San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan
Arriving in Guatemala City last week, we had arranged in advance for a taxi to meet us at the airport. The ride to San Marcos cost around $90 (around 700 quetzales), about the same as two tickets on the Express Bus, but the Express Bus only goes to Panajachel, at that point it is necessary to catch a boat to San Marcos. With the taxi we were able to come directly (more or less) to San Marcos and a few hundred feet from our home for the next two weeks, Hotel Aaculaax. Typically this should be a 3 1/2 hour ride. Our ride was about 5 1/2 hours. In addition to road detours, we stopped for our driver to eat, to buy auto parts and to get the car's brakes fixed. I do admit we were very happy to be riding in a vehicle with new brakes on the dangerous mountain roads, but only in a country like Guatemala would that be included as part of the trip.

San Marcos has one street running through the middle, everything else is reached by meandering
Road going through San Marcos, lined with tuk tuks
along the numerous dirt or cobblestone trails. Luckily, we arrived just before nightfall. There are few lights on the street or pathways in San Marcos except for the lights that may fall from open businesses. So, a flashlight is essential for getting around in the evenings.

The villages surrounding Lake Attilan are connected by small boats and ferry services that run between the points. The other primary mode of transportation is the tuk tuk, the local version of the taxi service. The small, three-wheeled vehicles are about the size of a golf cart and they carry locals and tourists to the nearby villages for the equivalent of a couple of dollars. Frequently, the small vehicles can be seen loaded down with several people plus their load of product coming to or from the market place, somewhat reminiscent of the clown stuffed vehicle at the circus.

Several small tiendas (stores) and numerous produce stands provide food for the town. In this agriculturally rich area, there is a wonderful variety of produce, fresh from the fields each day, broccoli, bok choy, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, melons, strawberries and on and on. There are also a number of women along the pathways selling a single item, a banana lady, a mango lady, an avocado lady, etc. Meat and fish, with the exception of canned tuna are not available here. Contamination in the waters of the lake make the local fish inedible except for the indigenous population, who can tolerate the bacteria. Several restaurants, hotels and hostels in town are supported by tourists, spiritualists and adventurers that travel this way. The restaurants import meat and fish from other areas, so it is available on local menus.

Yoga, meditation, holistIc healing and spiritualism are at the core of the foreign community in the village. In conjunction with this, there is the native Mayan Guatemalan culture. Dressed in the traditional brightly colored, home woven fabrics and speaking the Mayan dialect for this region, it creates an interesting variety in the community.

Our kitchen windows
Having researched the various accommodations in San Marcos, we had decided on Hotel Aaculaax for a couple of reasons.  They had earned glowing reviews from previous guests, but primarily because they were the only place, for short-term rental, that offered a kitchen.  This allowed us to take advantage of the myriad of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the area, and allowed Alan to eat before heading out to work at 8 A.M., since none of the restaurants in the village open until 8.  Beautifully maintained gardens and artfully designed rustic rooms are the calling card for the hotel.  Recycled Arte, utilizing papier-mache, broken glass and ceramics, creates the unique windows on the property.

Eating out was something we enjoyed on a few occasions, and surprisingly perhaps, there are
Carlos Funk
some great restaurants in the tiny area.  One evening, we wandered into Blind Lemon.  Soon after being seated for dinner, we heard the sounds of a guitar coming from another part of the building.  After investigating, Alan found Carlos Funk, the owner, practicing some pieces.  We later learned the songs were for an upcoming concert in the U.S.  Carlos joined us at our table.  Talking with him and listening to his phenomenal resonator blues guitar music was one of our highlights in the area.  As it turns out, Carlos performs a Bluesnight on Tuesday nights at his restaurant, and frequently, he has another entertainer on stage with him.  We had received a private concert.  Since Carlos has not produced any recordings yet, we (and you) can hear his music on You Tube at: CarlosFunk49

Coming to Guatemala was a trip that started several months ago. While staying in Stonington, Maine last summer we had a conversation at the local farmer's market with Nancy Wynne, who was selling Guatemalan handicrafts. The Wynne family formed the Guatemalan Housing Alliance in 2011. The mission of the foundation is to build homes for the worst off of the poor indigenous people within the country in the Lake Attilan region. Wanting to help with their mission, Alan had been in communication with them over the past months. With a new building project planned for April near San Marcos, we made the necessary arrangements.

The 300 square foot home consist of two rooms with 3 windows, a locking door, a concrete floor and a corrugated metal roof. The structures are basic but a far cry from the sugar cane or corn stalk lashed walls that are providing housing for so many of the Guatemalans at this time. The homes are built for $2000 to $3000, all from donations, and are completed within 10 days with the help of a small paid crew and a number of volunteers. Check out their website at: Guatemala Housing Alliance

As Alan headed up the mountain via tuk tuk each morning, I spent the days studying Spanish, shopping in the market places, writing and talking with the transplants. The weekend brought some other stories but that is another blog.

Village basketball court

Small hand pushed ferris wheel

One of the village pathways
Our dining room in the gardens
Our kitchen
One of the many birds sighted in the garden

San Marcos Catholic church

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