San Juan la Laguna

Leaving San Marcos la Laguna for San Juan la Laguna

After cliff jumping in San Marcos la Laguna, I was expecting to hike back down the trail to the dock of San Marcos instead Lee Beal motioned to where he was standing on a large outcropping of rock and a launch appeared.This happened throughout our six-day stay with Lee and Elaine Beal. Everything was taken care of from the moment we met Lee in the supermarket in Panajachel, helping us purchase needed groceries, to setting up weaving sessions for Antonio and Crystel in a Guatemalan casa, to Elaine popping corn for us in the evening after providing us with a relaxing massage.

Rising water in San Juan

Jody and I were able to unwind in a country where English isn’t the first, second or third language and more than a dozen Mayan dialects are spoken.It was with this feeling of being taken care of that we stepped onto the shores of San Juan la Laguna, a traditional, Tzutuhil village, of approximately 8000 inhabitants.

Water is rising in Lake Atitlan, swallowing homes and restaurants that are close to the lake. Author, Joyce Maynard, who has a home in San Marcos wrote an article for the New York Times describing how it personally affected her.

Rising waters are apparent in San Juan as you approach the dock. The level of the lake has reportedly risen 18 feet since Tropical Storm Agatha leaving many structures near the shore underwater.

The streets of San Juan are remarkably clean and well maintained. Street murals painted by local artists can be viewed at every street corner. The village is full of local artists and small galleries. Lee walked into a gallery and introduced us to an artist. Jody and I eyed the artwork on the wall . We knew before leaving Minnesota that we wanted to bring paintings home with us. This was a perfect opportunity. By buying the art, it felt like we were directly helping the artist and the cooperative.

Walter Mendoza artist. Two paintings that came home with us. The top painting, a common sight – women carrying a basket on their head. The second painting – three women are wearing the dress of their village and weaving colors that signify the village they come from.

Kitty-corner from the art gallery was another gallery that was highlighting student’s art. Antonio and Crystel each picked an art piece that a child their age had painted.

Our destination was lunch at Comedor Elenita.


The Menu “Del Dia” (menu of the day) was written on a greaseboard. After placing our order, we left Antonio and Crystel with Zach. You can easily walk to any part of San Juan within minutes. Antonio, Crystel, and Zach were playing a game of table football when we returned. Jody and I could see how bonded Antonio and Crystel were becoming to Zach whose story was similar to theirs. The three of them were starting to share information about meeting their birthmoms and their Guatemalan traits. Zach commented to Antonio how he would like to be able to do his hair just like him. A simple and powerful statement to a nine-year-old boy!

Learning how yarn is made

After lunch we visited a women’s textile cooperative, learning how yarn was made and dyed with local natural plant materials. We were also shown weaving on the traditional back-strap loom which Antonio and Crystel were practicing first hand in Santa Cruz. In fact, that afternoon, they would continue their weaving lesson when we returned.

Crystel and Zach tried on traditional dress. The older generations, in their 60’s and 70’s still wear the traditional dress of San Juan. We purchased the blouse that Crystel is wearing with a skirt. She had her own wish list – she told us before leaving Minnesota that she would like to return with traditional Mayan clothes.

Women wear their traje (complete outfit) with a corte (skirt) and huipil (shirt) and a faja (belt) while the men wear the hand-woven pants, a colorful shirt, and a cloth belt.

Visiting a local museum, we saw portraits of daily life, customs and traditions of San Juan. I especially enjoyed the photographs on the wall. In this photo Lee was explaining the artifacts and how they are used.

After leaving the museum we headed to a tienda to purchase candles for a Mayan Fire Bowl Ceremony and ran into masked locals dancing. Masked dances are a Maya tradition in Guatemala for the festival of each town. There are around thirty different dances performed in the Maya villages of Guatemala.

Traditional masked dancing.

