San Marcos - Guatemala

hOla amigos ; ) 

   For those of you reading this blog through your email - there are quite a few pictures below, so if your  system starts to hiccup or go into cardiac arrest, you might just want to click the blue link and see everything over at the Winnebago Diaries ; ) 

   Here's some photos from a village we stayed at on beautiful Lake Atitlan in the central highlands of Guatemala. San Marcos was tranquil and verdant .. just what we needed after playing elves for the holiday season. But it wasn't all play, we came to this place in Central America to do a little research for a secret project of sorts ... but we'll have to tell you all about that when the time is right ; )      

 enjoy !!! 

   Lake Atitlan was about three hours from the cobblestone streets of Antigua. We arraigned a van to pick us up the very next morning, and when he showed up a few minutes early, we were sitting in the courtyard of El Hostel eating fresh mango, avocado, and this strange fruit which Juwels had bought from a young girl carrying a basket on her head.

   Juwels was the one cutting up the fruit, and asked the guy to wait a moment so she could rinse the sticky juice from her hands. I grabbed our two bags from the locker, and even though I got out there ahead of her, the van was already pulling away without us ... I ran a few paces down the sidewalk, and he noticed me and pulled over. Juwels came out as he was tying our bags onto a gigantic pile on the roof with what looked like shoe string. 

   I haven't mentioned this yet, but from the beginning of the trip, as much as I didn't want to believe it, I was getting sick. (this hasn't happened in the last four years .. ) I know what you're thinking, sure, in such a poor country with bad facilities and poison water, of course you got sick. But it was a man-sized rat that got me sick ... or rather, his followers (or minions). You see - a few days before we left the States, I caught a ride down the mountain to a southern part of Arizona to see my family. I've got a few nieces and a nephew, and being a big kid myself, I always try to include them in things that I remember loving from childhood - sling shots, fireworks, sliding down the carpeted stairs in pillow cases .. and on this particular visit, the Chuck E Cheese pizza parlor. This place was magic for me as a kid: rides, games, the smell of musty carpet, spilled drinks and cheese pizza. Everything's flashing, blinking, making noise ... and on stage there's a band of giant mechanical animals singing and playing music. (my niece Hanna was terrified of them.)

   Anyway, after playing almost every sneezed-on, coughed-on, slobbered-on game with them, collecting tickets, and eating too much pizza, my nose started to quiver a little. Towards the end, when the kids were picking their winnings from the prize chest, I went into a full-on sneezing attack and has to go outside. Allergies, I told myself. The next day on my way to the airport - allergies, just allergies. The next morning in Guatemala City - allergies ... or ... 3rd world pollution ... it'll clear up in Antigua. And by that night, there was no more denying it, I was up all night blowing my nose, rolling in bed, and cursing the Rat. It just so happened to be my birthday the next day, just in time for the nausea to set in : ) I thought it might be good to just wait it out in Antigua for a few, and save the mountainous shuttle ride for a better day, but Juwels said I had to be on the lake for my birthday. "Besides, there's a holistic healing center in San Marcos. There's no better place for you to be right now." 

   And now, chasing the driver from leaving us behind and loaded down with both our bags, I wondered if he'd be so kind as to pull over if I needed a bathroom break - or ten, and I made sure to sit at the window for fresh air and easy escape if push came to shove. The ride was beautiful .. and miserable. Three hours turned to four when we hit a traffic jam due to construction just before the mountains, and I couldn't leave the window open because the van would fill up with tractor dust if I did. They had thirteen people in the van shoulder to shoulder. The private shuttle was supposed to be less susceptible to being pulled over and robbed (vs the chicken bus) and they had nice dark tint, so the passengers couldn't be seen, but the turtle shell mound of brightly colored backpacks on the roof (or at least I hoped they were still up there) would be a sure sign of easy pickins : ) 

   Making up for lost time, the driver gunned it once we got past the construction and into the mountains. There was literally not a straight patch of road the rest of the way. Left, right, left, right, my stomach muscles hurt from tensing up and bending to stay straight around every turn, no joke, I never got a break for hours of the left-right-left. I was lost at sea ...             

   Luckily, the lake was still once we pushed off the dock, but where the boats where coming in and out, I walked the bouncing dock in disbelief at the idea that I'd soon be slapping along the water to the other end of he lake to find our hippie hideaway, San Marcos.  

