Solola, Lago Atitlan (Caldera-Crater Lake), Guatemala


Lago Atitlan



January 11, 2007


CondeNast Traveler
New York, New York

To the Editor:

I am a loyal and thorough reader of "CondeNast Traveler." I even cut out and save your articles. When I decided on Belize and Guatemala, I checked my "Central America" file. I found an article published in April, 1997: "The Gods Never Died - Like an infant with an old soul, Guatemala emerges from war to a vibrant Indian nation."

I was impressed and motivated by a full page color photograph of a mustachioed Guatemalan man who is dressed in a straw hat, white shirt, embroidered pants, colorful sash, and a shoulder bag decorated with Mayan symbols and icons. He is standing on a small wooden dock. He is staring across what seems to be an endless, mysterious lake.

I want to say "Thank you" Mr. Editor. I am here, today, on that very lake. Lago Atitlan.

Lake Atitlan is not a lake. Not a lake? No, it's a caldera- a collapsed volcanic cone. A volcano blew its top off 84,000 years ago and left a deep crater. Ash traveled to Equador and Florida. Subsequent seismic activity closed the water's escape route. So, now we have a lake.

And what a lake! On the distant shore, I stare at two volcanos so high that their peaks are obscured by the drifting white clouds. On my brief hike this morning I stopped counting when I reached about a dozen volcanic peaks enclosing this enormous 128 sq km (50 sq mi) sea of tranquility. At sunset the clouds turn gray and orange-red and the peaks grow black.

There is no beach. The tree-lined mountainsides end at the water's edge as the mountains surely descend deep into the lake towards the subterranean tectonic plates below.

Volcan Toliman 3158m (10,358 ft), Volcan Atitlan 3537m (11,318 ft), and Volcan San Pedro 3020m (9664 ft), three powerful volcanos tower over the villages on the hills.

And, Mr. Editor, there's a village for every taste, including your readers'.

The main town, Panajachal, is great for shopping: red-blue-yellow woven cloth, carved jade, embroidered shirts, pants, bags. My shopping days are mostly over, except for a tee shirt or two or three.

San Pedro La Laguna is popular with the young crowd that enjoys hanging around and sleeping, drinking beer and smoking funny cigarettes. The only yerba I take comes in a little white bag that I dip in a cup of hot water.

San Marcos La Laguna has a "special vibe" and a New Age atmosphere. Oops, I forgot my mantra in Miami.

I chose Santa Cruz, perhaps more suited to your mature readers, Mr. Editor. Santa Cruz is small and quiet with not much to do but read and write and ogle at the scenery. And what scenery! Mountains, trees of every description, pink, red and white flowers, and songbirds singing from dawn til dusk.

I spied a hummingbird this morning, skipping among the white flowers just below my balcony.

"Thank you" again. These past two days at Lake Atitlan have been the perfect ending to a surprising and, in the true meaning of the word, awesome two weeks.

I have seen the accomplishments of a sophisticated and creative Mayan civilization, as ancient Mankind thrusts his temples to the heavens.

I have seen the power of Mother Nature as she thrusts her creations to the heavens. And speaking of Mother Nature, the display of stars in the black heavens at night? Don't ask!

Mr. Editor, when I return to my adopted home on Tuesday, I will look for your publication at Bookazine and Asia Books, my favorite new-book shops in Bangkok. Failing that, there's still that file drawer of mine, filled with articles of places to see and people to meet.

Cheers, and continued success, and thank you,

Jan P.

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