Category Archives: Guatemala

Untethered in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

© hannah kozak

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

© hannah kozak

Self Portrait – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala @ Hotel Posada del Angel

Feeling the need to recharge myself and go within, I decided to head to Guatemala.  It’s a place that connects me to my family of origin (my mother is from Guatemala), to the indigenous Mayan people and to the Spanish language. I chose Lake Atitlan and made my decision to try Yoga Forest for the first time.  After a quick stop in Guatemala City, I made my way to the colonial city of Antigua.

 

Antigua’s churches remind me of wonderfully decorated wedding cakes, with white details on a pastel yellow background. Wandering on the cobblestone streets I passed  colorful, colonial churches, crumbling ruins, and terra cotta roofs with bougainvillea trailing down the sides of walls. My first day and night were spent at the luxurious, intimate boutique Hotel Posada del Angel in Antigua on a quiet cobblestone street, where every detail has been curated by local connoisseurs who want to share Antigua’s Maya and Spanish heritages.  Even the little soaps are designed by a local alchemist who created a signature scent called “Semana Santa” from frankincense, orange, myrrh, clove and cinnamon.  Raw honey comes from San Cristobal el Alto, coconut oil from Belize, palm oil from Guatemala, and cocoa butter from Guatemala.

© hannah kozak

Hotel Posada del Angel

 

 

© hannah kozak

Hotel Posada del Angel

© hannah kozak

Hotel Posada del Angel –

© hannah kozak

This woman was selling the typical Guatemalan dolls that look like the ones my mother had as a little girl so I bought one from her. Her face is wonderful.

© hannah kozak

Three brothers – Antigua, Guatemala.

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Man in Antigua, Guatemala speaking of his beliefs in a higher power.

 

I headed out on the Carretera Panamericana also known as Centroamérica 1 – the Panamerican Highwayto Lake Atitlan.  A three hour drive on a collective brought me to Lake Panachajel, where I hopped on a boat (lancha) to San Marcos La Laguna, my peaceful, spiritual spot to escape the world.

 

© hannah kozak

Local Mayan woman – San Marcos La Laguna – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

 

© hannah kozak

Two sisters – San Marcos La Laguna – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

 

 

 

© hannah kozak

Local Mayan woman heading down the route from The Yoga Forest

 

Lago de Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  Nestled between three volcanos that loom over the entire landscape, (Volcán Yolimán, Volcán Atitlean and Volcán San Pedro) at an altitude of 5,125 feet, it’s the deepest lake in Central America.  As far as I can see are the deep blue waters that inspired Aldous Huxley to write. Viewing the lake in silence is a true recharge while being surrounded by jogate and mango trees.

 

A young boy came running up to me, asking if he could carry my bags and I let him because I wanted to give him work. As he lugged my bags to Circles Café, I began to see the familiar signs in San Marcos that I love. Mayan women selling basketfuls of avocados, children running up and down the main path, the smell of tortillas cooking as I passed shady coffee plants near the lakeshore.

 

It’s a twenty-minute hike up a steep hill to get to Yoga Forest and it’s worth it.   If you are looking to disconnect, here is the place. No wi-fi without a twenty- minute hike back to the pueblo, no electricity in your room and a compost toilet.

 

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.”  By committing not to turn on technology first thing in the morning , I received so many benefits including going inside for all my answers.  It required discipline to power off but the benefits are a much fuller life. At night I lay in bed listening to the sound of the crickets, birds and animals singing to their heart’s content.  Solitude helps us ground to the world around us. Stillness and quiet is required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the messages our intuition sends us.

 

Off the grid, three local woman lovingly prepared meals with fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh blue tortillas, oatmeal, and pancakes. Even the coconut to sprinkle on our food was freshly grated.  These women embody my belief of “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”  Even when it’s not the easiest response, it’s always the answer.

© hannah kozak

Maria at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna

 © hannah kozak

Magda at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.

© hannah kozak

Magda cooking vegetables – The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.

© hannah kozak

Magda cooking tortillas at The Yoga Forest – San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala.

