A few of us traveled to Lake Atitlan for part of the past weekend. I was expecting it be beautiful based on people’s descriptions, and I was not disappointed! The lake is surrounded by volcanoes and several different villages or towns, some of which can only be reached by boat. We were staying in an (awesome) hotel in the town of Panajachel, which is I believe the largest one on the lake.
We took a lancha or boat across the lake right after we arrived to the town of San Pedro, where we had about an hour and a half to explore and eat lunch. All of us had disappointing lunches (pepperoni on a vegetarian sandwich?) but finishing mine off with a frozen banana dipped in chocolate for only 1 Quetzal almost redeemed it. Almost. The town had a beachy, laid-back atmosphere with lots of Spanish language schools and tourist/backpacker-friendly shops/restaurants.
Next we lancha-d to the town of San Santiago, which was a town that saw a lot of violence during the civil war here. We visited a cathedral where an American priest named Stanley Rother was assassinated during the war – many Guatemalans think of him as a martyr. (There were other priests and a bishop killed which inspired the non-fiction book The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?)
In San Santiago there is a large cofraida, or brotherhood, that started out as part of the Catholic Church and now is more of a hybrid with indigenous Mayan beliefs. They wield a significant amount of power in the community, and are also in charge of caring for an effigy (wooden mannequin) of a semi-deity named Maximon (mah-shee-Mohn), who is kinda like a bad-ass god of vices; he’s someone you don’t want to upset, so you always try to stay on his good side (note: he’s not recognized by the Catholic Church as any type of god/idol). So people purchase cigarettes and shots of liquor for him when they visit him as offerings in return for favors, such as wishes/prayers for revenge. The cofradia members guard him, dress him in traditional clothes, and put cigarettes in his mouth, and put him to bed at night. There were also poorly taxidermy-d animals hanging from the ceiling and Maximon’s father (a mannequin as well) in a glass coffin in the room. We visited him, but had to pay a little money to enter, and another fee for photos – so one of our group members took photos for all of us.
The rest of the time we spent shopping, hanging out at the hotel (making good use of the cable tv and powerful water pressure/hot water in the showers), and had the best Tres Leches cake I’ve ever had. Or maybe the best cake I’ve ever had, period.
On Sunday we stopped at Iximche ruins on our way back to Antigua. They are some small Mayan ruins, but it actually was the capital for the Kaqchikel Mayas in the 15-16th centuries. Apparently they found human remains there showing evidence of having been sacrificed. The ruins are not in the best of shape, but it was still interesting to walk around the mounds and large stone bricks. There were several pyramid structures, and apparently even a ballcourt or two. Inside a cultural museum were a few artifacts on display including some really worn statues and a couple skulls. .