Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23 - March 26 - Lake Atitlan

When I left Antigua I knew I was going to Lake Atitlan, and I knew Rosario, my Mayan Spanish teacher for the next four days as I stayed with her and her family, would be waiting for me at a hotel parking lot, where the collectivo would drop me off, but that’s all I knew. As I’ve mentioned before, I like the feeling of adventure the uncertainty brings.

It took about 2 1/2 hours to reach Lake Atitlan, I found myself in the town of Panajachel, Rosario had been waiting a long time. We took a tuk tuk up the street, and transferred to a pick-up truck. The pick-up had a wooden bench on both sides. Many people crammed into the pick-up truck, also many packages. It was delightfully rustic. Off we went to some unknown place.

We travelled a narrow, winding road around the lake, the view looked to me like the Riviera, and low and behold there was a hotel called Hotel Riviera. I found myself in the small Mayan village of San Antonio.

I had missed one day of Spanish lessons and needed to catch-up, no boat around the lake, no visit to any of the other villages.

San Antonio is primitive, full of poverty, with open sewers trickling down into the lake, where women wash their clothes, and children swim.

Rosario’s house is clean with beautiful gardens and a magnificent view of the lake. Everyday Hilda, a young woman who ought to be in school, instead works as Rosario’s helper. All the girls in the village dress the same and they never change the style or colour of their clothing or hair adornment. This is not a Mayan tradition, but the tradition of Spanish subjugation. The Spanish wanted to know in which village each person belonged, and so they introduced different costuming for different areas of the country.

Rosario also dresses traditionally, but she’s an educated woman and has many different styles of blouses and skirts, and looks different every day.

She and her husband Santos have sacrificed a great deal for their children Jericho and Alexandra. Each day the children travel to a very expensive private school in Panajachel called “Life School” where they study in both English and Spanish.

The rest of the children in the village mostly speak Cakchiquel, a Mayan language. Those who go to school receive an inadequate education, and those who don’t go to school swim in the lake, or play in the street.

The little ones look like poster children for Foster Parts Plan or Save the Children - cute little kids with dirty faces and ragged clothes. As the commercial broadcasts, “For only a dollar a day you can help a child in so many ways.”

In spite of the poverty Lake Atitlan is paradise. This volcanic formed lake is said to be the most beautiful lake in the world.

The people of San Antonio are proud of their pueblo, and have built a lovely landing dock for the tourists boats. The tourists spend about half an hour visiting the village, hopefully spend some money at the craft shops, and leave.

But, that’s slowly changing, an American has come. He has built an imposing hotel. Rosario doesn’t like it much, because it blocks her view of the cemetery, I wonder what the significance of seeing the cemetery might be, but don’t ask.

Traditions collide with the need to be part of the modern world here in San Antonio, and I wonder, but not too hard, what the solution might be.

“A waste treatment plant would cost a lot of money,” I try to say in Spanish, but can’t find the words.

(the cabana without walls was my classroom. The garden and house belong to Rosario and her family. Hilda and her beautiful "traje".)

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