November 5, 2009

Making the Best of a Sunny Day on Lake Atitlan

On Tuesday, the sun came out all day, and we were able to enjoy Lake Atitlan as best we could, without getting into the water. From San Marcos, we walked down to the lake, and along a path that led through dense forest and near steep cliffs. The views across the lake of several volcanoes and the clear blue sky were astounding. The path we were walking along was quite narrow in parts. Really, the worst that could happen is that you could fall into the water, but that did not seem very appealing.

Lake Atitlan is covered with algae that has turned the crystal clear water a brownish color in most parts. In addition, the smell of untreated waste is strong in some parts. That certainly put a damper on the experience. Most locals seem to think that the problem with the lake is temporary. They point out that it has started to get better, with the wind and cold of the past few days. Others say that a clean-up effort will begin soon and that the lake will be restored to its crystalline self. I hope they are right, but I fear that Lake Atitlan will become the next Lake Amatitlan – a highly polluted, green lake near Guatemala City.

When we finished our short hike, we went back to San Marcos la Laguna, where the kids played on a slightly decrepit metal play set for quite a while. As they played, I sat in the plaza and watched people go by. Most of the residents of San Marcos seem to be either white American or European yoga types or indigenous Guatemalans. Most of the gringos live in fancy concrete structures in the part of the town close to the lake, while the Guatemalans live in humbler houses made of all sorts of materials, on the other side of town, farther from the lake. That said, a few gringos passed by us in the plaza, on their way to the other side of town. A young man at the store told us that the segregation is not complete.

The gringo part of San Marcos is replete with yoga facilities, meditation centers, holistic medicine centers, Reiki centers, and people who frequent those sorts of facilities. I thought about taking a dance class while I was there, but never got around to it.

In the evening, we took the kids to have pizza at the Pizzeria Media Luna. It was half-decent pizza, but the kids never seem to notice pizza quality. After that, Nando and I ate at Paco Real, where we shared a delicious bistec a la veracruzana. We also decided to switch hotels, and stayed at the Paco Real the second night. It was slightly less comfortable than La Posada del Bosque Encantado, but the staff was tremendously more cheerful, and it was a better deal.

On Wednesday morning, Soraya and I woke up early and walked along the lake, admiring all of the gardens and fabulous houses in the gringo part of town, just along the lake. After our walk and a bit of homeschooling, we decided to set out for Santiago de Atitlan. A few people had told us that the water is clearer in that part of the lake, and we wanted to check it out. From San Marcos, we took a moto-taxi to San Pedro, as the boat for Santiago departs from there.

The boat to Santiago is a large vessel, with space for about 60 people. The girls were excited to be on a big boat – one on which they could run around. The trip across the lake was beautiful – with views of volcanoes and the surrounding greenery. On the boat, we met a group of folks who were headed to Sipacate, on the Pacific coast. In Santiago, we had a beer with them as we thought about whether or not we should join them.

I had been looking forward to relaxing in a natural wonderland, and had not quite had that experience in San Marcos. It had its moments, but I was pretty disappointed about not being able to swim or go kayaking in the lake. In Santiago, the water was a bit cleaner, but Santiago is a bigger city, and not as relaxing as I had hoped for. So, we decided to join our newfound friends on their trip to Sipacate. That turned out to be a real adventure.

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