San Juan y San Pedro

Today was a lovely day. I’m based in Panajachel, but I’m a short boat ride from several other small towns. This morning at breakfast at Mario’s Rooms (note: it’s free with your room, but very boring, as is dinner) I met two nice people: J, a recording enginer, who is helping record someone’s doctoral work on Mayan spirituality. He’s from Boston. And M, a retired professor of German linguistics and history, from a small town in France. She and I decided to go to San Pedro and San Juan together.

What a great trip. We took a boat directly to San Pedro. El Lago de Atitlan must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. My photos won’t do justice to it. It was mosly sunny with cotton candy clouds, but a haze scrims the view of the mountains around the lake.

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Every few minutes another picturesque town would be nestled at the juncture of two hills. (Sorry, I have no way to edit these pictures, or crop them–I swear there is a town in the photo below! Get out a magnifying glass!)

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Layers upon layers of misty mountain surround the lake, and the water itself is a clear blue-green.

In San Pedro M and I walked around the side streets where few tourists likely go, to the busy market, and up very steep streets.

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We visited the church and heard lovely singing. M is Catholic and went up front, but I stayed in the back.

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At one point we decided to take an alleyway to get back to the center of town. It was really more of a walking path or a labyrinth of ever smaller pathways, twisting behind the homes of the local people. I don’t think many touristas venture back there, as the women and children seemed slightly surprised to see us back there. But it felt safe, and they were friendly.

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After several minutes we emerged by the church. Then we decided to go to San Juan. We took a pickup. You have to stand and hold on while the truck bounces over brutal speedbumps and cobblestones. It was a blast.

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San Juan is teensy. Few tourists go there, but it’s the home of a weaving cooperativo that I wanted to see. At first we went to one place, which seemed like the wrong spot. The women here didn’t sell raw cotton or even seem to know about the naturally brown-colored cotton I was seeking. We decided to keep looking, plus we were hungry. So we went to lunch (Hotel Maya: lovely but tough and not very flavorful charriscos and soggy vegetables, not recommended for food. I heard very good things about it as a hotel).

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orchids everywhere at the Hotel Maya

We found the Mujeres Tejedores cooperativo we were seeking, but there was just one cranky lady there. She couldn’t do the demonstration we were hoping to see, just pointed to photos. I did see the spindle the Mayan women use, and would have bought one, but Cranky Lady said it was 300Q or about 38 dollars. For a stick, essentially–not weighted to spin for a long time or anything.

The woman offered me an infinitesmial amount of colored cotton for 80Q–an incredible rip-off. But I considered it a donation to a deserving industry and women who are so poor, so I bought some. Perhaps I should not have rewarded cranky behavior or price-gouging, but I’m sympathetic to people having to put up with tourists.  The lady wouldn’t let me take a photo of the spindle without paying, and I figured that I was done paying this place absurd quantities of money, deserving or not, so I have no photo.

I took many pics of the murals, though.

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So M and I went back to the other coopertiva, where everyone was much nicer. We saw the lovely naturally-dyed colors and watched a warp being prepared on a backstrap loom. The women there were fabulous and patient with our poor Spanish. The coffee was great, too. One of the women, Victoria, is coming to Xela on Monday, and offered to show me around, so I gave her my email. We’ll see. But she was extremely simpático.

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For our return to Pana, we first took a tuk-tuk to San Pedro. The guy driving, Arturo, was also a tour guide. He stopped a few times to show us coffee drying, and offered to take us back to San Juan for a better tour and organic coffee. Actually, when he offered to detour through part of a plantation, I was slightly nervous–I’d read that drivers occasionally rob their passengers. But he was enthusiastic and excited about showing us the different coffee stages, which most people know nothing about, so we conferred, and then trusted him. I’m so glad–Arturo was cool!

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Upon our return to the boat dock, we waited for 15 minutes or so for the boat. The trip back to Pana was even more lovely than the way over. Perhaps I should buy a house here and learn Mayan spinning and weaving techniques. Who’s in?

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To finish off my lovely day, I ate at Café Bombay, a guate-asian fusión restaurant that serves salsa and sesame seeds with it’s tomato-sauce-rich tofu Pad Thai. Purists might shudder, but it was good! So was the dal with lots of  fresh zanahorias from nearby farms (you have NEVER seen carrots this big!) But the best part? A licuado made from piña, cilantro y ginger.

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Lago de Atitlan

I went to the Museo [edit: I gave the wrong name before] Casa del Tejido in Antigua for an hour while waiting for my shuttle. A guide with great English showed me around–I know I’m here to learn Spanish, but I had a lot of technical fiber questions that I wanted to understand. At first the museum seems a little cheesy, with the mannequin displays.

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But the weaving! So exquisite.

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I’m going to head to San Juan La Laguna today or tomorrow, where they sell cotton, and will show me how they spin it. Forget the nature reserve I was going to go to–I’ll see monkeys in Tikal.

I was interested to see castor beans growing wild, 30+ feet tal by the ruins.

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I then “enjoyed” a lengthy drive to Panajachel. Actually it was beautiful and I would have had a great time, but I’m evidently allergic to something here, and my nose was running annoyingly the whole time. I had no tissues. Kind of funny actually–trying to enjoy terraced fields, mountains, cool little towns–and the whole time my body is saying “hey, I’m going to remind you I’m here. You haven’t been paying enough attention to me.”

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chicken buses

Finally, the Lago de Atitlan. And oh…well, I now understand what the fuss is about (but I couldn’t get a good photo in the bus–later, I promise.)

Pana is more open than Antigua, but just as busy and packed with shopping stalls, tiendas, strolling saleswomen. I went to Mario’s Rooms, my first choice for a room, and they had a few. Luck is with me.

I walked briefly down to the Lake, but it was hazy and I was starving.

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So I stopped in at El Bistro for some spicy fettucine. I will be eating típico Guatemalan fare for weeks, so I’m trying other recommended food now.
Then a walk down Calle Santander. I’m at Café la Parada now, an open-to-the-street bar-cafe, drinking a Gallo cerveza, and listening to the rain.

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It will be dark soon, so I will head back to my hotel and relax in the beautiful courtyard. Tomorrow, I’ll go to San Juan and tour the lake vía lancha. It was too late to do that when I got here today. Adiós.