 

The view from the top of the mountain of the volcanoes is the best scenery in all of Central America. Jungle foliage and trees were medicine to my heart.  The highland Indians’ colorful clothes that they make themselves, their traditional way of life of farming, their local markets, and the art they create, are all like stepping back in time before all our modern ways.  Add in the Mayan culture and it’s a place that comforts and speaks to my soul.

© hannah kozak

Shooting nearly my entire visit in film made the photos even more magical for me.

One terribly upsetting factor in San Marcos — and all of Central America for that matter —  is all the stray dogs running around.  One morning I saw a dog with a bloodied ear that had flies covering the wound.  I found the only pet food store in San Marcos and waited an hour and a half for a mobile vet that was due to arrive. He never came but I exchanged contact with the girl who worked at the pet store.  When I returned home I contacted her and a great big smile was on my face when she told me that not only had she found the owner of the dog but also that treatment to heal its ear had started.

© hannah kozak

Micaela Pichilla – the girl who helped me find the owner of the dog in San Marcos.

© hannah kozak

Micaela Pichilla at the pet food store she works at in San Marcos La Laguna.

There is so much to do once at the lake. Exploring other villages by boat, studying Spanish and of course, doing yoga and meditation.  Not to be missed is Las Pirámides meditation center on the path heading inland from Posada Schumann, where you can have a massage, yoga in the morning and early evening, and come to study metaphysical and meditation courses. Lake Atitlan is not a place just to travel to, it’s a place to come and live for an extended period.  Moving to Israel when I was twenty years old I developed a serious case of wanderlust and I have never stopped exploring.  I travel in order to have no regrets at the end of my days, because I will have explored places out of my comfort zone, traveled alone at times and had adventures. Not everyone has traveled to a place like Lake Atitlan. It’s a promise that you will never forget the beauty and sounds at the lake, and will return home with peacefulness from being surrounded by the beauty of not only the water but also the indigenous people and the warmth in their hearts.

© hannah kozak

Girl playing near Lake Atitlan.

© hannah kozak

One of the yoga teachers adopted Mala and brought him back home to Berlin.

© hannah kozak

Self Portrait – Lush in San Marcos La Laguna

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The Magic of Santiago on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

The Magic of Santiago on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Wandering through villages around Lake Atitlán is a spiritual respite from the mundane. I didn’t get to choose when I came into this earth nor will I choose when to leave but in between, I get to choose. Spending time with people who are actually living on next to nothing but are happy, is a breath of fresh air. Traveling in Guatemala is a privilege I savor; exploring beauty in every form.

Mother & child en route to Santiago on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Mother & child en route to Santiago on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala


Mother & child - Santiago, Lake Atitlan

Mother & child – Santiago, Lake Atitlán

Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Four children - Santiago, Lake Atitlan

Four children – Santiago, Lake Atitlán

Self portrait - Santiago, Lake Atitán, Guatemala

Self portrait – Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Woman @ Santiago, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Woman @ Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Preparing tortillas-Santiago, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Preparing tortillas-Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Children inside Iglesia Parroquial Santiago Apostol

Children inside Iglesia Parroquial Santiago Apostol

Santiago, Atitlán

Santiago, Atitlán

Three young boys, Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Three young boys, Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Children, Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Children, Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Hannah_Kozak_Guatemala_2014_0204

Self portrait, Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Self portrait, Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Who's your mom?

Who’s your mom?

Mother & child, Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlån, Guatemala

Mother & child, Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlån, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Hannah_Kozak_Guatemala_2014_0228

Aldous Huxley said Lake Atitlán was the most beautiful lake in the world. I agree!

Aldous Huxley said Lake Atitlán was the most beautiful lake in the world. I agree!

The Magic of Santiago on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala


Return to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Returning to Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, the womb of Guatemala is one of the prettiest places on earth. The sun and breeze dance on the water. Three volcanoes surround the lake like silent, but dominant bodyguards. Out of these primordial waters the Maya world was delivered. The Mayans are proud but friendly people who greet me with a buenos dias and real smiles. The lake is calm in the mornings – the volcanic peaks evident in every breathtaking direction.

Lake Atitlan is believed to be formed by a series of three violent large eruptions that blew the lid off the top of a super volcanic mountain, which was possibly the biggest Guatemalan volcanic eruption, and perhaps American in a million years. The first was 14 million years ago. The second was one million years ago and the third was 85 thousand years ago. The lake seems to go on for an eternity though it’s only 12 feet long and five miles wide with depths of one thousand two hundred feet.

