Ever been to Lago Atitlan? If not, you’ll just have to take Aldous Huxley’s word for it. The Brave New World author famously described the Guatemalan lake as “too much of a good thing”.
“Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes,” he points out.
You rather get the feeling that Huxley would have been happier at Windermere. Certainly Atitlan didn’t have very many teashops, and there is definitely no pencil museum. The Lake District it ain’t.
However, we chose it as a place to celebrate New Year because it looked very pretty. What we didn’t realise is that lots of hippies – or ‘rainbow children’, if you want the local lingo, also choose to celebrate New Year there as part of a ‘Cosmic Convergence’ festival that involves a lot more dance music than we’d usually go for at New Year.
Hippies like Atitlan because they believe it is a vortex energy field, like the Egyptian pyramids. As a result they’ve pretty much colonised various towns on the edge of the lake, which now have an odd two-storey feel – hippies on the bottom and Mayans further up in the hills (sensible Mayans – the lake level is rising at a rapid rate). It’s not always the easiest of co-existences, either – many of the Mayans are evangelical Christians who aren’t always that delighted by the dance music and ‘energy vortex’ stuff.
Anyhow, enough scene setting. We chose to stay in Santiago de Atitlan, the biggest and arguably least touristy settlement round the lake. Here the inhabitants are largely Mayan, speak their own language and still wear their own traditional dress. They have tuktuks, which are fab, and very, very loud fireworks.
We even chose a slightly less budget hotel – the Tiosh Abaj, which had clearly been very chic about thirty years ago. Beautiful gardens, a nice pool and big clean rooms were somewhat offset by the world’s dodgiest wifi (difficult when you’re suddenly inundated with work) and the fact that they were very proud of their new sound system, which played frenetic music at any point at which we didn’t ask them to turn it down.
So what did we do at Lago Atitlan? We took boat rides, and marvelled at the pretty volcanoes. We had a slightly odd, but wonderful ‘thermal bath’ overlooking the lake. The girls swum and played on the lake edge while I swore at the wifi router. They also did some schoolwork (sorry girls, but we have to keep up a bit). We ate at the fabulous Largatijas (lizards) restaurant, a tiny shack where they made great food and made us most welcome. And on New Year’s Eve, we went out for a proper posh meal during which Clover and Daisy fell asleep on their chairs during the third course (of six). It was only about eight thirty! As a result, we didn’t manage to see in the Guatemalan New Year (well, we woke up because it sounded like a war – all those fireworks) but completely failed to get out of bed.
A damp squib, you might think, but actually I relish the days we had relaxing at Tiosh Abaj. It was warm and sunny, and the girls enjoyed playing with their dolls. We watched hummingbirds in the trees and spent far too long talking to Jeffrey the turtle (probably not his real name), who was not tremendously responsive but very funny. We skyped friends and family when we could make the wifi work. The biggest stress, predictably, was trying to get away again where late boats, tricky border crossings, and terrible traffic assured we weren’t back in San Cristobal until stupidly late. It’s good to be back. Happy 2016.