Magical Lake Atitlan

Winter 2013

When Ropes invited me to try my hand at helping build a local Guatemalan’s house, how could I say no? Cashing in my many credit card churned points (my secret to flying for free), I threw my life into my 60L pack and headed to San Marcos La Laguna. It is one of many small Mayan villages surrounding Lake Atitlan, “the world’s most beautiful lake” believed by writer Aldous Huxley.

Sharing one open room, a broken toilet, similar parasites (giardia) and hard labor brings a group of folks close, really close.  After the concrete foundation was laid, adobe blocks needed to be set to form the walls. A mixture of earth and pine needles formed the mud that was slathered in layers over each set row. Hundreds of fifteen-pound adobe blocks had to be hauled, the local men trumping the volunteers by carrying half a dozen cradled in rope on their backs. Recently cut pine was plopped on our backs and carried up the steep, knee buckling alleys of town.  We swung machetes sideways down the bark to remove it. At the end of the day, everyone melted into exhausted sleep under tattered mosquito nets. Occasionally, an egg would be nestled in the covers as the hens took immense pleasure in sneaking into the house to lay.

We celebrated the completion of the house with yoga on the roof overlooking Lake Atitlan and her three stoic companions, los tres volcanes.

Taking a boat shuttle across the lake to a larger town, San Pedro La Laguna, I mentally prepared to feel like a helpless child. Staying with a local homestay to learn Spanish, I struggled to make awkward conversation.  Piñita, my homestay mom, would break into a huge heart warming smile as her daughter would roll her eyes at whatever idiotic thing just left my lips.  Each day, I’d sit with my teacher, overlooking the magical lake, learning until my brain energy was depleted. I delighted in teaching her all the birds singing around us, and each day, we watched the woodpeckers feed their nestlings.

San Pedro had a powerful pull, and many travelers one-day visit turned into months. Leaving the fellow vagabonds, guacamole, delicious street tortas, rich Mayan culture, and the fairytale lake was bittersweet. The states were calling, and it was time to reappear.

“Our transient spirits understand, accept and follow the desire to explore, to the see the world with burning curiosity.”

San Marcos La Laguna view from volunteer house
The breathtaking view from our volunteer house.
Building a local Guatemalan house out of adobe bricks
Layering adobe blocks is a bit like making a muddy cake.
San Marcos La Laguna las ninas
Las niñas ayudan a constuir.
San Pedro La Laguna view
The view from my hostel. Not too shabby.
The best tostada stand in all of San Pedro.
The best tostada stand in all of San Pedro.
chicken buses in Guatemala
The “chicken” buses of Central America offer high class amenities such as a mosh pit lounge,  complimentary showerings of sweat, and live musical interludes brought to you by chickens.
The view from the atop the unfinished house.
The view from the atop the unfinished house.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

meet alicia


With over 15 years of experience, you can rest assured that you will be getting top-tier photography. I focus on the experience and put everyone immediately at ease with my vibrant + playful style. I bring joy with me and infuse it in every part of a session.

search the site

featured posts

How to photograph the milky way

Are you looking to get married at Paicines Ranch?