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Lake Atitlán

 

 

Lago de Atitlán is reputed to be the most beautiful lake in the world, and it’s tough to argue. A stunning backdrop of mountains and extinct and dormant volcanoes complete the already-inspiring scenery at the lake’s shores.

 

The picturesque town of Santiago Atitlán sits on the far side of Lake Atitlán, and it is a good thing that it does. On the other side of the lake, the embarkation spot for memorable boat trips, is the tourist town of Panajachel. Once you’ve seen Panajachel, hop on the lake ferry and head for Santiago.

 

Nearing Santiago Atitlán, a maze of floating reeds comes into view, out of which emerge small fishing boats; on rocky outcrops, women wash clothes. The settlements around the lake—there are 12 of them—are all named after the Apostles (Santiago is named for St. James), and halfway across, one sees the Cerro de Oro (the “Mountain of Gold”) and Tolimán volcano. Most afternoons a strong wind called the Xocomil, “wind that carries away sin,” blows across the more than 1,000 foot-deep lake. From the harbor, it is a relatively steep walk uphill to the main part of the town. On the way, shops selling crafts and masks line the route. Small children play football in the dusty street.

 

I came here to meet someone, for this place is the home of local saint Maximón. Ask anyone directions to his home. He changes homes often, but always resides in the house of a member of the local religious fraternity. It is considered a serious lapse of etiquette to visit him but not leave anything, even if it is just a dollar for a photograph. Members of a priestly caste surround him.

 

Maximón also is known as San Simón or Alvarado, after Pedro de Alvarado, a ruthless conquistador who led the first Spanish expedition into the Guatemala region. His shrine is littered with cups of aguadiente (a local booze), cigars, crumpled money and other presents.

 

It is thought that he is a later representation of an older Mayan god. When the Catholic Church grew in strength, the local people combined the attributes of the older God into San Simón — indeed the name Maximón is a combination of Simón and max (pronounced mawsh), the Mayan word for tobacco. There are shrines to him in several Guatemalan towns apart from Santiago Atitlán, most notably, in Nahualá, San Jorge la Laguna and Zunil.

 

Beginning on the Sunday following the full moon of the spring equinox (a holy time to the Maya), Maximón is paraded around the town amid great spectacle and noise. On Monday he is then taken to two specific rocks—as he is once every month—down by the lake to be washed. The water used to wash him is bottled and sold: it is considered a sort of cure-all. I must have been there during one of his washdays, for seven or eight men picked him up and started to walk along the road.



Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Rafting the Coyolate, Proyecto Ecológico Quetzal, Posada de Santiago, Lake Atitlán, I Love My Antigua Guatemala Dentist At Clinicas De La Cruz, Cancuén, La Serenidad De Vilaflor, Lake Atitlan Volcano Tour, San Pedro Las Huertas Guatemala - Go For The Color, Panajachel and Antigua.


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