Of the sights in Guatemala not to miss, the 50-square-mile Lake Atitlán (located in Panajachel) is always one of the first to be mentioned. This ‘lake’ is actually a volcanic crater filled with water nestled between a landscape of volcanoes on all sides. Unfortunately in 2009 the Global Nature Fund designated this highland tropical lake as its “Threatened Lake of the Year.” The water has been contaminated with watershed runoff and waste water, this contributes to increased algae growth and bacteria that find its way into untreated drinking water. Non-profits in Guatemala have teamed up with organizations such as the United States EPA to assist the Guatemalan government in cleaning up and protecting the lake.
I spent one day and one night in Panajachel with two other volunteers from Trama; Julie (from France) and Marie (from Germany). Trama attracts volunteers from all over the world; currently our volunteers represent the countries of: France, Germany, Belgium, England, Japan, Canada and the United States. Although we have different backgrounds (and sometimes language barriers) the common goal of advancing Trama Textiles in whatever way we can bonds us together and makes for a dynamic group. One thing that Julie, Marie and I did while in Panajachel (other than admiring the lake) was visit the Nature Reserve. For a 6USD entrance fee you can take a hike (that involves crossing many swinging rope bridges-scary! but worth it) surrounded by monkeys, gurgling streams and waterfalls.
At 8am on Sunday we caught a bus up to Chichicastenango where the biggest and most famous indigenous market in Guatemala is located (best to go on a Thursday or Sunday). Here you can find fruits, vegetables, textiles, jewelry (Guatemala is known for very affordable jade), masks, and various other handicrafts of all kinds. The sights, sounds and smells of the market permeate your senses immediately upon entering the maze of stalls. “Chica! Chica! Bolsa for you? Maybe you need for your mother?”…the proprietors here know just enough English to attract your attention but be prepared to haggle in Spanish. If you so much as glance at a woman’s woven products with interest it is not unlikely that she will enthusiastically follow you for blocks no matter how many times you exclaim “No gracias.” As much as I would like to, you can’t buy from everyone.
View of a small fraction of the market from the steps of Iglesia de Santo Tomás