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Lago Atitlan - San Marcos, Tzununa and Jaibalito


sunny 29 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

First of all hiking around Lago de Atitlán is strictly not recommended, known as extremely unsafe. Second - it’s out off beaten path: there are isolated villages that have neither roads nor transportation there and they still speak the traditional Mayan Katchikel language, ignoring Spanish and other ways of communication. It sounded us enough attractive and reasonable to visit both:Tzununa and Jailbalito.

Original plan was to come to San Marcos by lancha and then, stopping at Tzununa and Jaibalito, reach Santa Cruz, where from get a boat home. So we did…

1st part of plan was going predictable and at 9AM we stepped on San Marcos’s dock. San Marcos is known as spiritual/shanty place, that serves (tourists) with all kinds of workshops, meditations, massages and natural and healthy lifestyle. But behind all this marketial bullshit hidden peaceful San Marcos village, with sunny and empty streets. We admired its quiet beauty and natural sweetness; then have bought some water and cute petite (10cm, not more) bananas and continued our way.

Village’s periphery was all- rural and little huts were lost in corn-fields.

Sometimes we met kids or dogs, seldom farmers. This part of way was lovely and easy to walk -
it remembered us The Road Of Yellow Brick from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Alike The Road Of Yellow Brick from the book, our road changed - from wide and comfortable it became narrow and sharp; with every moment getting more and more complex.
I lost my sunglasses.
We finished our water-stock (we hoped to buy more in the next stop) and we felt pretty tired.

At one of curves we met adult indigene woman and her coyote-style dog. They walked in the same direction and joined us. Woman was very slim, smiley, toothless and extremely friendly. She stepped easily, like it was not a mountain pathway, but alley in park and all the way entertained us with stories in Spanish.

Last kilometers before Tzununa became really harsh, but we were OK, thanks to reproduction of adrenalin and “high” from height and breathtaking beauty of Atitlan.


Near Tzununa old lady heartily departed from us – her son was waiting for her on the road.
They left down to the direction of the lake, and we continued forward to Tzununa “center”.



Tzununa, Tzununa..
So, what was so special in this Tzununa that we killed ourselves hiking there?
It’s really isolated. And they really don’t speak any language except of Katchikel and not interested in any type of communication. Streets are dirty and absolutely vertical. Houses built from mud. Very poor and anxious place. Big group of barefoot kids followed us everywhere with demand of money “ Quetzaaal, Quetzaaal, Quetzaaal…” from the moment they have seen us (white people!) in the village – to the moment we left.
Life there seems so difficult, nasty and unhappy that it’s hard to understand how natives could survive it there.

I came there after blissful complements (of other travelers) to uniqueness of this place.
Oh, man... this “uniqueness” comes from poorness - it’s absolutely nothing sweet in their everyday suffer, it’s nothing to be proud about and they don’t. These people fight to survive; they don’t object civilization – they just don’t have any little chance to live better. They need support badly, but they don’t need slobbery excitement of visitors.
Sorry for being rude. It just pains.

Tired, we took a rest on the bench near the church and left Tzununa a while later.

- from Tzununa to Jaibalito-

At the beginning, the road passed between banana-plantations and fruit trees with lonely bungalows between the trees. Then plantation finished and road became a path.
Narrow path climbed up keeping tight to the mountainside at the left hand, and at the right hand far-far down sparkled fabulous lake Atitlan.

This little figure on the path is Andre, and i'm following him.

Soon we met group of women with firewood.


Slim and little , these women caressing huge woods on their heads, often also keeping the baby on the back. They disliked photography, but I couldn’t miss this shot. Sorry ladies.. sorry.. Normally I did my best don’t photograph without permission; even spontaneous pictures are always better then posing. For indigene photography is serious mess – some of them believe that it “takes” their lives.

We used to think that road in the way to Tzununa was hard, but it was nothing to compare to the part between Tzununa and Jaibalito. There it became already not a road, but rocky path, and this path kept constantly climbing up, sometimes getting almost vertical and sometimes too narrow even for one walker. The day was sunny, hot and feels not enough oxygen.

We walked and stopped to balance the heartbeat and walked again and then stopped again… Probably it was smarter to return, but going back is not in our rules, and also we expected that way forward will be shorter then way we already did. (We were naïve!) However - breathtaking views, which appeared after each turn, compensated the effort.

Man, caressing sack on his back, caught us up. The sack was looped with wide belt, and another side of the loop rounded his forehead. His face was tense from the effort. We let him get ahead and he thanked with head-nod, passed near and disappeared after the rock.

We kept walking and wowing.
We were not hungry, but luck of water became bothering.

Soon in trembling air appeared a schoolboy. He was marching up easily, seems no effort at all. Little boy, caressing his folder under arm, alone on rocky path in mountains, the middle of nothing - far from any settlement or people – it just seemed like mirage!
But it was a real boy who run home (where?) from the school …
He reached us, slowed down and staid beside. He was unprepared to meeting with strangers and felt insecure about both: to outstrip or ran away. We smiled to him, trying to make him feeling better, and moved aside of the pathway – giving him to pass safely. Boy past us and hopped up with the pathway. Logically decided that appearance of the child means that the village should be near as well, we cheered up.