Laguna Lodge is a quiet retreat, a private slice of heaven with volcanic stone and adobe in the suites. There are perfectly built stone walks overlooking the lake and volcanoes.The reserve trails begin at the back of the building. Rock steps begin on the third floor-the start of one hundred acres to climb. The organic food is exclusively vegetarian and deliciously prepared with love by the local Mayan community that works there. I’m not even a coffee drinker and found myself savoring the yummy, smooth, locally grown Guatemalan coffee. The toasted coconut French toast alone was worth the boat ride from Panachajel. If you need a place to recharge your batteries, or time alone to unwind, this is it. Breakfast with a side of volcano, anyone?

Once on the lake the best way to see the different villages ( My favorite village is San Juan; known for textiles and artists) is to wave down a boat or lancha. You just stand on the dock and wave at a passing lancha. Then, the wandering begins.

San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

@ hannah kozak

@ hannah kozak

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Juan, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan from Laguna Lodge

Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan from Laguna Lodge

Frijoles, arroz, tortillas de maiz y jamaica: Lunch at Laguna Lodge, Lake Atitlan

Frijoles, arroz, tortillas de maiz y jamaica: Lunch at Laguna Lodge, Lake Atitlan

View from   , Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

View from Laguna Lodge Eco Resort, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Returning to Lake Atitlan


Write on the Lake – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala with Joyce Maynard

I heard about writer Joyce Maynard years ago. After receiving a full writing scholarship to Yale in 1972, her essay, An 18 year old looks back on Life was printed front page of the NY Times Magazine.  Her life went in a different direction when J.D. Salinger wrote to her, starting a relationship that ended in less than a year after she moved in with him.

Joyce’s love of writing and books was instilled in her by her mother, an English teacher who was passionate about reading, language and books.

My love of books started in elementary school ordering all kinds of stories from the Scholastic Book Club. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a book I reread over and over when I was 12 years old. As Charlie slowly peeled back the tiny wrapper of the Willie Wonka chocolate bar and a flash of gold winked at me, I smiled. I wished Charlie would win the trip to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory because he wanted it more than anyone. Charlie showed me if you want something bad enough, dreams come true.

Guatemala was a dream I’ve had since I was very young. My mother was born and raised there so I have a pull to family when I go and I love the gentle people greeting me with open arms on every corner. I also love the food, the language, the culture, the people; la comida, la lengua, la cultura., la gente. Since I first traveled there in 1983, I have been back on six different trips.

I’ve been carrying around my own story for years. I started writing it two years ago after working with writer Hope Edelman but I allowed my busy life for the past year to stop my writing. I knew it was time to go back to Guatemala. Aldous Huxley said that Lake Atitlan was the most beautiful lake in the world. The combination of studying with Joyce Maynard and the beauty of the lake seemed to be the perfect blend to fill myself up, disconnect my i-Phone and breath deeply.

Joyce has created a space at her home with rocks hand carved in the shape of indigenous peoples, textiles of bright green, vibrant reds, bright blues, happy yellows. Her home is nestled in the side of a cliff in the village of San Marcos on Lake Atitlan. Two cooks nurtured us with a daily breakfast of local papaya, mango, banana, pineapple, watermelon, black beans- frijoles negros, hot corn tortillas, homemade raspberry jelly, eggs scrambled with spinach, onion and Guatemalan coffee con leche. For someone who lives alone and is not much for cooking, I loved the home made, comforting meals.

Another reason to travel to Guatemala is the weather. You can go there anytime of year as the average temperature is 75 degrees. Guatemala has earned its nickname, “land of the eternal spring.”

A group of writers who have stories to tell and need help telling them sat in a circle as Joyce stood at a white board, the blue lake behind her, while she laughed, smiled, and shared her love of writing and books. She taught us how to recognize a dead sentence like “the lake is beautiful” and gave us exercises to paint that picture.