   The lake is actually a volcanic crater with no rivers running in our out, and depending on how much rain dumps each year, lake-front abodes can become watery ghost towns. It's been raining a lot, and we were shocked to see roof tops sticking up from the waterline as we passed little villages on the boat ride in. 

Recycling thatch for shade somewhere back on dry land. 

   One could easily get lost amongst the narrow paths zig-zagging about San Marcos. There were also many surprises and treasures to be found : )

   This is La Paz - our home base in this village. Their cafe is all vegetarian, family style dinners, and many of their veggies came right from the rich soil of their organic garden on the back of the property. We strolled (and snacked) these grounds with delight : )

   Cafe entrance. I was lounged out on a couch under there one day when an earth quake hit ... I saw the roof shaking and flexing, and simply thought, Meh ... it'll pass. It did, and I went back to my reading. This pretty much sums up the vibe on San Marcos.

   On the boat ride over, an interesting looking man two rows behind us noticed that Juwels was reading the Lonely Planet travel guide, and he asked if it was the newest one. She said yes, and he asked if he could take a look at it. Looking it over in a calculated fashion, he quickly read something and handed the book right back.

   As we were getting off the boat and heading down the path, he was behind us, and asked where we were from. We told him, and then he asked where we were going to to stay, and Juwels said that she had read good things about a place called La Paz, and that we were going to check it out. He smiled, "I own that resort," he said. "Talk to Andre, he'll show you the rooms .. and we'll talk about the price later."

   We took their nicest bungalow (which cost less than a Motel 6) and I crawled up into bed, hid under the covers and went inward. Juwels insisted that I eat something, and went down to the cafe to see if I could get some plain rice and fresh fruit. She returned, beaming, and said that she'd bumped into the owner again and that he'd taken her for a tour of the garden, and hand picked me some herbs for a special tea that would tame my stomach. The tea, and the general ambiance of the place put me in a better place, and before I knew it, I was sitting up in bed and nibbling rice.

   Happy birthday to me : )

   Juwels found this handsome bird dizzy and disoriented after flying through the cafe and colliding into a plate glass window. He should've had little cartoon birds and stars circling his head, but this is Guatemala .. so they were cockroaches playing mariachi and smoking cigars.

   After what seemed like a long time in the palm of Juwels' hand, he gazed up into the tree canopy and flew away.

Path back to the garden and meditation center. 

Fresh papaya ; )  

Leafy green yum-yum. 

   Now this plant was a surprise to us both. When we got the tour and were told what this little buddy produces, we gained a whole new appreciation for this food that we eat all the time .. guess what it is, and we'll send you a free candle ; ) Just comment below.

   Avocados grew everywhere in GU. It took some getting used to when we'd be peacefully laying out in the garden or sipping a liquado at the cafe and hear an extremely loud BANG when one of these monsters would let lose, and land on a tin roof. The locals don't even flinch.

   Sounds of chanting and deep Om's could often be heard resonating from this spot. 

Entering the courtyard of our bungalow. 

This expertly crafted thatch roof was the model of simplicity.

   Our little bedroom was in a loft upstairs. The window at the head of the bed was a porthole to bird sightings, a cool breeze ...

... as well as some menacing guests like this giant six legged spider. 

   But we also got a few visits from this furry friend. He'd bounce out of a neighboring tree onto our back roof and stroll on over to the open window. He hung around for hours, the picture of zen - this cat had it made.

Our little kitchen nook. 

   I did a lot of this on the trip .. in the bed, on the couch, on the grass, by the lake. The holiday candle madness had taken its tole, and even though we ambitiously marked up the map with red pen before we left the States, once we left the mountains and put on our summer clothes, it was lounge city.

Headed through the courtyard to the outdoor shower. 

   The girls in the kitchen made us a special liquado when they heard it was our seven year anniversary. Juwels accidentally dropped the heart on the ground as she danced around with the drink just after taking this picture - classic.

This stained glass door made way to a special tiny place where we'd end up almost every night. 

   This is a traditional Mayan sauna. It's so simply built, I can't believe I've never seen one Stateside ... we're building one for sure.

   Protruding through the back wall there's a standard metal barrel, and the four inch chimney pipe runs right through the roof.

