From rio dulce we made our way to Antigua. Antigua is a beautiful city full of charm and quirks. It was nice to have a few days just wondering about from cafe to bar. It's a beautiful city with a volcano dominating the horizon and little doorways everywhere that open into huge shops or courtyards and gardens.
Next stop chichicastenango, one of Guatemala largest markets via three chicken buses. Guatemala's chicken buses are different to Belize. They are still old American school buses but they are seriously pimped up! And the seating arrangements are very different. In Belize it was one person per seat, in Guatemala it's more like a game of buckaroo. So one small two seater bench fits three people. I was on the end half on half off. A lady stood in front of me leaning over the seat in front with her basket, inches from my face. A gentlemen stood right next to her and when we veered left would end up on my lap. Another lady balanced her lunch on my head for a bit while one more sat, yes sat, for over an hour on my hip. This is not for the claustrophobic! And still no chickens. The market was huge and loud and full of colour but people weren't as in your face as I had expected which was nice. The textiles here are amazing, intricate and colourful. I succumbed and brought a wall hanging.
From the market we made our way to lake Atilan. It was a busy day but we made it to the shore in time for the sunset and a beer on the pier. The lake is amazing and from where we sat we had a backdrop of four volcanoes towering over the other side of the water. So beautiful.
The next day we took a boat trip round the lake. We stopped for a few hours in the afternoon in the town of Santiago, home to Maximon. Maximon is a combination of maya gods and Christianity's judas in the form of a wooden Statue covered in silk Ties smoking a cigar. He moves homes every year and it is a great honour to provide him a home. People come from all around to receive his blessing and bring offerings of cigarettes and alcohol, rum being his favourite. A statue of Mary lies in a glass cabinet next to him and dried flowers and stuffed animals hang from the ceiling. An unusual and surprising mix of Christian and Mayan tradition.
We carried on by boat to San Juan la Laguna, a traditional Mayan village. The village is run by cooperatives, weaving and art being two of these. Here we were given the privilege to stay in someone's home and spend the evening with them and there family. Domingo and his family where so lovely. He lives with his wife and six children in a tradition Mayan home. There is a kitchen with a wooden burning stove and two or three bedrooms. Their clothing is traditional so the women all wear these amazing brightly coloured skirts spun and woven by the cooperatives. Things are much simpler here. The family were so welcoming and tried to teach us how to make tortillas. Mine did not look like theirs! Their first language is Mayan but they spoke some Spanish as did Steph so we were able to chat and share stories and ask questions about each others lives. The kids where gorgeous and taught us card games and where very interested in our cameras so I now have hundreds of photos of their faces from different angles. It was a wonderful and fascinating evening.
Planeterra is a charity supporting conservation initiatives for sustainable development around the world including this home stay small business initiative that enabled us to be able to stay in their houses. These projects aim to increase income, conserve their cultural heritage and support the long-term health of the picturesque landscapes that the tourism industry relies upon. They are now working together to develop the small businesses in the town and providing grants and training to help mitigate negative environmental and cultural impacts of tourism. It's a fantastic company and a wonderful way of supporting these communities.
The next day we journeyed back to Antigua ready to meet dad!