Chichicastenango is famous for a huge outdoor market held twice each week. The market takes up several downtown blocks, and the narrow streets are crowded with stalls, hawkers, and tourists. On market days large buses bring people from Guatemala City and Lake Atitlan, and the town is packed. The market is a great place to buy souvenirs and, with some discernment, higher-quality crafts. We found it a bit much.

We stayed for two nights in a little hotel, inexpensive and apparently not doing much tourist business. However we liked it, especially the friendly owners and the way that they displayed huipiles (blouses) on chairs, and showed other crafts all over the place.

Vendors show up early in the morning to erect their stalls and to display their goods. After dark, they are still working to dismantle and pack everything into the backs of pick-up trucks. It's a long day, and they do it twice a week, week after week.

Though the Chichicastenango market attracts tourists mostly for its crafts, there are practical goods and a large, indoor vegetable market.

Persistent young hawkers; hawkers packed into a truck to ride home at the end of the market day

Maybe it's the same everywhere; the older generation worries about the youngsters and their flirtatious ways.

 Lake Atitlán - San Juan la Laguna

Lake Atitlán is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It is surrounded by volcanic peaks, with villages scattered along the shoreline. Although the villages are connected by roads, some of them rough, it's quicker and more pleasant to travel from one village to another on inexpensive boats and ferries that criss-cross the lake throughout the day.

We first stayed in the village of San Juan de la Laguna. We found a place through AirBnb. The entry was headed, "Private room with a local Mayan family." When we found their place, pushed open the corrugated metal gate, and stepped into a dusty compound filled with chickens, dogs, and hanging laundry, we wondered what we had gotten into. In fact, we had gotten into something quite wonderful.

Pedro Josias and his wife Esmeralda live in the compound with their children and with Pedro's parents. They are a wonderful, caring family and make their guests feel right at home.

Esmeralda and Pedro Josias with Pedrito and baby Jean

They have built a separate guest room with its own private bath, and it is clean, spacious, and comfortable. They share meals with guests on request, and Esmeralda is a great cook.

Our room with adjoining private bath

There's something special about the Mayan village of San Juan de la Laguna. We sensed a civic pride there, evidenced by remarkable murals, attractive public spaces, and clean streets. The village is noteworthy for painting and weaving. It's also smaller, quieter, and less touristy than the better-known villages around the lake. 

Another mural underway; artist's studio

Marvelous murals on the wall of the municipal market

A highlight of our stay was the day that Pedro and Pedrito led us on a hike up to Rostro Maya, the Mayan Face, a formation high on one of the mountains that surround the village. 

Pedrito helping Barbara up a rough stretch and gathering flowers, some for his mom and some for Barbara

Taking a break

Villages of San Juan, and farther in the distance, San Pedro

Volcan de Fuego, about 30 miles away. Its last big eruption was in 1974.

As high as we went

 San Marcos la Laguna

We left San Juan de la Laguna sooner than we would have liked because we had already booked a week at a hotel in San Marcos la Laguna, a few villages away. The hotel itself was beautiful, and San Marcos is rightly known for some of the best lake views, but we didn't care for the village.

San Marcos village

San Marcos has a special abundance of healers, mystics, and spiritual teachers, and of tatooed, pierced young people who come to learn from them -- and to smoke dope. Apparently the attraction is not just the undeniable beauty of the place, but also the "mysteries of the Maya." In our view, Mayan spirituality would be best left to Mayans themselves rather than to the New Age neo-hippies who have been drawn from all over the world.

But our hotel was undeniably lovely. It's name is "Lush," and that aptly describes the gardens that surround it. Besides the gardens, we loved the use of stained glass in many of the rooms.

Our bedroom and bath; there was a little outdoor patio as well

Our kitchen. Amazingly the pieces of colored glass are joined not by leading, but by a special kind of papier mache.

Just yards from the entrance to Hotel Lush was the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. There were walking trails with benches and spectacular views of the lake. Kayaks were available. Also there was a place for jumping or high diving into the lake. We never tried it. We kept hearing conflicting reports about the water quality of the lake. There is pollution, for sure, but probably not enough at San Marcos to be risky. We're just not huge lake swimmers; we prefer the salt water of the ocean.

Volcan de Fuego acting up again, seen from Cerro Tzankujil

Santiago Atitlán and San Pedro La Laguna

One day we visited a couple of other villages on the lake, traveling by boat, of course. The villages were Santiago Atitlán and San Pedro La Laguna. We say "villages" but they seemed more like fair-sized towns, considerably bigger than either San Marcos or San Juan de la Laguna.

Traditional dress in Santiago Atitlán includes huipiles for women and long shorts (oxymoron?) for men that are usually embroidered with birds and flowers. There are many weavers in Santiago Atitlán, and after visiting many of their shops, Barbara finally bought something for herself.

Traditional womens' headwear is made with a continuous red strap and an embroidered strap on the outside. The huipile has embroidered birds.

Barbara finally choosing her own huipile

In 1990 a dispute between drunken soldiers and a few villagers escalated into a "massacre" in which the army killed 13 villagers. In the aftermath, the army was withdrawn from Santiago Atitlán, a point of local pride. The little park below, Parque de la Paz, commemorates the event.

In the afternoon we boarded a boat that followed the lake shore from Santiago Atitlán to San Pedro la Laguna, the last village before San Juan la Laguna.

Along the lake shore

The three murals below were some of the most striking in San Pedro la Laguna. 

A caption below this mural said the woman is a midwife, "strong as obsidian, soft like the word resting on the green grass, with hands
that envelop the newborn who arrive with light to illuminate this planet with happiness." (More or less -- our translation!)

This mural is clearly political. One sign says, "Our dreams do not fit in a mine," the second says, "The miniing company buys and the government sells what does not belong to them." The banner says, "When the last tree has been cut, the last river poisoned, the last fish caught -- then they will realize that you can't eat money." 

This mural comments on the burning of rainforest. Guatemalan artists have well-developed political and environmental consciousness.

No message on this mural that we can decipher, just s pretty young woman!

There's a story behind the two photos below. We needed to catch a boat from San Juan la Laguna in order to return to our hotel in San Marcos. The only way to reach San Juan in time for the last boat was to hire a tuk-tuk, so we did. Barbara wanted me to take a photo of the tuk-tuk's unusual overhead, and it's a good thing that I did.

As we got out of the tuk-tuk to walk down to the dock, I realized that my wallet was on the seat! A second too late -- the tuk tuk was already receding in the distance.

We showed the photo of the tuk-tuk's ceiling to the two young men on the right, who had another tuk-tuk. They knew right away who the first driver was and the hunt was on.  I rode with them for nearly two hours as they zoomed on twisting roads back to san Pedro and chased through narrow streets, following clues to the whereabouts of my wallet. When they finally found it, I think they were as relieved as I was!

The next morning was our last on Lake Atitlan. We took a boat to Panajachel and then a chicken-bus to Antigua, where we were to spend our last week in Guatemala.

On to Antigua and Mexico City >>