Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is a quiet place of dreams.

 

Every day that you wake up and look across the waters of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala you feel like you are in a dream.

It will have taken you a minimum of 3-4 hours by car to get to most of the towns on the edges of the lake from the colonial era capital (and popular tourist destination) of Antigua. Antigua itself is 3 hours from Guatemala City (a not very quiet place at all.) The partially washed away road from Antigua will have wound up, down and over the now dormant, cloud topped volcanoes that encircle the lake.

But when you arrive at one the many unique towns on the shores of the lake, you will feel like it was well worth the effort. Life along the lake is unhurried. The sense of remoteness leaves you feeling able to take deeper, longer breadths. The bird wildlife along the shores will wake you up before the sound of cars. The whole lake, when the clouds roll in, feels shrouded in mystery. It is a wonderful place to while away the time with a book. When I went in February of last year the water was cool, inviting and calm enough to swim. Local boatmen hover near the cliffs in carved out canoes ready to rescue anybody whose jumping/diving ambitions don’t match their abilities.

The region is known for it’s distinct, proud Mayan identity*. Various Mayan dialects are spoken alongside Spanish. Unlike in the larger Guatemalan cities, women predominantly wear traditional Mayan clothing and depending on the town the men may as well.

The towns along Lake Atitlan vary in size and character and it is worth visiting as many as you can. All of the locales are connected by roads but I was advised that it was shorter and safer to take the water taxis that ferry locals from town to town–it’s only about 25 minutes across the lake. I stayed in the medium sized town of San Pedro in a homestay through the San Pedro Language School–which runs an excellent Spanish immersion program with classes under palapas overlooking the lake. San Pedro which has a number of Spanish language schools has a hippie/counter culture vibe and more foreigners than the other towns. Santiago Atitlan (strongest indigenous identity) and Panajachel (good transportation connections) are larger in size and busier, while San Marco (New Age) and San Juan (craft traditions) are quieter places.

All are wonderful.

 

*The Lake Atitlan area (and the highlands around it) was the site of some of the worst atrocities of the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) which pitted the right wing government against leftist rebels who were often supported by Mayan and other indigenous groups.

 

 

 

 

Nights that we carry with us.

The deepest, stillest night sky that I have ever experience happened in 2001 on the side of the highway in Argentina that connects the colonial era city of Salta to Buenos Aires. At some point on our drive, my friend Daryl, one half of the couple that I was traveling with, pulled our rental car to the side of the road.

We turned off the engine.

 

Away from any man made lights,

We looked up

Into layer upon layer of stars

In a sky of black and midnight blue.

 

 

Movie: A Quiet Place

There is of course a movie coming out today that has the same name as my blog about quiet spaces and ways of being…

It’s a horror film.

 

It is about a post-apocalyptic world in which there is total silence. If you make a noise, monsters hunt you down and eat you.

 

For the record, my partner Tom would not last long in this world.

He will tell you that sometimes I act like those monsters.

(burp…)

The Quiet of Your Voice.

“It’s a quiet place, so people talk quietly,” said Naoko. She made a neat pile of fish bones at the edge of her plate and dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief. “There’s no need to raise your voice here. You don’t have to convince anybody of anything, and you don’t have to attract anyone’s attention.

                                                                                     Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

Aneemudugu, India. My first quiet place.

When I was four years old I left my life in suburban NJ and went to live with my maternal grandparents for a year and half in the village in India where my mother grew up.

Three hundred people lived in Aneemudugu. There were no street signs or house numbers. News from my parents came in aerograms with only my grandparents’ name, the name of the village, the state they lived in and “India” written at the bottom.

We, like most of our neighbors, did not have electricity. Our modest house was lit by kerosene lamps. All our water was drawn from a well and transported to our house by paid laborers. I took my baths in a big metal bucket of water heated by a coal fire. We slept on jute cots out in the open until monsoon showers sent us indoors. Buffaloes stood guard in the front yard tethered to stakes.

There were no stores in Aneemudugu, only a few stands where you could buy odds and ends. Traveling sellers would come through on foot with pots, pans, buckets, other housewares wrapped in a massive bundle they carried atop their heads. The traveling barber and the vegetable seller might follow.

The daily bus that went to the nearest town 3Kms away began its journey by a row of thatched roof coffee stands alongside Aneemudugu’s watering hole for livestock.

It is hard to remember exactly how I passed the days. But I have memories of attending school in a one room school house. Of my grandfather walking across the street every morning to break off a twig from a tree and using it with Colgate Tooth Powder to brush his teeth. Of visiting people’s houses and being given guavas. Of using smashed cooked rice to stick together paper kites. Of watching a soon-to-be uncle arriving on a motorcycle to see his first glimpse of his future wife, my mother’s cousin.

It is easy to romanticize a place.

But how do you not mythologize a small village in the middle of nowhere, where you first remember experiencing quiet?

 

The hilltop above Consuegra, Spain is a quiet place.

 

The hilltop above Consuegra, Spain is a quiet place guarded by sentinels.

Here you will find twelve windmills–relatives (by marriage) to the “giants” of Don Quijote’s imagination. From this perch, above the wide open plains of La Mancha, it is easy to imagine him riding out 500 years ago in search of adventure, accompanied by faithful Sancho Panza atop his donkey.

Relatively few visitors to Spain venture to Consuegra. Those who do often come on tour coaches from Madrid that include the windmills as a quick stop on a day excursion to the city of Toledo, 40 minutes to the north. If you can, rent a car and come on your own so you can take your time; we stopped here on our drive from Granada to Madrid.

The windmills are clustered close together. The museum* is a quick stop. The castle (a site of medieval battles between Moors and Christians,) which sits near the windmills can be visited quickly as well. But give yourself a few hours to linger on this hilltop. This is a different type place from Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada etc. The magic is in the quiet of the setting. Except for the occasional tour bus pulling in, the only sound that you hear is the wind.

If you can, try to time your visit for just after sunset when the blue of dusk saturates the sky and the white of the windmills throws off a glow.

There is a cafe/souvenir shop, restrooms and a restaurant (housed in a windmill, but unfortunately closed when we were there) at the site. For places to stay and more food options you will need to venture back down the hill to the charming town of Consuegra.

 

 

*Molino Bolero (Bolero Windmill,) one of the first windmills you encounter as you drive up to the hilltop (and one of only two that you could enter when we were there) contains a small but interesting museum that explains some of the history and use of these particular windmills. Check timings for the museum (and the castle) if you are interesting in visiting. Otherwise my sense was that you could drive up to see the windmills into evening.