The community of San Pablo is a few hundred meters above the lake . There are no tourists whatsoever and its Mayan life,very similar to as it was for the last few hundred years. Down to San Marco at the lake (Atitlan) , a 10 minute tuctuc ride from San Pablo, the town is owned by expats and tourists, filled with healthfood stores and yoga studios. We love the European bread we can buy here and we found a great restaurant in San Marco , best Guate-French food at the lake. And the Tourists and Expats help attract money to the lake communities .
Our campground is just outside San Marco , a beautiful spot above the lake. An adventurous Frenchmen , Pierre , built Pasaj cap cottages and campground on his steep but prime located property. We find community and friends there, the daily happy hour at the communal table brings together cottage dwellers and overlanders. Next to us is a lively kindergarten developing with a Canadian family and some friends with a daughter we have met a few times before , in Belize.
But for 2 weeks we are volunteering in San Pablo at the Guatemalan Housing Alliance and get a prime view into the mayan life and culture. We are working with the most poorly housed families and build new floors, new roofs and new houses. This small, but focused organization doing great work and we love to work with our project manager Patricia and builder Jorge. Here is why we recommend donating and volunteering for this organization :
- 100 % of donation goes to building or scholarships ( admin overhead is payed by a foundation )
- Families have to contribute before they get something (help 2 other houses get build , pay 25% of roof or floor cost)
- Patricia, the director, is super flexible and accommodates any type of help and schedule
- Houses are built only if the title of the property is in the womens name ( prevents the common case of husbands finding new girlfriends and sending former women and kids to the street)
- The combination of a monetary donation and volunteering made sense to us, to be able to acquire building materials and pay the construction foreman in addition to lending a hand
This opened our eyes to both ,the strong and proud community the Mayan pueblos enjoy and the dire poverty most of them live in. When Susanne asked what they need most , we instantly got a list from rice, corn,sugar, coffee and medical supplies. It becomes clear why even a minimum wage worker in the US is rich compared to the salaries payed here in Guatemala. Living on a few US dollars a day is not enough to sustain a family.
But as a tourist its also important to support the local crafts . The weaving collective in the next village ,San Juan , has a nice program demonstrating the dying and spinning of the wool and weaving of traditional cloth . I always feel bad if tourists brag with how low they negotiated the prices down at the market…. Its not fair to pay barely 10 dollars for beautiful hand made blankets and clothes, which take month to make. The collective has fixed prices in their crafts store and they are still very affordable.
The traditional dying techniques are especially fascinating and I feel I now can always recognize the beautiful natural colors from the blaring colored stuff from China.
Lake Atitlan is an amazing environment, not sure how to describe it , but we get tightly wrapped in its magic. Some of our Pasaj Cap community, we meet again in Antigua , where Norm is playing his cornet (trumpet ) in a local jazz club. Cheers to new, old and indigenous communities.