Joyce Maynard – Lake Atitlan 8 March 2012

As the boat pulls away from Lake Atitlan, and I head back to Antigua, where our voyage began, I turn around to see Joyce, waving and smiling, as I take one more hard look at her home and feel grateful for ten days of fresh papaya & guava in the morning and frijoles negros at almost every meal. I’ll be back next year I think to myself as I wrap the black wool poncho around my shoulders that she gifted me with.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

En route to Panachajel near Lake Atitlan

Olivia and her alter ego Olivia the artist

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

San Marcos village at Lake Atitlan

San Marcos village at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan from Joyce Maynard’s home

Lake Atitlan from Hotel Aaculaax

Lake Atitlan

Joyce Maynard

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala – procession

Antigua, Guatemala procession

Antigua, Guatemala procession


Olivia – missing in Guatemala

I started traveling with Olivia, who is at home anywhere she goes, on a journey to Guatemala two years ago. She’s as happy eating frijoles negros overlooking the three volcanos on Lake Atitlan as she is playing with children in a cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia. She climbed Masada in the Sinai desert of Israel and has eaten fresh parmigiano cheese with a glass of Malbec in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Here’s Olivia in Guatemala two years ago at Iglesia de San Francisco, Antigua. As you can see, she was newly adopted and happy. Very happy.

Olivia in Iglesia de San Francisco - Feb 2010

Here’s Olivia in a favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Olivia in a favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Olivia recently at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala with her friend Sharky, Smiley and Olivia the artist – her alter ego:

Olivia the artist, Smiley, Olivia and Sharky at Hotel Aaculaax – Lake Atitlan

On a recent trip to Guatemala, Olivia disappeared. One moment she was having dinner with us in Antigua, a favorite colonial city and the next moment, gone. Nothing. Nada. I’ve tried to make sense of it all. Why, why, why? One moment we were watching the procession in Antigua filled with purple gowns and feeling fervent devotion. The next moment we were enjoying a bowl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream at a goikey hotel. Then the pain in my stomach and the realization she was missing. I tried not to panic as my friend and I quickly walked up and down the cobblestone streets we took the evening before searching for her. Still no sight of Olivia.

Here’s some recent photos of Olivia loving Guatemala. Olivia has no fear, which makes traveling with her a pleasure. She’s alway choosing the higher vibrational energy of love over the force of fear.

Olivia on 4a. Calle Oriente in Antigua, Guatemala

Olivia lounging at Joyce Maynard’s home at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Olivia on a favorite chair at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Olivia reading Ann Hood’s famous essay

Olivia getting free wi-fi at Paco Real Hotel at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Olivia at a favorite spot on Lake Atitlan

Olivia in front of her favorite volcano at Lake Atitlan

Here is the last photo taken of Olivia in Antigua. Notice the look of happiness on her face. I always loved traveling with Olivia as she has no fear.

Olivia on Calle 4 in Antigua on March 11, 2012

If anyone has any information about her, please let me know. No questions asked.


Edgar & Luis in Guatemala

Edgar & Luis at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Luis is 13 years old. Edgar is 12. Their first language is Cakchiquel, the second is Spanish. The Mayan Indians in the highlands of Guatemala speak Cakchiquel.

Joyce Maynard runs a writing workshop in Guatemala every year. She does whatever she can to help many children that live around the lake but especially Luis and Edgar. Joyce has a big heart and the children admire and respect her. They help set the table, or carry the tourist’s luggage. It’s not child labor, they love helping and earning a few Quetzales. They like the feeling of responsibility. Luis is an orphan.

I asked Luis what happened to his parents. He said:

“Murio de tomar. Mi papa esta muerta para cinco anos.”

“He died from drinking. My father has been dead five years.”

And your mother?

“Ella tomo y murio tambien”.

“She drank and died too.”

And Joyce?

“Me parece como un mama.”

“She’s like a mother to me”.

“Nos regalan zapatos tambien,  y ropa y mochila  y utiles escolares (cuaderno, borador, lapiz).”

“She gives us shoes, clothes, backpacks & school supplies. (notebooks, erasers, pencils).”

Louis has been working for her a year. Edgar, a little while longer. They love looking at pictures of themselves so I show them each photo I take.

When we arrived in the rain the first night in Guatemala, neither one had a jacket on. None of the fifteen boys had a jacket.


I think I’m gonna break up with frijoles negros


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