Guatemala Meets Enlightenment
San Marcos la Laguna Atitlan is unlike any other Guatemalan town I have visited.
Lake Atitlan is the largest lake in Guatemala. Small towns and volcanoes pepper its shores, making it an ideal tourist attraction. The city of Panajachel is the easiest to reach and for many the entry point to the other towns on the lake. San Pedro is probably the most popular town for tourists who want to go on excursions. San Marcos…is for people searching for enlightenment.
We had initially planned to stay in San Pedro, but suddenly we found a nice hostel online and it happened to be in San Marcos. The next thing I knew, we were on a stomach churning switchback road that was riddled with pot holes and on our way to San Marcos. As always, the views were spectacular, but my Dramamine-soaked mind could hardly register them.
The shuttle dropped us off in the middle of San Marcos.
I got out not really understanding what I had just stumbled into.
Around me were tuk tuks and Guatemalan women selling traditional Guatemalan street food, as usual. Then I noticed a little tienda ahead of me called “Health Food Store.” Not only is a health food store unheard of in most Guatemalan towns, the sign was in English. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me.
We turned down a narrow pedestrian path, and with each business we passed, I realized that this Guatemalan town was unique. One restaurant had gluten-free bread. Another had vegan desserts. I saw a sign for falafel, hummus, tofu, tempeh, breaded eggplant, yoga classes, yoga teacher training, juice cleanses, acupuncture, thai message courses, and more. Enlightenment in all its forms.
It felt so wrong to have all of these foreign things plopped ontop of an unsuspecting Guatemalan town.
Yet, as I sipped my pu’er tea, nibbled on my raw vegan peanut butter chocolate brownie and tried to decide which yoga class I was going to take in the morning, I couldn’t help but be elated.
We went for a walk and discovered that most of the expats had businesses catoring to tourists in one part of the town. The rest of the town was filled with Guatemalans speaking their Mayan language. Kids were walking to school. Farmers were carrying large amounts of lumber on their backs. Women carried baskets of food on their heads.
The relationship between expats and locals felt very symbiotic. Tourists were fueling the economy, and the expats were helping the locals cater to the needs and wants of the tourists.
While in San Marcos, many people go swimming off the trampoline, climb a volcano, kayak in the lake, take a course in holistic healing, teach yoga, or look for enlightenment. We did none of these things. In fact, we did very little in San Marcos.
I did go to a yoga class. No kitchen was available to us, so we spent a lot of time walking around trying to decide at which restaurant to eat. We read, wrote, edited photos, and discussed our upcoming travel plans. We basically had two full days of doing nothing. We thought about taking a boat to San Pedro but never got around to it.
My worst meal was at Restaurant Fe where I had linguine with salmon in a Thai-spiced sauce. Sounds delicious? Not so much. The tomato sauce had more sugar in it than ketchup and the salmon was from a can. I ate only a few bites before giving up.
My best meals were at Il Giardino. I loved their beet juice. I loved their veggie burger. I loved their breaded eggplant with curried beans and onion relish. Most dishes were Q60 and worth every quetzal. They also had a vegan pizza and several gluten-free options.
A few hours after we booked and paid for our shuttle to Antigua, I saw a flier for a two-day juice cleanse that promised enlightenment and started the day after we were to leave. For $100, I could spend two days drinking juice, doing yoga, meditating, and discussing energy centers. It was tempting. I can see how people plan to stay for a few days only to reluctantly leave after a few weeks.
Yet there we were at 8 a.m. waiting for our shuttle to Antigua, ready for another adventure in another new city.
If San Marcos taught me anything, it was that both Martin and I are ready to slow down.
Don’t be surprised if you hear we have rented a house for a month or two after visiting a particularly charming town. What we will do for that month or two, I don’t know – that, after all, is the adventure.