Antigua and Atitlan, resonating cities
Marcela Acevedo Rojas
I landed in the Guatemalan capital anxious about my future encounter with the marvelous Antigua. Sofia Novella, a Guatemalan plastic artist and friend I knew a few years back in France, offered me her company and guide for my visit to her country. The trip from the airport to Antigua was serene and without traffic. The warm weather and fresh breeze marked a perfect start to my visit.
Upon arriving to the city we were greeted by beautiful sceneries, such as a food market filled with colors and unimaginable sounds; smiling women dressed in their typical clothes, Huipiles, embroidered with colorful bird motifs, flowers and geometric figures.
The streets curled between canopies, plantain loaded trucks made for an enjoyable view with their intense green colors, and street vendors rested in their stands filled with wonderful crafts. Everyone walked in different directions, houses made from brick and mortar disappear behind the clothe lines hung from the balconies, transforming everything into a symphony of color and movement.
We exited the market and leaving our car behind walked through the cobblestone streets of Antigua, which is the only way to really enjoy the radiant energy of this beautiful city. As the weather changed it became somewhat fresh and the light shone in griseous tones making the building colors look neutral.
We lived an amazing experience in a relaxing, romantic, and charming Antigua.
We went through the Arc of Santa Catalina, an unmistakable city landmark, whose history is tied to the construction of the Santa Catalina Virgen y Martir convent. The arc became a walkway that hid the convent’s nuns from the gaze of the people in the city. As I stood in front of the structure I felt uneasy as I imagined the young ladies crossing from side to side without being seen, but it seems I was not the only one who felt this way as many authors took inspiration on this story as well. Such as the renowned Guatemalan author, Miguel Angel Asturias, who wrote the poem Lunar Clarity (Claridad Lunar) while thinking about the Arc street.
As darkness settled in, steps were heard in the colonial city and the night disappeared among stories, myths, and invisible magic. The following morning, with clear and bright skies, we had a typical Guatemalan breakfast called “chapin” which consisted of: fried ranchero style eggs, refried beans, fried plantain strips, and rustic cheese. As we turned back to the street I found the Dona Maria Gordillo candy shop, filled with traditional sweets such as milk canillitas, cocadas (coconut), along with guava and tamarindo treats. I bought a good amount to try them while sitting at the Plaza Mayor, in front of the mermaids fountain, a design inspired in the Neptuno de Bolona fountain.
Chasing the water
As the time came to visit Lake Atitlan, I said farewell to the magical city and my kind companion, Sofia. At noon I left for the department of Solola in a public bus and traveled for three hours through a very good highway until we reached the road that lead to Panajachel.
As soon as we started to descend the mountain the lake came into view and it was overwhelming.
At port we got on a boat that would lead us to Santa Cruz, somewhere in the middle of Xocomil. While on the boat, a strong wind started blowing rippling the water surface, this phenomenon happens when warm winds from the south collide with cold air fronts from the plateau, locals were already used to this but I became very nervous until, Carlos, the Captain assured me “don’t worry, I know my lake.”
After 20 minutes we reached the Laguna Lodge Hotel. In my first sunrise after a good night’s rest, I opened the balcony window to a cloudy and soundless morning. You could barely hear the clashing of the water against the dock. I held my breath as the serenity and calmness of the magical Lake Atitlan encompassed my heart. At this moment I remembered a legend narrated by a native about Xocomil which said: in those waters hid a strange creature, “a type of giant serpent, an ancient monster, and a being from a parallel world or strange natural abomination”.
From the hotel’s spectacular view over the lake you could also see the Atitlan, Toliman, and the San Pedro volcanoes. As the magnificent sunset came in, the lake’s waters summoned me inside as the temperature was warm and the water perfectly still. Waves passed by in a delicate manner as if they were silk rolls entwining among themselves.
The following day I set out to get to know the villages neighboring the lake and boarded a boat that took me from dock to dock until I reached Panajachel, the only place suited for extreme sports such as air gliding. After some 40 minutes on the bed of a pick-up truck we reached the top, where a large number of tourists from all around the world met to challenge these beautiful volcanoes and the difficulty of the winds in order to experience a truly amazing flight. My jump was perfect.
As I floated in the air hanging on my wings, I encompassed my flying spirit with that of birds until the applause and laughter of the natives who greeted us at the beach pulled me out of my dream.
I then rode a tuc-tuc to get to Santa Catarina Palopo, where the most important looms in Atitlan are located. As I arrived on the street of crafts and fabrics, women dressed in their typical wardrobes started appearing all around, walking and smiling with their baskets filled with fruits and sweets. I stood amazed after seeing the beautiful creations that came out of the looms, true universes of texture and color.
As I returned to Panajachel, a little boat drawing caught my attention so I asked an old lady close by what it meant. She said it was the legend of Tatuana: “Thanks to this tattoo, Tatuana, you will always flee when you find yourself in danger, just as you will run away today”.
She concluded by saying: “It is my will that you are as free as my thought; draw this little boat on a wall, the ground, the air, or wherever you like, close your eyes, get in and leave”.
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