...the most beautiful lake in the world!

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A visit to Santiago Atitlan

Santiago Atitlan is without a doubt one of the most picturesque villages in Central America.

Many of the houses in Santiago are painted bright or pastel colors.
These three young women were stunning and they knew it. And well they should.
After a night of hard rain, the sky was crystal clear.
She saw me with my camera and scampered away in delight.
The church door.
An elderly lady.
Sleeping though mass.

Santiago Atitlan without a doubt is one of the most picturesque villages in Central America. One day twenty years ago I went there to take photographs.

Santiago was the original capital of the Tzutujil Mayans. When the Spanish arrived they and the Cakchiquel Mayans, who live in most of the villages around the lake, were at war. The Spanish deftly exploited that division and later eliminated the ruling class of both groups, thus putting themselves in control.

Once what gold there was was taken and the Catholic Church was securely in power the town was essentially left alone. The priests couldn't speak Tzutujil and the Tzutujil couldn't speak Spanish so as long as the Mayans went though the motions of Catholicism and didn't cause any problems, they were pretty much left alone.

A strange blend (at least it is strange to us) of Mayan and Catholic religious beliefs and practices evolved out of this. The "Atitecos" ask "sacerdotes mayas" or Mayan priest to beseech Mayan gods for help when they are sick or need rain while Catholic priests conduct services just as they would in Spain.

The twentieth century brought many changes. Certainly years of civil war took its toll, but the people of Santiago Atitlan are better off in the way of public health and in the development of tourism, to name just two examples.

Whether or not the benefits of this and the last century outweigh the harm is an another question, but if democracy in Guatemala holds the new century should bring peace and some degree of prosperity to the people of Santiago.

They deserve nothing less.

I originally posted this to the site in 2002. The town has grown a lot since.

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