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Lago Atitlan - Santiago Atitlan and San Antonio Palopo.

Santiago Atitlan. Maximon. San Antonio Palopo. TRUST & SAFETY. Useful Info

View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

At the morning we took a lancha (boat) to Santiago Atitlan – the capital village on the lake, which mostly famous for authentic dress and for lively market. It’s one more attraction there, that a bit weird, – local Saint Maximon (I’ll tell you about it later, keep reading)

The main reason for visiting Santiago Atitlan is the very special wear. It all in red and purple, head is crowned with reddish “pancake” which composed from long (about 10 m) strip bended around the head. It's, so-called, head cinta (xk´ap). Novadays it is only worn by some older women, on special occasions.


Traditional wear is influenced by fashion (once it’s getting more reddish, then more purple, once flowers getting bigger, then stripped textiles become fashionable, etc) but basically it’s very tight to traditions. Textiles are still hand-made and each village has local “specialty” and differences.


Santiago is sleepy, but somehow it doesnt feel peaceful. It's dirty; all the central street used as one big market and many-many beggars everywhere - also kids and also adults. Formally, Santiago is a lake capital-town, so, there are all necessary facilities: church, school, bank, market.

The central square on front of church is multipurpose: used as a meeting-point as well the place of rest and communication.


We spent some time on the market.
Shopping is not my thing, but couldn’t stay away from this colorful fiesta.


Then we got hungry and begun to search for any eatery. We found one that seemed clean and inexpensive and asked for comida coriente. Soon our food was ready and we eat and chat.


While we were dining – the little boy, may be 4-5 years old, was passing in the eatery. We didn’t mind it, thinking that he was son of owners – family-running restaurants r the common thing there, and children, sometimes very little ones, help to parents to clean and to serve. We finished to eat but wasnt in hurry to leave, taking the rest. I paid attention that the boy was staying aside and watching us. When I smiled to him - he came closer and asked for rest of meal that we left not eaten – some tortias and rice. It was scratching. He staid around the eatery during the day not because a job or help, it just was a hungry child. He took the food, thanked us and left.

HURRICANE STAN - October 2005

Half of year later, On October 4, 2005, after days of harsh rain from hurricane Stan, there were several landslides that destroyed the canton of Panabaj and did damage in Panaj, causing a disaster where more than 1000 people died. For more info look here : http://www.santiagoatitlan.com/Disaster/disaster1e.html



Maximon is part evil saint, part pagan idol and said to be a combination of San Simón, Judas Iscariot and Pedro de Alvarado, the conquistador. He likes to drink alcohol and smokes cigars and cigarettes. So you are free to offer him a cigarette or a beer or a few Quetzales. There are many theories as to his origin, but over time he has evolved into deity who can cure illnesses and also bring misfortune to his enemies and is considered sacred and to be taken seriously despite his bizarre appearance to most visitors.

Maximon stays in someone’s home for a year. And every year during Samana Santa (Easter week) there is a big procession, and then he changes location. You shouldn't have a problem finding Maximom as there are plenty of children who want to show you the house where he resides for a Quetzal or so (US .15 cents). As bizarre as this may sound, it is an undeniably, intriguing exercise in respecting local traditions.

Santiago was colorful but something there felt sad, like the fiesta was artificial – probably it really was.
We were in need to sweet the day - to see or to do something really special. Mysterious and odious Maximon responded to our need better then anything else.
So we did.

Maximon every year settled in another house, and his address was not a secret for natives; but, traditionally, guiding tourists to Maximon’s house is children-business. It paid with Quetzal and both sides r happy with it. We wanted to do it this way too, but big group of children arrived there. They loudly proposed their service and crowd became bigger with each minute. Scared out with their activity we refused and decided to manage it alone. People pointed us the direction and we walk down the street. Some time children run next to us, but then lost the interest and left us alone. Asked couple of more times in the way, we stopped near gloomy building, looked more alike warehouse then house. Door was open and entrance was covered with cloth. Insecure, we stopped near, not sure if we need to knock or what. Short intoxicated Maya-man appeared from the house and we asked him if we could see Maximon, pls. “Sí, dos Quetzal”- he accepted. We paid and stepped into dark room.

