Peace and love from San Marcos, Guatemala, on the shore of beautiful Lake Atitlan.
We’re in a state of culture shock. Maybe it’s the vast amount of poverty in this lovely country (way more than Mexico). Maybe it’s the Mayan culture. Or maybe it’s just the hippies. Yeah, I think it’s probably the hippies.
When I researched coming to San Marcos La Laguna, I read that it’s a small, mixed community of ex-pats, indigenous Mayans and travelers seeking spiritual enlightenment. San Marcos is also a place for yoga seekers, truth seekers and seekers in general. There are many other small towns to explore on the shores around Lake Atitlan, but this one caught my interest, especially because it has so many yoga studios. I started taking yoga in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, then in Morelia, Mexico, and continued it in Antigua, Guatemala. I wanted to keep things going in San Marcos, where they have a place called The Yoga Forest up in the hills, as well as this gem in the central village.
To get to San Marcos La Laguna, we first took a 3-hour tourist shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel, then caught a public lancha (boat) for a 30-minute lake crossing. The VRBO we are renting has its own dock, and the captain said he would drop us there. Well, at least he nodded like he knew the place.
After a beautiful boat ride offering gorgeous views of the lake and the three volcanoes that jut up from its shores, El Capitan dropped us off at a dock near San Marcos. But after we got out, laboriously unloading all our gear (including three bags of groceries), it became clear it wasn’t the right dock. A Guatamelan about 20 years old, who worked at the house attached to that dock, tried to tell us we were in the wrong place, but we could “easily” get to our house, a mere four houses away … along a trail hugging the shore. He grabbed my big bag (a rolly backpack) and the biggest grocery bag, and bolted down the tiny trail, which soon turned into a jungly trail. We followed, with Andy carrying his own rolly backpack, and each of us wearing our backpacks and toting groceries.
Navigating loose soil, muddy patches, rocks and overgrown vegetation (and parts of the trail that actually went through the shallows of the lake) wasn’t easy … for us. But this guy must have been a sherpa in a previous life, because after about 30 seconds, he was long gone. Completely out of sight! We both couldn’t help but think he was an opportunist who had seized the opportunity to run off with our bags. Goodbye to all of my clothes and a lot of food and provisions. In a bit, Andy started shouting, “Amigo! Amigo!” But we couldn’t see him anywhere. We didn’t know if he went up the hill to one of the houses we were passing, or continued along the trail (which at times we weren’t even sure was a trail anymore).
We stood there for a few minutes, befuddled. We inched ahead, confused. Then we saw a Mayan family on one of the docks, and they pointed ahead, letting us know that the young man was up around the bend. Indeed, from a better vantage point, Andy could make out the flourescent green of the reusable grocery bag we were using. But we were still a far ways away. So the half-mile jungle hike continued. And then we figured out why the young man had lit out like a champion sprinter. He wanted to put those bags down at our destination and then return and help us carry our other bags — which he did.
Here are two important lessons I learned: (1) Four houses away in Mayan culture is very different than four houses away in American suburbia, and (2) I am way too old and too uncoordinated for jungly hikes.
Truth is, I am not a good hiker under any circumstances, so this excursion was very challenging indeed. Andy held my hand tightly to make sure I didn’t go down. And after the guy came back, he relieved me of my backpack, which helped make the remainder of the trek a little easier, although, for his part, Andy still was carrying quite a load. Finally we reached the correct dock, where we met up with the man we were supposed to meet in the first place: Jesus! (No, not the biblical dude, but the caretaker of our rented house). Hey-Soos! Hoo-Ray!
We tipped and thanked the young man, and then our new man, Jesus, grabbed much of the luggage and bounded up the 55 stairs from the dock to our amazing VRBO rental. Andy, for his part, was still carrying quite a load. But we both made it up the winding stairs (a portion of which had been damaged in the Oaxaca earthquake a few months ago, and hastily repaired) and finally reached our destination. Paradise found.
If you ever want to stay at Lake Atitlan, I can’t recommend this house enough. Check it out at this link: http://www.vrbo.com/640194?unitId=1187975
Here’s a great photo of the view from our living room. Those are the bases of two volcanoes in the background, and a stained-glass window in the foreground. With two comfy couches perfectly positioned to look out those huge windows, it’s my favorite part of the house.
