Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day Trip to Santiago Atitlan

We have befriended a wonderful tuk-tuk driver named Victor, who drives #88. He is smart, funny, and full of energy. When we get rides in his tuk-tuk, we each practice learning each other's language. I have to admit, his English is better than my Spanish... but I'm catching up!  :)
We were chatting with him last week and he told us that he was born and raised in Santiago Atitlan, which is the largest town on the lake. (Google map here.)We told him we would like to visit there someday, and he said that he would love to take us and show us around, but only if we could pay for the rental cost of his tuk-tuk for the day, as he wouldn't be able to work. The cost would be Q125, or about $20.25. We agreed!
So yesterday morning at 8am, we met him in Pana near his house. We walked down to the pier and he found us a boat going to Santiago. It cost Q15 for him, but Q25 each for Bert and I. Hmmm...

I think I snapped about a dozen pictures of this adorable cat in Jucanya. You don't often see cats here!
His ears are curled back, and he has one blue eye and one yellow eye!

Bert walking over the old blue bridge. You can see just ahead of him people have put rocks and a stick to warn of a missing board. Very scary! But it's a nice shortcut into the lower part of Panajachel.

This young boy's job was to yell out the boat's destination, "Santiago Santiago Santiago!"

The many cool lanchas that take people all over the lake. The wooden docks are kinda tricky!
They wobble quite a bit when you walk on them. 

Once the boat was full, the young boy untied it and hopped aboard to ride at the front. All the big bags of the passengers get piled up at the front of the boat. The bow rides very high, so it was hard to get pictures as we went across the lake.

Santiago from the water.
Victor and I spent the 30-minute boat ride talking about places we had visited. I told him about forests and maple trees and bears and outhouses and snowmobiles. He told me about going to the mountains with his grandfather to pick coffee. 
Once we arrived at Santiago, we saw right away the evidence of the rising waters of Lake Atitlan.
Poor Ramirez... his tienda is sunk!
As in all the towns on the lake, the main street going up from the docks to the market is lined with vendors. They seemed to have less textiles and more wooden crafts than in Pana. Victor said the street was all newly paved. It was lovely!
Jade carvings, masks, necklaces, and crocheted Minions!

Nice new road and sidewalk.

Bert deftly avoiding a chicken bus. There were quite a few of them in town, plus a bazillion tuk-tuks.
Victor told us an in-town ride is only Q3 in Santiago because of the increased competition plus the lack of tourists.

Walking up the street towards the main square and market. We noticed there were a lot less gringos here.

Bert strolling along.
Victor was a very informative tour guide. He told us that the Mayans on this side of the lake are Tz'utujil, which is what he is, while the Mayans on the Pana side are Kaqchikel. He said that the traditional colours for Santiago Mayans were red head-wear, light-coloured blouse with small birds, and a red skirt. This style has changed over the years, most notably that the embroidered birds have become quite large now, and they are using a larger variety of colours.
Part of the market, which is basically people lined up on the sides of the street selling fruits, vegetables, fish, and a variety of other things. You can see the sign up top right, El Gallo más Gallo. Translated it means The Rooster More Rooster, which makes no literal sense, but Victor said it meant a very macho rooster! 

The center square of Santiago Atitlan, full of people relaxing, kids playing, dogs scrounging, and vendors vending. 

Our dog, Pachi, is from Santiago, but we didn't see any dogs like her. There were lots of lovely chuchos though.
Victor took us up to the big Catholic church that stands out above the other buildings. On our way there, he waved and shouted at many of his friends, and stopped to chat briefly with his cousin.

Victor on the left chatting with his cousin, Bert chillin' on the right.

The outside of the big church. Kids of all ages were playing in the square and along the buildings.
Victor said it was okay to go in the church, as long as we were quiet and respectful. I was nervous to take pictures but he said, "Don't worry. I talk to my people." :) It took a fair bit of coaxing to get Bert to go inside though.

Not sure why the statues are wearing nightgowns. There were probably 10 alcoves each with statues like this.

An old Mayan woman praying at the front of the church.

Victor admiring an old statue with a dreadlocks wig. He said he remembered it from his childhood.
We put Q2 in the donation box at his feet.

