Monday, August 31, 2009

It Just Keeps Getting Better

First, an apology ... unbeknownst to me, my camera battery was low and thus almost every picture I took today that wasn't in direct sunlight is blurry, so there'll be few pictures today.

The morning started with breakfast on the patio of our stunning hotel, and then continued with a walk through the gardens, where parrots and toucans looked on from overhead. From there, we road into town in one of the many tuk-tuks that ply the roads, and headed out for sea -- or rather, for lake.

The lake is routinely traversed by a variety of different types of boats. First, there are the flat-bottomed, traditional wood canoes used by the fisherman. Next are the launches that regularly cross the lake, takeing people from town to town, or even from a solitary dock to the next town. Like the collective minibuses, they ply the routes and pick up and drop off passengers along the way. And then there are the larger tour boats, and the smaller kayaks, all of which give the lake a unique charm.

We first took a launch to San Marcos La Laguna, a tiny village that must house about 30 yoga and spiritual retreats. There's nothing much there, but Ellery and I found a quite little bit of rocky beach and had an improptu swim in the lake.

Then we moved on to San Pedro La Laguna. Again, there wasn't much to the town, but it was well situated to take in the view of all three volcanos. Here we rented some horses and while the landscape was not particularly pretty or interesting, it had the benefit of having horses that could actually be riden (as opposed to being brainwashed trail horses) and Ellery for the first time experienced the comfort of cantering and the joy of riding without restraints.

The third and last village we visited was the largest and most interesting, Santiago Atitlan. The residents of Santiago speak only a Mayan language; very few spoke even Spanish. And the dress was also unique -- men wore white pants with birds and flowers embroidered on them; women wore head dresses that were what appeared to be very long red belts wrapped around their heads. The main path from the dock was lined with the usual assortments of shops and stalls, although with the addition of art galleries featuring paintings in traditional Mayan style.

And just out of town was what has to be one of the most bizarre religious shrines I've ever seen -- a small little building housing the evil spirit of Maximon.
Maximon is a wooden figure festooned with silk ties ... yes, silk ties and scarves. There's a cigar in his mouth and two ashrays at this sides. And the Mayans bring him offerings. Really, really strange. (And I'm particularly upset that this picture of him is also blurry, since I paid a good Q5 to take it).

From there we went to the Church, dating from the 1500's. Again ... not your typical sight. The wooden sculptures of the saints were covered in garish fabrics and the really special ones were wearing, yes, ties.

After a visit to the produce market in Santiago, we returned across the lake, taking in some last beautiful vistas before leaving this paradise and taking a minibus to Antigua.
The road to Antigua has little of note along the way; even worse, at one point you pass through the ubiquitous third-world urban sprawl of concrete buildings that are either falling down or unfinished (you can never tell), piles of trash along the roads, and huge trucks spewing out black smoke from their tailpipes. I confess, I feared that this was a preview to Antigua, but I was very wrong. At least, I think I'm wrong.

We arrived in Antigua after dark, and just as it started to pour, so thus far we've seen only our hotel, but what a hotel it is. A 16th century palace just off the main square, very recently redone as a luxury hotel. The rooms surround a Spanish style courtyard, with open air hallways lined with comfortable couches ... one of which I am sitting on right now, finishing up this installment of our travels.