It seemed fresh air never penetrated here. Room was pretty big, decorated with drying plants and it was only need to add drying frogs or head of dead crocodile for better impression. It was so smoky and dusky that we stopped at the entrance for better orientation.

3 indigenes set around the table in the center of room. They were into deep discussion composed with drinking and smoking. They invited us to enter inside. Right near the door we could see big glass box, looking alike the coffin, and big wooden Jesus was lying inside. We were a bit surprised, but being polite, stopped near – to give respect to this “sight”. One of indigene-man spotted to another corner of the dark room. We obediently toddled there. Opposite wall was so fully-stuffed with various objects that not supposed to use for decoration, that it took a while to find Maximon there. Wooden doll of Maximon, all hooked with ties, was sitting on the bench. With bold cigar in his mouth, Maximon kept same indifferent face-impression alike all local men did. We staid a little more to watch the doll. Weird voices came from stomach of the house – it sounded at least like a wizard’s pry or may be something even worse then it. I was dying from curiosity and almost stepped into, but brainy Andre stopped me. He said later that it was nothing mysteries, but somebody ill or drunk suffered there, but I still feel that I missed something very special to join to.

We got out the door with some doubt if we were stuffed or weren’t’, and before we changed a word, we were heartly greeted by very slim lady. She was all shining with toothless smiles and, gesticulating, she let us to understand how much she was happy about our smartness and understanding regards of visiting Maximon. We smiled her back “sure, sure” and then something else begun…

She proposed us to buy some crafts that she was keeping with her but we politely rejected – we already spent on the market much more then we planned this day.
Then she concerned where are we going now, and as we were going down to the dock, she volunteered to accompany us.
We were at least 20 years younger (or did it just look alike?), but we breathed hard from fast walk, and walked faster and faster, trying to escape her intensive attention. At each step that we did, she was doing 5, circulating around us, running forward and returning back, constantly proposing to buy some stuff. It was insane run downhill through kitchens, yards and fields of residents. Faster we run - Faster she circulated. With continuous moving around she didn’t stop even for a while her cheerful socializing , she first recognized a boat near the dock and suggested us to run faster, cause the boat could leave earlier if it full. She was so right – we just jump on the boat and it left immediately. The schedule just pretended to be true, the real life managed after “left leg wishes”, not anything else.

We were so happy that we caught the boat! It was definitely enough of Santiago.
We planned to path in San Antonio Palopo – for their beautiful, extraordinaire-blue textile.

After short trip the boat arrived San Antonio Palopo - tiny village that has nothing to attract tourists, except of incredible blue textile that they producing and wearing. We asked at the dock when the last boat’s departure and, securely and stress-free about “ enough time to look around”, we left the boat.
Near the dock we met 2 local women with textile for sale in their hands – they were waiting for the boat. One was round-faced and a bit shy and the second was more communicative. They show us their products and it was beautiful. The only problem was that we wanted double size of cover and they didn’t have it there.
They explained that they have more samples in the factory and invited us to come with them and to choose ourselves.

Right after the dock the street climbed up almost vertical, squeezing between small houses and little gardens. Women stepped easily, like it was flat. One more time we admitted natural fitness of Atitlan citizens. Well, there is no choice, if you live on the mountain – you will not survive if you are not fit enough.
Soon we reached the place. Talkative woman opened the door in the wooden fence and we stepped into little yard. There were turkeys and dog, nothing else. For a second I had a sting if we were right coming with them alone – media was full with horror-stories about tourists, kidnapped in Latin America. But ladies welcoming smiled and then they opened the door into house that seemed store. Dark room inside lighted with sun and we have seen blue hills of textile on the ground. They begun to pull it out and collect in the yard. There were everything that u could and could not imagine: shirts and pans, decoration for hair and house-decoration, cloth, covers, strips, bags – all was designed from blue-blue fabric. Wow.. My eyes jumped out. It was Ali-Baba’s treasure!