This house has killer lake views from all angles, and it’s an easy 20-minute walk to the town of San Marcos. There are three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a huge kitchen and several things that we never have accessible to us, wherever we stay, in Mexico or Central America, especially in our long-term rentals: a bathtub, a clothes dryer and a dishwasher. And the kitchen is to die for! I’ve been cooking dinner every night. It’s stocked with marble countertops, an island, great utensils, extra spices and cooking ingredients … and a modern, six-burner, gas stove! The master bedroom is upstairs, with its own balcony (again with amazing views), and the bed has a thick, foam-top mattress. We are in heaven. I really don’t want to leave this place!
This morning, shortly after we woke up, Andy decided to go jump in the lake. To play it safe, he wore a life vest and climbed down the ladder on our little wooden dock. He said it was cold, but he enjoyed it. I might have to join him before we leave on Tuesday.
After swimtime, we ate breakfast and drank amazingly rich Guatemalan coffee on our huge deck and watched the boats ferry people to the towns dotted around the lake. Then we walked into little San Marcos, taking the main road (dirt) from the top of our hillside property, after climbing up more steps (100 or so!) to get to our front gate. We didn’t see much along the way, just a few Guatemalans, all of them wishing us “buenas tardes,” even the two men carrying machetes. The landscape was super lush, and there were interesting flowers and plants everywhere. Another jungle path, pretty much, although this one was much easier to traverse (aside from the one huge mud pit created by some rain the previous night).
Once we got into town, we saw free-spirited, young (and more than a few old) hippies everywhere! White dudes with dreadlocks, battered sandals, tie-dyed clothing, colorful Mayan pants … the whole tofu enchilada (which is pretty much what we had for lunch; see below). It was almost like being at a Grateful Dead concert, sans the smell of reefer, although that’s apparently pretty easy to obtain, should one want to.
Many of you know we are from the Bay Area. As such, we are very used to seeing and interacting with free-spirited folks (some might even say I am one myself). I lived in Berkeley, for crying out loud. I went to Antioch College in Ohio — home to everything hippie. Santa Cruz. The Haight. We are hip. But for some reason, the vibe in this small town surprised us. Everywhere we looked, there were signs for yoga classes, silent meditations, mushroom cultivating workshops, Reiki classes and many other spiritual enlightenment activities. There was a “sound bath” meditation class (Google it) and one property on which every structure was shaped like a pyramid. It was all pretty cool. The stores sold incense, homemade lip-balms, kambucha, homemade soaps and tons of patchouli thingees.
After walking around a bit, we had lunch at a great place called Moonfish Cafe. I had a yummy tofu scramble, and Andy had a falafel burrito along with some kick-ass coffee grown in the Atitlan region and roasted on-site. All of it was outstanding.
When we continued our walk after lunch, we saw yoga studios, massage studios, tons of Mayan clothing for sale, and we sauntered through some very cool pedestrian pathways with beautiful murals. San Marcos has one actual street midway between the lake and the Mayan part of town, but mainly the village is patchwork of footpaths surrounded by shade-grown coffee, various other crops, jungle vegetation, fruit trees, and various fences and microbusinesses . Funky, colorful murals lined some of the pathways. Did I mention how lush everything is? Guatemala has got to be the most lush country we’ve ever visited. It puts Hawaii to shame. Everywhere we look we see greenery.
On our walkabout, we went to a few small health food markets and natural stores. There are no large grocery stores in San Marcos, just small tiendas. We bought some fresh fruit and vegetables and a few staples items including eggs. Groceries are quite expensive here; a little cheaper in the bigger town (Panajachel) across the lake, but still not exactly cheap cheap.
Tonight I cooked up some fresh vegetable soup for dinner, along with some vegi-burgers purchased in Panajachel. Andy’s listening to the World Series and reading Lonely Planet — and all is good. (P.S. The soup turned out great, but the vegi-burgers were yucky.)
In the next few days, we’ll check out some of the other towns surrounding the lake, all of them a bit less crunchy than San Marcos, but each with their own cool vibe apparently. Lake Atitlan is beautiful. We’re happy campers. Even thought we’re a bit far from the village, we’re enjoying the beauty of the lake and the peaceful surroundings. Yet another adventure.
(with a bit (stacey says a lot) of editing by Andy)