredible to see all the different kinds of tomatoes and squash and tropical fruits, not to mention all the women in colorful traditional dress buying and selling. I would have loved to have taken pictures, but I knew that would have been a big faux pas in this setting. We were guests in their domain.

Michael bought some fresh cut fruit. I was wary of trying any, since the old traveler's wisdom cautions against that. So I missed out. But at least I knew I didn't have to worry about digestive problems.

We exited the building by the meat stands, with their cuts hanging from hooks or sitting on the counter. I thought about how people probably do not wash their hands after touching raw meat here. Then I promptly put it out of my mind.

We wanted to find the famous church in town, so we started walking in a direction we guessed it might be.

On the way, we saw the gorgeous carved doors of a missionary church, I believe.

Finally, we found the main church in Santiago. A missionary priest from Oklahoma had been killed here back during the war in the 1990s. The church was very simple, but it had a few nice tablets at the back telling the story of the church and the war.

Outside the church, a little boy found us and asked if we'd like to see Maximón. This is a Mayan deity who is worshipped in parts of the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Maximón has a special shrine in Santiago Atitlan that I had read about in a great article in National Geographic Traveler.

The shrine changes location every year and is watched over by members of a local Cofradia, or brotherhood. I was eager to see what this was all about. After agreeing on a price, the little boy took us down a street to an unassuming house. I peered in the window and saw a scene I had imagined. There was the statue of Maximón wrapped in ties and scarves with a man sitting watch on either side of him. Maximón had a cigar in his mouth, and there were offerings of alcohol, flowers, cigarettes, and money. Two people were knelt in prayer before the figure, and they chanted and burned incense.

It was all very bizarre. Taking a picture cost money, and we only had big bills left, so I have no photos from this experience. But pictures I have found online are very accurate.

We paid the little boy. I was considering going back to the market and buying him a shirt. His was badly torn. But when he demanded another quetzal more than our agreed price, I decided that would be his bonus. Plus, as Michael said, if we had done that, within a matter of minutes every little kid in town who gives Maximón "tours" would have been on top of us.

Michael and I found our way out of town. We saw a woman throw a rock at a street dog along the way, and it sadly reminded me of the way many people here treat dogs. The dog seemed ok, though.

Again, we were not hit up by any vendors. I think all the vendors must be down by the Santiago public dock. We didn't see that part of town at all. So we missed art galleries and shops there, which are supposed to be good. But, then again, we didn't get harrassed at all.

The walk out of town back to the Posada was beautiful.

A last glimpse of town.

People were washing clothing on the banks of the lake.

We got back to the Posada famished! Luckily, they have amazing food. We started our lunch at the Posada mirador with fresh guacamole and blue corn tortilla chips. These tortilla chips were the real deal: handmade blue corn tortillas folded in half and fried. The one thing I would have added was some jalapeno and cilantro to the guacamole. The Guatemalan variety is blander than the Mexican. And, yes, that bottle of Gallo was icy cold and dee-licious!

After lunch, we rested in the hammock and then went for a schwitz in their little sauna cabin. It was just big enough for the two of us, and it was very effective! After a while I got up the courage to jump in their big, but cold, swimming pool. It was oh so refreshing after the sauna! Then we enjoyed their mini hot tub.

After a nap, we went for dinner in the Posada lodge. Again, it was unbelievably tasty. We were still rather full from lunch, but we did our best to eat as much as we could! I know Michael had some of the best ribs of his life there. I had an exquisite Szechuan eggplant dish. This was accompanied by a gigantic margarita for me and some aged Guatemalan (and Cuban) rum for Michael.

Completely stuffed, we rolled back to our casita and caught the full moon above on our way. Michael made a fire, and we lit the candles that were provided in the room. It was very rustic and romantic! You'll see more pictures tomorrow!

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