Lake Atitlan is Guatemala’s gem, or at least one of its many jewels. It is renowned for its scenery – it is a scenic set-piece that is astonishing. It wowed the likes of Aldous Huxley thus, “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”
Landscape impresses but with people you connect. It is the people of Atitlán that I will remember most.
In the twelve lakeside villages, the majority of the women still dress in their traditional hand-loomed costumes. Colours and patterns vary according to which village you come from – in one village the women wear red and black stripes whilst in the next-door village blue and purple zigzags might be de rigueur. Or in another, Santiago Atitlán for example, the women’s pale lilac or blue huipils, a sleeveless tunic, are covered in dozens of embroidered birds.
Many women wear headdresses. Again this is a distinguishing feature of residence. Some wear a colourful cloth folded in layers while others wear a cloth wound loosely about the head like a turban – such headdresses represent the snake a symbol of fertility.
The best place to see such colour, to see the difference in patterns and designs are the local markets. There are many markets in the region – Chichicastenango, Solola and Comalapa to name but a few. They are all ablaze with colour: the colour of the embroideries, the colour of the flowers, the colour of the vegetables and the colour of the characters. Diminutive figures of men shuffle slowly forward in cowboy hats, colourful garb and oversized wellington boots. Women weave between the stalls balancing heavy loads on their heads.
Whilst dress might be distinctive and a determinant as to where people are from, common to them all is their friendliness. Wherever I go, the endearing shy reticence of the people of Atitlan easily and quickly breaks into a warm and friendly smile. The landscape might amaze but it is such warmth that wins you over.