I have traveled to Lake Atitlán and offered a half pint of rum, a few quetzals and a picture of a woman I know he liked. Machimón is the eternal trickster, injecting poetry into the phrase “watch what you wish for.”
Machimón is an antihero and my patron saint. The following is the experience of a fellow traveler and while I disagree with her characterization of Machimón as an agent of evil it is a fair description of Lake Atitlán, although as I traveled you need to bring your own lock and don’t expect hot water for the $5/night I spent at some of the cozier backpacker accommodations. I would also recommend a night or two in San Pedro and certainly Santiago de Atitlán where a cofrade maintains a shrine place for the syncretic Machimón.
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I FIRST laid eyes on Lake Atitlán 30 years ago. I remember thinking that it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen, but the list of places I’d seen was a short one. (Though my youthful view was shared by a traveler of vast experience, Aldous Huxley, when he visited there, calling it ”the most beautiful lake in the world,” even more lovely than Lake Como.
When I arrived in 1973, it was a difficult time for an American in Guatemala. The country was in the midst of a devastating civil war that saw the disappearances and deaths of thousands of its citizens, slaughtered by its own military. In the eight years since the end of that war, the country has yet to shake its image as an unstable place.
But three years ago I returned with my daughter, who was then just about the age I’d been when I first traveled there. The lake seemed no less magical than it had when I was very young. I ended up staying for seven months in one particular village, San Marcos La Laguna. As a traveler who now returns regularly to Central America, that village has become the one place to which I know I will always return. I travel there a few times a year now, and am going this month.