We searched for size and pattern that we needed, but it was not. Instead of it we found the second identical piece of ½ of size. Women suggested to connect it (very fast, don’t worry) and to make 1 from two. They both set on the ground and really fast connected both pieces of cover.


Meantime they were working we chatted and watch around. It was ordinary village house, kept very clean. This “factory” was a family-business and ladies were sisters in law. They both were very nice and we enjoyed this short contact, I think so they were. Soon the work was done and we could leave them. I liked very much the strip that was keeping head-cover of round-faced mate and she gave it to me.
“Give it to your mother”- she asked.
“I will!”

We thanked again, said good-bye and dropped downhill to the lake.
From the hill we could see the dock and the boat. It looked sleepy – no movement around.
We rushed down to catch this boat – we knew that it was the last one for this day.
The Capitan promised to wait for us, so we didn’t worry that much.
But probably we staid there too long, or, for any another reason he decided to leave.
We have seen from the hill our boat leaving without us - first slowly getting back, then turning and slipping on the peaceful waters of Lago Atitlan.

Oh, horror!!!
We missed the boat!
We have been said that there are ONLY water-transportation to/from this village, so we have some reason for little panic. We should to ask for help. But from whom?
After little research we found a Police Station. The policemen listened to us, nodded and pointed to the lorry parking near Police Station.
We didn’t wait for additional invitation and fast climbed into it, feeling safe. We just set down and lorry filled with people. There were: young family with two kids; workers, who returned home from work and Policemen themselves. It was a good company and we had much fun in the way to Pana, all the way chatting and laughing.


Car went to Panajatel , that meant to make a big curve in opposite (from home) direction, around the lake; but still getting closer somehow. Panajatel is the most central junction in the lake traffic and there were more chances to take a boat to San Pedro.


When lancha[i] left [i]Panajatel in direction of San Pedro - it was already late afternoon. With darkness weather became windy and boat was pounding into angry waves. Water was washing the passengers – we didn’t care too much as we both good swimmers, and only cared to keep the camera dry.


...Our adventure was not yet finished with arriving San Pedro.
We passed in local internet café for a while, sent emails home and ... we left there our camera!
We discovered the lost about two and half hours later, when finally reached home after lunch in Dos Lunas. Camera was not only new ( just bought it before the trip) and The Only Expensive Item that we owned and cared about, but there was all the stock of Guatemalan photos - lost of it was real disaster.

Shocked, we run back to internet-café as fast as we could.
San Pedro village is lying on the hill; streets are going up or/and down, nothing is horizontal there.
I guess our sprint looked odd there – no one is hurry in lake villages, but we didn’t care and just prayed that internet-café still will be open. Honestly – we didn’t hope that much that camera still safe there.
Too much traffic in cyber-cafe, plus, Guatemala is such poor place – people work there extremely hard for their bread. Cost of our camera was enough to cover some months of family expenses.

Guess what happened then? Internet Café was still opened and full.
Our camera was found and saved there. Owner of the place left but girl, who switched him there, knew about camera and at the moment we asked about – gave it to us with smile.
Gosh… you can’t imagine HOW thankful we were!
I think this incident no need much comments, it speaks itself.

I was often asked if Central America is safe place, and I always state that I felt there safer then ever. It’s not just feels good – it’s serenity, it’s about trust and much sympathy to these straight-minded people.



Basic shopping for breakfast for 2 ppl cost us Q54
Bread, cheese, pocket of coffee, Orange Juice Q21 and Mineral Water Q3,5


Boat from San Pedro to Santiago Atitlan leaves each hour, 25 min in the way. Cost Q15

  • Did i already mention this? I lo-o-o-ove these people!

Posted by vanessa 13:00 Archived in Guatemala Tagged boating

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