After returning to Santa Cruz Antonio and Crystel had their weaving lesson in the village while Jody and I relaxed at Los Elementos. Zach headed out with Antonio and Crystel to do a little cliff jumping (now that they were professionals) off the rocks of Santa Cruz. Antonio kayaked by himself and Crystel caught a ride with Zach.The children were growing up right in front of our eyes.


The hotel is somewhere around here . . .

by Elizabeth

I know exactly where I am. Each time I say this, the folks that know me, go Uh, Oh. They start looking around, become skittish, grab a map, grab a phone, read the fine print on documents. I just think they are taking things a bit too seriously.  Trust me, I say.

Before I disclose any more facts, I do want you to know that I am a very responsible parent, friend, coworker and partner. You are safe with me. Totally.

To myself, I myself grimace, I know exactly where I am, when it’s me that is first to comprehend that I am totally in the wrong place, the wrong hotel, the wrong state. But, I get over it quickly. Life is meant to be an adventure.

Yesterday, I printed out the confirmation for where my family will be staying in Guatemala. I love to research and via the Internet, I explored the 14 villages surrounding Lake Atitilan, and decided the small Mayan village of Santa Cruz la Laguna was the place for us to reside for five nights and six days. It is accessible only by boat or footpath.  There is no road access to or from the village because it’s surrounded by jagged mountains. Amigos de Santa Cruz Foundation and Mayan Medical Aid, two non-profits are living out their mission on Santa Cruz la Laguna. By learning about the non-profits, perhaps my family would have more access to the Guatemalans in the three villages located in the mountains.

It was January when I secured our hotel.  Our trip is planned for this summer. Maybe I picked that hotel because all rooms had a great panoramic view of the lake and the three volcanoes. Perhaps I chose it because all the rooms were set amongst lush tropical gardens bearing fruits and flowers all year long. Or maybe it was workout gym for Jody or the private beach that the family could enjoy. I made the reservation and bookmarked it as a favorite. From time to time, I took a look-see at the hotel, the gardens, and the rooms.

Reading the confirmation I quickly came to the understanding that we were totally in a different hotel from what I had thought.

I fast-forwarded in my mind to landing on the village dock after being ferried from Panajachel, Guatemala. How we would have climbed up the mountain to our hotel only to find out that we didn’t have a reservation and then because there is no telephone system and maybe the Internet wouldn’t be working that I wouldn’t have a clue as to where I did have a reservation in this remote location. Perhaps, Crystel would look up at me and say, Mama Beth is this your most embarrassing moment today?

And I would respond as I always do with, It’s an adventure!

I went back to the email chain certain that “they” had made a mistake. As I read, it became clearer and clearer that it was not their mistake but mine. Goodbye private beach. Goodbye exercise room.

Yet, I also knew that being the researcher that I am, there must have been a reason I changed hotels. Clearly, I showed a sharp detour in my emails, asked them to the cancel the hotel and went with a different place. Now for exercise, we can enjoy the well-maintained paths that traverse old Mayan trails on the steep mountainside. And for gosh sakes, we will be on a mountain, where all views are panoramic. And won’t we be standing in the locale that is mentioned four times in the #1 Bestseller, 1,000 Places To See Before You Die? At least we’ll be in the right spot, alive.

I don’t think the Gopher to Badger half marathon is in the #1 Bestseller. Maybe it should be. It is set along the banks of the St. Croix River about 30 miles east of Minneapolis. I know exactly where it starts, I told my niece. She was training for a marathon and I was accompanying her. Our goal, as always, was to beat the trash trucks and the biffy picker uppers. We are not fast. We aren’t even slow. We are just above walking pace. When we got to the start of the race there wasn’t anybody. I couldn’t figure it out. The town was sleepy. Where are all the people? My niece called her husband and got him on the Internet. He found out that we were in the wrong state. We jumped in our car and raced across state lines to Wisconsin. After parking, we jumped on the moving bus that shuttled us to the start.

Gopher to Badger, Badger to Gopher. Gosh, an easy mix-up.

Trust me Jody, I know exactly where I am and you and the kids are safe. Get ready for an adventure.