Guatemala is a shopping paradise – with stalls and helpful shopkeepers everywhere and beautiful textiles and handicrafts seeming without end. The Guatemalans seem to be born and bathed in color. Our visit today across Lake Atitlan to the town of San Juan was a profusion of intense shades and hues.
Lake Atitlan itself is bordered by three large dormant volcanoes with small towns nestled near the lakeside and small coffee pllantations up above in the rich volcanic soil. Our speedboat hit the rolling waves making it a bumpy passage as we quickly moved along the water. I mentioned to our guide that the scenery around us was very similar to the lakes of Northern Italy, without perhaps the volcanoes. The docks are fairly well maintained, not like those in Kalimantan (see my earlier posts from my last trip) but the somewhat rickety railings and loose boards would not meet any U.S. regulations.
San Juan has decorated itself for visitors, with streets with amazing vivid murals, and overhead decorations, one with hanging umbrellas, one with hats, and one with a seemingly paper ribbon. But with frequent short bouts of rain I don’t know and wonder about the materials used for decoration. As the town is built on the hillside, we take well-maintained tuk-tuks up to the top market area and then walk down.
We stop by the gymnasium between two schools, painted with the brightest possible colors. Some students are in a summer class open to the street and surrounded by beautiful murals.
What is most distinctive and stands out for me is the large number of local people on the streets. The women are all wearing their traditional bright woven wrap around skirts, sometimes aprons in a layer on top, an embroidered flowered top and colorful belt. I understand the variations in the clothing are a statement of the village or region each person comes from. Both older women and young girls, everyone is wearing the most beautiful clothes. Many of these people are tourists, like us, out for a day of visiting and shopping.
Our guide tells us there are 3 local languages here and in San Juan it is Tzutujil which is as difficult sounding in name as it looks on paper.
We are given a demonstration of the textile making, from the cotton bolls to the hand weaving and although I have attended many such demonstrations around the world, this one seemed to reflect more of the lives of the rural women than others. And of course there is countless merchandise to buy, handbags, hats, scarves, wall hangings – anything that can be manufactured with woven material and leather. And all are beautiful. Luckily for me, my daughter has ordered me not to buy anything and my son’s family is also in the “less is better” mode so I am able to restrain myself although not entirely — as I love textiles.
Chocolate with local cacao beans is another major product here as is of course coffee and we watch a chocolate making demonstration from the bean to the bar. We are infused with the odor of chocolate as well as the nearby aroma of famous Guatemalan coffee. In addition to the level of cleanliness here, I have noted that although there seem to be many dogs, which all look alike, there are few visible cats around. In the fields we have seen sheep, both shorn and unshorn, and a few cows but this is obviously not the dairy center of the country with steep hillsides on all sides.
Back in our town of Panajachel, we visit and have lunch at beautiful Hotel Atitlan surrounded by a large botanic garden that takes 10 full-time gardeners to maintain.
Some of us walk around and see some impressive plants, such as this jade vine below, the color of which is appropriate and symbolic of the tremendous variations and color contrasts we have met on our visit to Guatemala.
A good dinner on a terrace with our new friends and sleep.