Monday, June 28, 2010

Using Lago Atitlan

People (which people, I'm not exactly sure) call Lago Atitlan one of the most beautiful wonders of the world. It is beautiful. It has sustained life here for thousands of years. Fishing, washing clothes, bathing, drinking, cooking with the water, swimming, and most recently tourism.
As with most developing countries there is not knowledge of, nor room for environmental concern. Every year, the lake gets a little dirtier. More garbage gets washed into it. More algae blooms and cynobacteria appears. There is even a legend that an entire village is at the bottom of the lake. Who knew!
As tourism grows, locals' dependency relies on foreigners buying goods, spending money at restaurants, hotels, bars, tiendas, and recreation on the lake. The woman above in San Pedro is listlessly waiting for boats to arrive with new visitors, in which time she will try to sell her scarves and table runners. It was SLOW when we were there. Both because of Agatha, the eruption, the economy...and all the fear that surrounds them. An owner of a restaurant offered a happy hour in the middle of the day. It was noon and we were waiting for friends to arrive on a boat. "Two for one mojitos. A free drink with your lunch." Bored. Desperate. Waiting.
With Agatha came entire communities losing their source of water to their homes. Some never had it to begin with and depend on the lake for washing clothes. Biodegradable soap doesn't exist here. Well, it does, but it is about 20 times more expensive and in a gringo owned shop that is financially unattainable to locals. Environmentalism is a privilege. Survival is not.

As tourists, we decided to put some money in the kayak business. They appreciated it. We did too. Nick, Monique, Sarah and I set out on the lake to get a new perspective.
An unbelievably beautiful entity! Which, I might add, I am a little fearful of swimming in because of the pollution. I've been in twice in three weeks, and I LOVE the water and LOVE swimming.
The contrast of the vast stillness of the water with the power of the dormant volcanoes is breathtaking. Peace is abundant.
The communities of Lago Atitlan have done an amazing job cleaning the lake post Agatha. But people still throw things in the lake, rain comes and washes it off the hillsides, and no garbage gets buried, so even with a little wind, the garbage lands in the lake.
Not all of it is garbage. The little white pieces that look like Styrofoam are floating volcanic rocks. And little chunks of wood also bob along with the trash. The currents sweet them into long lines in the water.
Kayaking was beautiful, despite the garbage. The hugeness of the lake came alive when paddling along on the surface. We made it to a shore opposite San Pedro and eventually were driven off by three pre-teen boys that wouldn't stop pestering us. They told us to give them our money. Two of them tried (in a horse-play kind of way) to tip us over, in which time I pushed them off with the sharp edge of my paddle. Horse play turns quickly into danger in these parts. They eventually started throwing rocks at us. We quickly took to the safety of the open waters and recovered by singing Disney songs...then making our own Guatemala appropriate words to the same Disney tunes. It was a glorious day on the lake!


  1. Thanks for the Post about Atitlan, I have lived there and have visited several times. I will be in an Marcos in six weeks.

    Id like to film some documentary footage after reading this post. My wife and I have been filming for 10 months around Asia. I've been traveling for 6 years.

    maybe you would like our films on

  2. Can't believe it's been years since you posted this, but I just went back to your website and was amazed by the trailer for Within the Four Walls. Inspiring, touching, frustrating, educational. Thank you for your post, and keep up the incredible work!