The Hotel Tzanjuyu on Lake Atitlan seems to be right out of a story from Garcia Marquez. The former glory has faded the beautiful gardens have grown into the path and stucco falls off the walls . We are camping on the former lawn above the lake which has transformed into an uneven grassy field, barely kept green by the gardeners . We keep wondering whats the story of this magical place,which claims to be the first touristic hotel in Guatemala opened in 1885, where now we are the only guests after our overlander friends and another camper have left. It’s not helping, that the hotel manager seems to be trained to treat every customer request by presenting the long list of rules.
We are in Panajachel , just called Pana , the busy tourist settlement and starting point for boat shuttles around the lake . With the 3 towering vulcanoes around the lake always in view, we enjoy the buzzling town and mix of Ladinos , Mayas and Expats.
Our youngest daughter and her boyfriend have arrived again to meet us and we take a ride with a chicken bus up the hill to the governing town of the departemento, Solola.
Its one of a few towns where men also wear traditional clothing. The central plaza, high above Lake Atitlan is busy this Sunday with people strolling by and sitting on the benches in the shade.
One morning we wake up to Marimba music and find a traditional Mayan ceremony unfolding ,right next to our camp. A circle of flower peddles is created at the beach with stacked firewood in the middle. As the ceremony develops ,Man and woman add different colored jackets to their traditional clothing , light the fire and walk around the flower circle . For westerners like us its a difficult concept , that in order to have a successful harvest and a happy life , you need to work with the nature spirits and catholic saints , which where embraced by Mayans as powerful symbols.
Some say ,Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful lake in the world , but its not just the setting that entices us ,but the little towns around the shore and the transport by boat shuttle (launcha) from village to village .
On the side opposite to Pana, , we study the traditional and modern agricultural methods arround the lake . A finca sitting at 2800 m , grows our winter vegetables all year round , like sweet peas and broccoli. Down at the Lake in San lucas toliman, the mesoamerican permaculture institute is bringing traditional Mayan techniques together with a seedbank and instructional permaculture gardens . The hotel Toliman , where we spend a night has an exceptional beautiful application of permaculture gardens , which is providing most of the food for the attached restaurant.
Accessing and getting arround the Lake with our truck is still a challenge . With the steep vulcanoes and frequent mudslides , the roads are still a challenge . On our way to San Pedro ,on the far side of the lake, we ask for a police escort , to get us through an especially bad road . The small and steep unpaved areas of the road, require really slow driving , which invites robberies by armed and masked fellows .
We are relieved to drive down the vulcanoe into San Pedro and on to San Marcos ,towards the beautiful grounds of a frenchman , which will be our home for the next few weeks.