After leaving our family early in the morning, we checked into a hotel in Panajachel. This was our chance to explore the beautiful Lake Atitlan! I would have to describe this area as one of the most picturesque i have ever seen. The town looked over the lake toward more volcanos, which were all dormant. This is apparently one of the only places in Guatemala where you will see the locals using a contoured, or terraced system of farming, as there is very little flat land.
We caught a ride to the top of one of the mountains in the back of a ute. From here we walked all the way down to the lake.
Besides the amazing views we saw plenty along the way, mainly related to farming. It is the children’s responsibility to gather wood, and every two minutes we would have to make way as a child zoomed past us with a bindle of sticks on their back. We really did feel bad as we slipped and slid our way down the mountain taking regular breaks! Eventually we came upon a family that were harvesting some onions from their small veggie patch. Our guide explained that the sale of these would likely be their only source of income. We stopped and took some pictures, and Joe gave the children a packet of lollies that he had in his bag. The picture i took of them tells a story in itself.
I observed an amazing phenomenom where the Mayan children, especially the boys, had extremely aged faces. In a lot of cases a 5 year old child would have the face of a fully grown man. Oh, and yes – that is a machete in his hand!
Here is a great picture of a man’s crop on the edge of the mountain. The volcanic debris provides extremely fertile soil, however they have problems with erosion. As i mentioned before, this is one of the only places in Guatemala that they use a terrace/ contouring method of farming.
Here i am with the town in the background.
When we eventually reached the bottom of the mountain, we caught a boat across to a small town on the other side.
This town was the temporary home to a statue of one of the Maya people’s biggest gods. Maximo! Forgive me if i do not get all of the facts straight, but the story of Maximo is both intriguing and confusing.
It dates back to when the Spanish were invading. I imagine that Maximo would have been a giant warrior – maybe six to seven feet tall. Bare in mind that Mayans are typically less than 5 feet tall. Apparently they feared him and he was responsible for hundreds of their deaths. When the Spanish were victorious they started to idolise and appease him. Today, there is a mannequin like statue of him that moves from town to town within the brotherhood of the religion. The main part of the statue is his face, where the brotherhood members will constantly have a lit cigarette or cigar in his mouth. They will also pour alcohol into his mouth (i have no idea where if goes). If a cigarette dies before finishing, they will totally freak out and evacuate the room. The main brother will stay and put Maximo to rest in a designated sleeping area. After a few hours everyone else will return. The brothers themselves also have to maintain a constant state of drunkenness. This is amazing as Maximo will typically stay in their possession for a whole year before moving on to the next town!
Don’t get me wrong for all we know Maximo could be the real deal, but the cynic in me has led to other conclusions. Whilst in possession of Maximo, the brothers (it looked like there were about 5 of them) were the benefactors of all religious offerings. We paid about a dollar each to see him for example. Many Mayans request religious ceremonies while he is in town and can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege. In a country where the average family lives on $5 a day, i can see why Maximo is still around – besides the fact that he is a total badass!!!
It was at this town that Joe and I began our “hat challenge”. We each bought a handmade Mayan hat, where the first person to remove it from their head lost. What was at stake? Why would we do this? Pride of course! And yes, i can see the irony in that – though i am sure you agree that we look great. 🙂 The higher altitude meant that it was quite cold as well. Some of the girls bought ponchos to keep them warm. It made for a great photo!
A 30 minute boatride back and that was the end of a great day!
This place really is beautiful!