Monday, September 5, 2011

LAKE ATITLÁN!

Next stop will be Lake Atitlán, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Author, humanist, and philosopher Aldous Huxley said, "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissably picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."

Weather on the lake is similar to Antigua's - gorgeous mornings, temperatures averaging in the 70's, occasional rain in the afternoons or evenings. Sometimes the breeze picks up in the afternoons and makes lake crossings a bit choppier.

In addition to the natural beauty, Lake Atitlán's shoreline is dotted with villages.



Each has it's own unique customs and traditional dress - a visit to this part of the world feels like a step back in time. We'll stay in San Pedro La Laguna.





Hotel Mikaso is on the lake in San Pedro a short walk from my beloved Cooperativa Spanish School. It has a terrace, a restaurant, a hot tub, a pool table, a common kitchen, and a variety of room configurations (1-4 or 5 per room) with rates from $18-$49. I think all or at least most of us will want to stay there to have a common base. Here's the review from the Moon Handbook for Guatemala:
The nicest place in San Pedro is Mikaso Hotel (tel. 5973-3129, www.mikasohotel.com, $8 p/p in dorm, $25–45 d) with 11 rooms and a dormitory housed in an attractive Spanish neocolonial-style building fronting the lakeshore. Rooms have tile bathrooms, ceiling fans, tile floors, and tasteful decor. The rooftop restaurant here is also quite smart, serving Mediterranean Spanish food, including delicious bocadillos (sandwiches), and open 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Movies are shown three times a week on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights.
Here are 2 other good value options if anyone wants to stay in a different spot or spend less per night. Hotel El Amanecer Sak'cari is a few blocks away. It has simple, clean rooms and a garden overlooking the lake for $19-32/double. Here's the Moon Handbook summary:

Hotelito El Amanecer Sak'cari (7a Avenida 2-12 Zona 2, tel. 7721-8096, $26 d) feels a bit like a motel, though the rooms on the second floor have nice lake views with hammocks out front. All rooms have a private bathroom.


Tepepul Kaan is up off the lake in a quiet neighborhood a bit further away and charges about $10 each for clean, funky rooms.


Many of us will focus on the cultural aspects of Lake Atitlán but I've included outdoor options here so there's something for everyone and because the natural environment is beautiful, too; these vary in expense and degree of difficulty. Some can be done without a tour provider and I have friends who can help us set up others. Also, Atitlán Adventures has been recommended to me.

Panajachel Reserve offers a beautiful waterfall plus canopy bridges and monkeys. We'll stop in Panajachel coming and going and if the weather cooperates, some of us will take a quick hike.

San Pedro volcano and the hike to La Nariz de Indio (Indian's Nose, top peak in the photo below) are both popular options - challenging hikes rewarded by gorgeous views.



There are options for ziplining,
horseback riding,
and kayaking on the lake, easy and popular.
San Pedro also has a nice pool.
I'll set up cultural activities for anyone who is interested.
These might include salsa dance lessons,


weaving demonstrations,
cooking classes,
Maya spiritual ceremonies,

visits to art galleries,
and visits to other villages for shopping and cultural experiences.

Here is Maximón, patron saint of tobacco and alcohol who moves to a new home every year in the village of Santiago Atitlán.
The Beca Project will be my main focus in San Pedro. The staff of the Cooperativa Spanish School (below) has helped me establish this project and will help us celebrate with the students and their families.
Visiting some of the students in their homes is a powerful, memorable experience and will be a highlight for many of us. Homes are humble and construction materials vary; cinder block, mud or adobe bricks, corrugated metal roofing, corn stalks, and/or plastic sheeting are used. Most have dirt floors and lack running water. The families are friendly and welcoming.

We'll need the Beca Project's main advisor in San Pedro, Mynor (below), to lead the way and serve as translator. The native language in the community is Tz'utujil, a Maya language. The Beca kids learn Spanish in school but the parents - who had limited access to education for financial reasons - rarely do. There are only a few streets big enough for cars in San Pedro; most of the families live on narrow alleys and footpaths like the one shown here.
I would also like to visit the students at their school.
On Saturday, July 28th we'll throw a big party to celebrate with the students and their families. The 2011 event had more than 120 people and the 2012 one will be bigger still. The Cooperativa staff will prepare and serve the meal.
In 2011 some of the parents helped the kids put on a wonderful cultural presentation which included traditional songs and dances....
....and a touching and sometimes hilarious play about the courtship and marriage rituals in San Pedro.


It was hard for me to say goodbye to these wonderful people and I can't wait to head back next summer! You can see the photo sets and links specific to our 2011 trip here - more photos of the town and lake, visits to the families, and the Beca celebration.
We may decide to leave Saturday afternoon and spend the night in Panajachel, across the lake from San Pedro. The shopping is fantastic there - likely the best in Guatemala - and we'll stay at one of my favorite budget hotels anywhere, Mario's Rooms.

Sunday morning (July 29th) we'll head back to Antigua or Guatemala City with a side trip to the world famous market in Chichicastenango.

Our week together finished, some will head home and others will take off on their own adventures to other parts of Guatemala (Tikal, shown below) or the towns, caves, and beaches in the neighboring countries of Belize and Honduras. I'm happy to help with your planning.

I'll be flying out the evening of Sunday, July 29th. You could plan your flight for after 6pm Sunday or anytime Monday and I'll help you arrange lodging in Antigua (if your flight isn't too early) or Guatemala City near the airport.

HAPPY TRAILS!

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