Lago De Atitlan
My trip from Guatemala City to Lago De Atitlan started with a great taxi driver named Roberto who hardly spoke a word of English but who enunciated very well and really tried to help me speak Spanish correctly and encourage my to keep talking. Roberto’s wife I learned is a medical doctor making $1,000 per month, not much money by our standards.
The drive out was fairly quick and not like my previous days journey from Rio Dulce which was via Linea Dorado, supposedly in an air conditioned bus, but with all the windows open, it wasn’t working too well.
The lake is surrounded by volcano cones rising to over 9000 feet above the lake and my first view from above the town of Panahachel was breathtaking, even though the day was a little hazy from smoke from slash and burn operations and just the normal wood burning of stoves. My ride across the lake was arranged by Roberto as we had a late breakfast overlooking the lake. The regular shuttles had left for the day, so I had to pay a much steeper price to arrange a charter, but I had been roughing it for over a week and so I didn’t mind this day of pampered taxi and shuttle service.
I was told about the town of Santiago de Atitlan by an elderly couple in the Rio Dulce, so rather than staying at Panahachel, as many do; I went over to Santiago and was so happy that I did. Without any prior reservations, our boat approached the Hotel Bambu, I alighted, told them” espereme” and went to see about the lodgings. They had a room they could rent for a few nights for $45.00 per night, with 2 beds, a bathroom and a deck overlooking the manicured grounds and the lake and part of the village.
After settling in, I inquired about how to get to the town and was advised to take the path along the lake. I was so glad I did as the path wound through small vegetable plots that were being intensely cultivated but in a very traditional manner, with the plants hand watered by carrying the water from the lake. Many people, kids, a few goats, and a cow were working the fields, while down on the lake, about 15 women were standing in the lake and washing their clothes and using piles of rocks to work their clothes and pile them up after washing.
As I walked along, a calmness suffused the tableau. It was much as it has been for probably centuries. I walked for several hundred yards, the path lined with small thin green shrubs of some kind that kind of hid me from view as I looked on at the villagers going about their tasks. Eventually I arrive at the dock area and was greeted by an old man with a chartreuse and black shirt, black hat, very wrinkled brown skin, and with one good eye and another in bad need of cataract surgery.
He asked me if I wanted to see Maximom. I had heard about this cigar smiling old man who was sort of an anti Christ and also an underworld character to ask favors of. His location was a not well kept secret, he was moved from house to house to keep his location somewhat secret. I agreed to allow the old man to take me on a roundabout scenic tour of the town, visiting the market stalls selling handicrafts, meeting Tonita (more on her later) the town square, and the Catholic church, we walked down a narrow alley. A young boy, perched on a high stoop, much like a crow on a light pole, smiled and quietly said “Maximon”. Obviously I was getting closer to his secret lair.
It was about this time I discovered I had forgotten my wallet and passport and left them in the hotel room. So imagine, if you will, my embarrassment as I’m hitting up this poor old man for a loan of two Quetzales ) about a quarter, to see Maximon and 10 Q’s to take one picture. I get the loan and we then crouch under the eve of a roof, enter a very small tin covered patio, encounter a wizened old lady who looks me over but shows no emotion one way or the other, then climb a few stairs and enter thru a low doorway into a darkened room lit by a few candles which are resting on the ground in front of this character with a hat on his head, a cigar in his mouth, a coat and brightly colored tie, who is seated on a chair, a pot of Quetzales by his right side and a man seated on his right – another man seated on the far wall.
I place my two Quetzales in the pot, sit on a stump that is offered to me and which puts me at a level where I am now looking up at this Maximom and I take a respectful look. The man in front of me appears to be trying to light a chewed up cigar that is lying on the floor to simulate, as it were, Maximon’s leftover stogie. I place a 10 Q spot on the plate and take my one picture.
We then leave after a respectful interval and I then am invited to Salvador’s house where I meet his wife and 2 other women who are obviously busy weaving. They show me some finished Huipiles whose asking price is initially 900 Quetzales but quickly reduces itself to 700, or about $95.00
The ladies are very proud of what they have done; the youngest seems quite embarrassed that I seem to like hers the best. It is much simpler, but I like the color combination, what my wife or daughters would ever do with it is another matter. I finally get out of there and we then go down to the dock and set off in a funny looking canoe and row back to my hotel to get my money. When we get to the hotel, he asks me if I want a cigar, unrolls some newspaper and shows me a marijuana bud, asking price, $10.00. I say no thanks; he heads to the main office of the hotel while I go to my room to get my money.
Back at the boat, he lowers his price for the bud to $5. I still say no. We then return to the village by boat, but he takes me close to the women washing their clothes. I take some pictures, we then go back to the dock and I go off on my own, eventually winding up at the central market where I buy a couple of very ripe avocados for a quarter and five slices of watermelon for $1.25 total, one for myself and four for some school girls who are looking at the slices but have no money to spare. It is such a treat to make people happy and not spend much money doing it.