Our hopes to arrive settlement in short time came true, but partly. Very soon we reached the ramp, cut and reclined from the mountain. There was settled with a carpentry workshop. Seeing us, carpenters stopped work and turned to our direction. They were dark-faced serious indigene men, who were there for job, not for silly adventure. We greeted them and asked about the direction. The road forked later and we asked which one to get for Jaibalito. They pointed to the right road and returned to work. We continued our way with new hope that village is near (Workshop supposed to be not far from the village, isn’t it?)

The pathway was bending after shape of mountain, sometimes rolling down and sometimes climbing. Lake constantly laid on the right hand and rock-wall was at the left. Rock-side was fried with sun and puffed with wind.


At this part the tiny strip run along the vertical wall, and it was so narrow that we could continue only while keeping very tight to the rock. The lake sparkled far-far down. Somewhere mountainside was cultivated; these surrealistic vertical fields on barren land describe life of Guatemalan farmers better then thousands words. It was nothing around except of burning sun and chunky heat between corn stems. And then, one of the fields was burned, still with leaks of flame on the black ground. Narrow path slipped between burning vertical cornfield at the left and a chasmal fall from right. Don’t ask me how we passed there. We did.

Sweating, thirsty and tired, we were happy to see a small grove on the way. Trees gave some shadow and it was great! In the grove we met a “Big Bad Wolf” – alike it happen in fairytales, - huge black dog staid on the road, enjoying combination of shade and breeze. We had a talk with him, worried about his loneless. Dog was loyal, but indifferent and not communicative. We seemed not enough attractive, as we have neither water nor food to entertain him. So, we saluted and continued to walk…


Not so soon as it came in dreams, but finally we arrived Jaibalito!
We didn’t expect blissful reception, but definitely hoped to take a rest in shadow and to refill our water stock. Oh, well.. and to see the reason why we kept walking there all the day! – Hidden jewelry, out-of-bitten-path authentic indigene village. Yeaa.. it was kind of. Extremely poor and miserable, village appeared in its natural way – non-asphalted streets, houses erected from mud. There was a girl, about 4 or 5 years old herself, who kept house and cared to her baby-brothers while adults were out. She was accurately sweeping the land outdoor with scrawny broom, when her baby-sister appeared in the door with huge machete in her hands.


Village ended. Our water was finished too.
We didn’t have another choice but to keep walking.

We really enjoyed when arrived banana plantation. It was shady and big plantation and presence of cultivation was visible there. The road got wider, but it bounded plantation from the left, was sunburned and begun ascendant again. There appeared the smaller way, which run into plantation and dropped a bit down, in the direction of the lake. Andre walked first and I followed him, I proposed to him to go through plantation and was sure he heard. As it was proved later – he didn’t.

Here we separated. I was too tired for argument “which way is better” and seems he assumed that upper way was right to continue with. At the beginning roads run parallel and I could see him via banana-leaves. Then my path got slimmer and some down, and his path kept going a bit up… saying short – we lost each other. When I recognized that I didn’t see him anymore I tried to call him, but he didn’t answer. He turned back and didn’t see me on the road. Waited for a while. Called me, and as it was no answer – he returned back to find me there. Meantime my road was constantly dropping down between bananas until I have seen people who were working there. I did success to explain that I need the “main road” to the lake (nobody speaks English there) and they told me to return back. … damn… it was walking up again. And it was clear that we were lost… and no water and my feet “has gone” – couldn’t feel them already. Hah… also no money, no ID - only camera was with me. Perfectly silly, isn’t it?

I passed almost ½ of way back, trying to cut shorter way between bananas instead of keeping with path, that also was stupid as it made my chances to meet Andre even less. I understood that he was searching for me and hoped to get on the main road-path as fast as possible. Actually, I was in better position, at least I knew what happen when we separated. But he did not have any idea where I was and what was going on and had all rights for stress.

Relax, relax… he found me in banana plantation and caught my hand. The family was re-unionrd and we still stay together. Now, I think you r tired enough just from reading this, so, I’ll make the story shorter saying the continue just briefly:

Then we walked, walked and walked.
Plantation finished.
There were some lonely houses up on hill – we didn’t go there.


Here a miracle happened! In the grass, just near the road, we found 0,5l plastic bottle of water. It was ballooned being under sun, but it was firmly closed, new bottle. The water inside was ok. We were saved!

Then we passed “La Casa del Mundo” hotel that just amazing and recommended for everyone who likes special places. I’ll not advertise it here, but it’s very impressive, just take a look online http://lacasadelmundo.com/

Then down-down-downhill… to the lake. To the boat-stop, to wait there, to get a ride with a boat. To reach home soon.

sooo sooo soooooooo tired!

happy to return home (orange juice in San Pedro)

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Total : Q266 = 35US$
Transport: (boat) (Q15 x 2) x 2 directions = Q60
Food: water - Q12, Fruits - Q12, meal (restaurant) - Q65
Others: (shopping, etc) - Q94
Internet: - Q7
Accomodation for 3 nights: - Q105

Posted by vanessa 13:00 Archived in Guatemala Tagged ecotourism

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