One of the amazing religious displays at the back of the church. 
It was dark in the back of the church, lit only by candles and the light coming through stained glass windows. The church was very old, with huge handcarved wooden displays, and thick dark wood doors. It was so beautiful.
I felt embarrassed to take pictures, so I took a video instead. The link is at the bottom of this post.
Behind the church were gardens and walkways. Victor said it was for "the women of religion" and motioned to a head-dress. I taught him the word, "nun". :)

This is the front courtyard of the church, with the San Pedro volcano in the background.
After the church, we strolled off towards Victor's parent's house. He said it was very far, and asked if we wanted to get a tuk-tuk but we thought it would be cooler to walk and see things along the way. It turned out it wasn't very far at all by our standards!
Not sure what this fancy door is for. I asked if it was a "night club", code for brothel, but Victor laughed and said, "No."

Santiago is very different from Panajachel. Number one, it is very hilly. We were always walking either up or down a slope, sometimes QUITE steep!
Also, there were rocks piled up all over, used as walls, and even put in open windows to block the light.

Almost every building in Santiago was made of grey cinder blocks with a tin roof. The orangish "castle" stood out.
We arrived at Victor's family's home, which is actually a combination of three homes: his grandparents, his uncle, and his own parents. They were all lovely and welcoming, even though I don't think they spoke much Spanish. They all spoke Tz'utujil, even Victor!
We were surprised to see pigeons at their house, which are very rare in this area, believe it or not. I think they mostly get eaten. They were feeding these ones corn, so perhaps they're destined for the table as well. Victor caught one and gave it to me to hold. That's his mom in the background. 
Victor's family's home was so interesting and eye-opening. We wanted to take more pictures, but didn't want to seem rude. His mother was making the hand-beaded animals we see sold by vendors on the street, while his aunt was making beaded necklaces. Their rooms were all made of cinder blocks, pretty much unadorned, though they had beds with mattresses, and a TV and stereo. The rooms stacked up on top of one another. Victor says they have to build upwards because the city is so crowded. The bulk of their small property was taken up by gardens and trees, which is where everyone was sitting in the warmth of the day.

This is part of their garden. They have papaya trees there, plus something that I think was squash.

Bert took many pictures from the higher level looking out over the city. There are a LOT of trees in Santiago compared to the scrubby landscape of Panajachel.

One of the trees in their garden was a granada tree.... pomegranate! Victor's mother was impressed that I knew how to knock the back to get the arils out. 

Looking up at the other vertical houses in the neighbourhood.

They also had a coffee tree! They were not ripe, but we still opened one up to look inside.
Bert ate one of the unripe beans and said it was slimey and sweet, and kinda tasted like a green bean.

The pomegranate tree on the left, and a lime tree on the right. Such abundance in such a small space!

Their new dog, Tigre. He was a bit growly when we first came in but settled down nicely. They also had two adult cats and two wee kittens, plus a cage with budgies in it.

Another view from the top of Victor's family's house.

More grey houses and green trees.

Looking down, you can see how sloped the whole city is, plus the cinder block construction.

This was their kitchen cooking area. They had another stove downstairs too.
We loved that we got to visit Victor's family and see the home where he grew up. It was so fascinating to see how they lived: the simple lifestyle, the close family ties. It was also great to see Victor smiling with his family and reminiscing about his childhood in this house.
I don't know how to say this politely, but I kept thinking that it was fascinating that he was not ashamed to show us where he lived. To us, to first-world people, this is poverty... but he doesn't think he is poor. He has everything he could ask for: shelter, food, and love. He was proud to show us his mother's beadwork, proud to tell us how he and his father built the additional rooms, proud to share the abundance of the garden fruits. It was a humbling and wonderful visit.
We had more things to see, however, so we said our goodbyes and walked out into the steep streets of Santiago again.
We had walked down this very steep street to get to Victor's house, but I refused to walk up it again! We took another way around.

Acks, more hills!

We taught Victor the word "alley". You can see more dark volcanic rocks piled up or cemented together. 

Up and down and up and down. 

Some of the really steep streets had metal "speed bumps" that I think were really "slow bumps" so you wouldn't get out of control. 

Santiago sits between the volcanoes: San Pedro on one side, and Toliman and Atitlan on the other. 

An amazing handcarved wooden seal.

We grabbed a tuk-tuk to get a ride to the "biew", as Victor put it. (He meant "view"! There is no V sound in Spanish.)

Victor told us about how he used to wear a mask and dive for crabs and catch them with his bare hands! He laughed and said he didn't even like to eat them. 

The hill that we came up in the tuk-tuk, and later walked down.

We went to see the cemetery. Each family has an area, and they build their mausoleums upwards, rather than digging down.
Victor said that sometimes people just come to the cemetery to cry. He said maybe his great-grandfather is buried there but he doesn't know. It was an interesting place, and I wanted to go in and see more, especially the pretty colourful ones near the back, but it seemed a place not to intrude.
The cemetery was a dead-end road (eek, bad pun!) so we turned to walk back down the hill.
The city of Santiago Atitlan. Down at the bottom, you can see the place where the women wash their clothes on the rocks.

