(Detail of a traditional fabric from San Juan Sacatepéquez, from the Ixtel Museum, Guatemala City.)
In front of the church at Jototenango near Antigua.
Its south-central Highlands are an attractive patchwork of green and varied fields, forests, valleys and mountains. After bright sunny mornings, rains arrive this time of year, bringing an aura of mystery as clouds drift through. For a desert-dweller, this is exciting.
Finally, add the extravagant Spanish architecture of the 16 century and the habit of painting otherwise ordinary buildings outrageous combinations of colors. All this makes Guatemala a color photographer’s dream locale.
The Department of Peten in the north occupies a third of the country and was once the center of a Mayan world of 9 million people and had the world’s largest city.
After its collapse in about 900 AD, Peten became almost uninhabited and largely unvisited until 40 years ago when the government moved people into the region. It remains healthily backwater by modern tourist standards, running on compact fluorescent bulbs or no power at all for two-thirds of the day in Tikal.
LAKE ATITLAN IN THE HIGHLANDS
Lake Atitlan from Casa del Mundo in morning calm.
Boats run like buses around and across the lake, loaded with provisions and tourists. Aldous Huxley famously compared it to Italy’s Lake Como but with volcanoes added, more beautiful than humanly permissible, he said. Saint-Exupery wrote The Little Prince here and the volcanoes on his planets are from Atitlan. It is Guatemala’s number one tourist attraction.
Income inequality and absolute poverty remain. This leads the ambitious to try to make it to the United States.
Unless you turn a deaf ear, there are tough stories behind beautiful places around Lake Atitlan. A few days after being there, I had dinner with a woman from Great Britain, Claire McKeown Davies and her husband, Chris, an acting teacher from the Old Vic in Bristol. Claire was working for Oxfam USA at a time when it was heavily involved in the cause of the poor farmers from whom the revolt against the government had sprung. When she came to Santiago Atitlan on the lake in l990, the government had just mowed down peasants from 13 villages who had marched, unarmed, on the military base outside of town. “It was a tense time,” she understates. Oxfam had become accustomed to the CIA raiding its offices in search of evidence against the rebels.
A food market scene from Santiago Atitlan....
... some roadside flowers--not the least bit unusual as they were sold in many little stalls on the rainy road from Panachel to Antigua.