   Outside, the barrel is filled with wood and a fire is stoked. Then back inside, a sweaty p&j splash water on the hot metal and Hisssssss .. the whole place would steam up. It cost about 3 bucks to rent this place out, and they even gave us a nice salt scrub to massage into the skin. Our host also told us that honey was an amazing rub in the sauna but said that it was too expensive to give out, so we took a little field trip across the lake and bought a bottle. He was right - between the abrasive sea salt and the hot and smooth honey, we were pretty blissed out locked away in that little temple of heat.  

   There's a shower in the corner there. A blast of cold water was sometimes a needed intermission when your head began to drift up in the steam cloud. This was the closest thing that I've been to drunk in years .. crawling bare skin and beet red from this little lodge made us feel like we'd just been birthed by this hot structure, and all our senses soaked up the night as if for the first time. Amazing!

   This is Jo. Also known as Java, Black Gold, and Coffee. Along with avocados, this stuff grew everywhere .. even between cracks in the sidewalk and along gutters. We don't drink coffee, but we sure loved getting to know it a little better.

   We assisted in processing some right from the property. First, the ripe red berries are picked from the little shrubby plants. They're soaked and then squeezed from their skins.

In the sun, the dry up and start to separate from their inner shells.  

After being picked from their dry shells, the light green beans are ready for roasting : ) 

   Here's our new friend Andre who was managing La Paz while we were there (he's now keeping bees on the lake .. don't know how that happened.. wink wink : ) And in the foreground, the two star cooks from the kitchen. They helped us learn the coffee trade.

   Doing this by hand really put things in perspective .. filling that little yogurt container took a couple of hours just for the last step of shucking the shells. They offered us a black cup on the house, but we settled on just chewing a few roasted beans before our morning swim ; )

   This is Jose and Brinda his daughter. They ran a little stand on the corner selling fresh produce, and delicious hand squeezed orange juice. He had to juice like ten oranges to fill one sunday glass, and they whole caboodle ran us about fifty cents.

Juwels drank at least one of these per day : ) 

   This is the seating area of a raw food restaurant that we loved. The guy who owned it was from California, but had moved away from the grind almost 30 years ago. He had an organic farm and a family across the lake, and made the most amazing chocolate brownies. I'm still wearing a few of them now ...

Up in the bamboo I spy a .... 

... beautiful little red bird ; ) 

And you know we loved the use of these bottles. 

Against my advice, Juwels all but trampled over a fence to get a better shot of this recycled wall. 

And through a wee hole she spied this scene. 

   A few steps down the path, we'd meet these girls from the hole in the wall. They sold local chocolate, bread, and empanadas to travelers. The chocolates were insane, and I even bought a bundle with the idea of taking them back home and doing a giveaway for all of you .. but there was a long bus ride back to the city, and a delay at the airport, and, well ... you know how the story ends ; )

   Meet Ibelia and Olga ... Olga back there had the bread. Nobody wanted bread, hence the sad look on her face. The girls fought to carry the chocolate basket. It was the golden parachute, and we heard them squabble over chocolate rights on a few occasions.

   This place had a whole array of cures and mystic treatments. Juwels got the massage of her life here. She said she heard her body making a buzzing noise and felt electricity shoot down her arms. Better her than me ; )

   This is the banana lady - she had the hookup on mini nanas : ) We could get a whole baseball glove of fingerlings for 5 Q, less than a buck. Juwels loved her, and snuck these pictures. She was sweeping her corner with a handful of sticks.

The glorious San Pedro Volcano -
one of three quiet beauties surrounding the lake. 

   Did you hear that?


   I thought I just heard a goat ...

   There was a mamma and two babies. We'd see them tied up in different locations filling their bellies. It was pretty cute because only the mamma was tied up ... the babies would never leave her side, and worked the small shrubs at her heals : )

   This was the cutest playhouse ever - jungle style on stilts to stay dry and critter free, and it even came complete with a child-sized rock climbing wall.

More creative use of old bottles.

These plastic water bottles were used as fillers in the school wall ; ) 

The Guatemalan women had perfect posture and very strong necks.

Yes, those are bundles of fire wood. 

Singing from the treetops. The crows out here had a much prettier song than their brothers back home.  

   The village was full of roaming dogs. at night they would run in packs, and we had to change dinner directions on one night in particular, when we rounded a corner and found a barking blockade about fifty feet ahead. I tried to whistle and walk on, but as my flashlight bounced off their glowing green eyes, and the barking grew louder, we turned back for the long rout. It was an interesting reminder that our jogging partners and movie night snugglers are actually pack animals with sharp teeth.