Bert zoomed in the camera to get a shot of this woman washing clothes.
I talked with Victor about the washing ladies. He told me they used to wash with a plant, but now they all use detergents, which are bad for the lake. But it is cheaper and easier, so that's how they do it. I was impressed that he knew about the ecological impact, which is highly publicized by gringos and certain Guatemalan groups as well. It seems the message of sustainability and saving Lake Atitlan is out there, but as with most green initiatives, it's cost that prohibits compliance.
Another shot of the city of Santiago Atitlan.

As we were walking, we noticed that many people were lining the street. Victor asked one lady what was going on, then said to me, "One person is dead." What? Apparently, the people were lining the street to see the funeral procession go to the cemetery. Victor said, "They have to see the person."
We never did see the procession because we walked off the main street and down a small cobbled laneway that seemed very old. Victor stopped to speak in Tz'utujil to a young girl leaning out a window and then announced happily, "This is the house of my grandfather!" We opened the door and walked in to this covered alley.
There were several doors opening off of this covered ally. One door was his grandparent's room, another his cousin's family.

This is the room where his grandparents sleep. Tin and stone walls, a hammock, and a mattress. A open part of the tin roof let in some light. It was stifling hot.

Another picture of Victor's grandparents bedroom.
Victor's teeny old grandmother was there, but not his grandfather. We also got to meet his cousin, Juan, who had the most amazing marimba! He played for us, and even let me bang on the keys.
Victor's cousin and his marimba. It was very intricately carved. 
We only stayed a few minutes there before moving on, as the day was passing quickly. We walked out into the streets again, looking for someplace to have lunch.
Victor leading the way. And ... a stop light!! We hadn't seen one anywhere in Guatemala yet!

An awesome chicken bus. There are roads leading from Santiago Atitlan around the lake back to Panajachel, but it is quite a bumpy ride. There are also roads leading to the ocean.
View from our restaurant.

Victor took us to a very colourful restaurant on the main street. It was called Restaurante Pescador. (Fisherman) We got to sit up on the second floor where there was a nice breeze. We were pretty darn footsore, having walked for probably four hours at that point! Victor was complaining about sore feet and said it was because he rides in his tuk-tuk all day, and never walks. :)
Victor on the right, me on the left. Such a bright and cheerful place!

Bert took some great photos from the restaurant looking down on the street.

Roofs are where people seem to stash all their stuff, probably because there are not basements.

Young girls, two in Mayan dress and one in "American" clothes. 
We talked to Victor about wearing traditional clothes. He said that he would only wear his for a presentation at school or something. Bert was curious about why people stare at him for wearing shorts. Victor told us that he only wears shorts in the house, and he puts on pants if he is going outside on the street. Strange.
They were some amazing wooden masks in Santiago.

Such a fascinating assortment of people in Guatemala. A Mayan grandmother with a baby on her chest, holding the hand of a young girl wearing "American" clothes. And I have to say that Mayan women are obsessed with shoes, most particularly wedge heels. They are always wearing nice modern shoes with their traje (traditional dress).

More tuk-tuks in Santiago.

I ordered a lime juice with water, and Victor an orange juice with soda. So fancy! We laughed. :)

Victor and I ordered fried chicken for Q50 (about $8.09 Canadian) and Bert had hamburger combo for Q40 ($6.47) He said it was the best fries he's had yet! Our chicken was excellent too, if a bit dry, and Victor raved over the tortillas. (They're in the basket with the cloth, nice and hot!)
We lingered over lunch and talked with Victor about ideas for him to make money giving tours to gringos. He is very smart, funny, helpful, knows four languages, and is very eager to provide for his family. (He has a wife and small son.) We are hoping he and Bert can find a way to earn some extra cash with a tourist-oriented business venture. 
Faster than we knew, it was 3:00 and time to head home. The boat ride back was significantly bumpier due to the rising wind and waves, but nothing compared to some rides I've taken on Lake Huron. I loved it! The sun, the spray of the water, the fluffy clouds, and the sight of the green hills. I was smiling like a dummy and just so happy and grateful to be in Guatemala.
Bert enjoying the ride back to Panajachel.
Sorry for the extended length of this post, but it was a jam-packed day. There are many, many more photos on my Shutterfly page here.
And please visit my Youtube channel to see videos of the church, our tuk-tuk ride, and the bumpy boat trip home.
Until next time, mis amigos!  :D