Tuesday, February 20, 2018

considering atitlan

Mexpatriate is broadcasting this morning from the shores of Lake Atitlan.

If you do not know the name, that is quite all right. Even though it is Guatemala's largest lake (and one of its primary tourist magnets), it is not as well-known as some of the world's great lakes. Titicaca. Como. Baikal.

But it is a pleasant enough place. And certainly popular with the international crowd. Backpackers and ex-hippies abound.

For the Guatemalans, it is a prime recreation area. In Mexico, Mexicans head to the beaches during Semana Santa. Guatemalans throng around the shores of Lake Atitlan.

We arrived here (in Panajachel) yesterday for a one-night stand right on the lake. But it was not a day of relaxation. We boarded a boat for a quick trip across the lake to San Pedro La Laguna for a lunch of muddy-tasting tilapia.

At least, mine was. I was the only person to have unwisely chosen to eat the fish grilled.

When we left the restaurant, I noticed this unusual site. A Jewish recreation center and meeting place -- in Guatemala. Apparently, the lake has a sizable Jewish community. Including an Orthodox community in San Juan La Laguna, where their presence is somewhat controversial.

That is where we went next. To San Juan La Laguna. In nine road racing tuk tuks.

Where we were treated to the obligatory lecture on Maya medicine -- complete with a staged herbal garden.

And then to the even more obligatory talk on the manufacture of hand-loomed cotton textiles.

Both presentations gave us the opportunity to leave more Quetzals in the local economy. I walked, instead. A lot.

I am not being churlish. I fully support anything that can transfer wealth from one person to another. It is the free market. And Guatemalans are expert at the art of convincing tourists to buy something they had no idea they so desperately needed in exchange for a wad of bills that the tourist will never miss. Adam Smith at his purist.

It truly is a movable feast of merchandise. Or a kidnapping gone bad.

The lake is surrounded by volcanoes. In fact, it is a volcano. The remnants of one, at least. The lake fills a caldera of a volcano that blew its top 84,00 years ago. Leaving a lake that is quite deep. 1120 feet.

But we have become accustomed to volcanoes on our journey through Guatemala. This volcano in Antigua greeted us each morning, from our breakfast terrace, with an eruption.

And that reminds me of food. Because I have little more to say about the lake, I want to share a few food photographs with you. And tortillas would be a great place to start.

The tortillas here are quite thick. In Mexico, we would probably call them gorditas. They are made of one of the four colored corns of Guatemala. You can see three here.

In the same market, I started negotiating for a taste of the armadillo or the caiman (just out of sight). I was going to pass on the iguana.

But the owner was interested in selling only a full armadillo or a large chuck of caiman. I have tasted both, and I was far more interested in the caiman.

Before I could indulge my itch, I was called away to join the tour group.

I am almost certain it would have tasted better than the pizza at this stand. The real thing looked even less appetizing than the photograph on the front of the booth.

Speaking of signs, let me share three with you. Guatemala is still a pre-literate society in many respects. But signs like this sell sandwiches. Even though I first thought he was eating a turtle.

And if you have too much to drink, there are signs to remind you what not to do.

But this is by far my favorite sign. I saqw it this morning a block from the lake. A perfect pun in Spanish.

I hear my group meeting in the lobby. So, I need to wrap up this episode, We are on our way to the airport in Guatemala City to fly to Tikal.

Tikal is why I came on this trip. Join me there.

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