   This little guy, who we dubbed The Manger, was not one of the trouble makers mentioned above. In fact, the first couple times I saw him around town, he wouldn't even get up to take bread from my hand. (they served a side of bread with every meal for some reason) So I conspired to wake the little punk up with some brain food - that's right, cheese pizza : )

   Pizza to this frail dog was what spinach is to Popeye the Sailor Man. It's a wonder he even got the slice down seeing as though his teeth were just brown stumps. But, Zang, you should've seen the pep in his step. Later that day, we were way on the other side of the village, far from his local haunt where I'd originally seen him chewing at his tail and nipping at flies, and he was bouncing along with a newfound optimism.

   Somehow, he also found out where we were staying, and took to waltzing into the cafe at La Paz and begging at my table. I loved him, but some of the other diners didn't seem to see his charm, and couldn't stand the sight of him as they ate. I'm sending a flea collar back to Andre at the hotel along with a picture of the mutt, and he's promised to deck him out : ) Miss ya Manger..

   On one very unfortunate morning we found out that our honeymoon suit had been booked a while back by some regulars that come every year, so we had to pack our bags and find a new place. We got lucky and found a room at a beautiful called place Acculax right on the lake.

Their outdoor cafe. 

The property was lush and the rooms were tucked away behind vines and crude wooden doors. 

A view from our window. 

... and another. 

   Our bathroom had a low roof and boulders conspicuously coming out of the walls, and when you took a shower, you could hear water dumping out of the side of the building onto the ground.

   Stairway to nowhere ... This was a super old hotel, and I guess our room used to connect to the nicer room upstairs but since had been walled off and boarded up.

How cool is this scorpion table?!  His tail had a little light in it ; ) 

   The recycled bottle art was a theme in San Marcos (which we loved : ) But they took it to the next level at our second hotel. How great are the full bottles above, or the bottle butt light fixture below :)

View from our hike.

Beautiful moss and air plants covered the trees around the lake. 

The lake is marginally safe to swim in ...
just don't get it in your mouth .. or ears .. or eyes ; ) 

Yeee !!!! I woke up early the next morning and spit a glob of blood into the sink, scary ... 

Monkey see, monkey doo ... Juwels had to jump off the top railing after watching me ; )  

   A young guy climbed down the rocks to us with a machete ... also scary, but then we noticed his canvas bag of coconuts. "CoCo?" he said. I think that was his only English phrase, but that was all we had to hear : ) "Si !!!!"

And on the very same dock we came in one .. one fateful day we waited out the long boat in. 

San Marcos is a great place ; ) 

Thanks for reading, love, love, 



  1. That looks like comfrey - supposed to be great for broken bones.

    Love love LOVE the pix by the way, thanks for another stop on the bucket list


  2. Beautiful pictures! Y'all are stirring up my wanderlust!

    And I have absolutely no idea what the plant is - but I'm curious to find out. :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. well i reconsidered after re-reading that you eat it all the time. it's stumping me. could be basil or maybe mint?
      basil is something i definitely eat all the time.
      but when you say it produces something, that makes me want to think of a fruit, etc. but it sure looks like basil or mint...
      of course if it's anise then you could be eating liquorice all the time!

      gorgeous post!

  4. It looks like a Salvia... my guess is Chia. How interesting!!

  5. oh ... gwendolyn !?!?!

    You're right - Chia it is ; )

    Can't believe they harvest all those tiny seeds from such dainty flowers .. gives us even more respect for the little magic super food.

    And of course, we already have your address from all the deliciousness you've been bartering with us - so we'll pack you up a little treat : )

    Great guesses by all who commented - love, love,


    ... oh, and for anyone who hasn't tried chia, it's great - check it out : ) And feel free to email us for some examples of how we prepare it -

  6. Here's a link to gwendolyn's etsy page where you can see her handmade elixirs and lotions - we have some, yum yum ; )

  7. Wow!! Thanks guys!!

    May I suggest that you try sprouting those little seeds? They make such pretty flowers. I wonder if the leaves are aromatic like most other plants from the Lamiaceae family. I may try it myself- I'm feeling quite curious to experience this plant from start to finish. :)