Tag Archives: travel photography

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.

© hannah kozak

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 Hill of Crosses in Lithuania – A Symbol of Hope

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

I made a side trip from Warsaw to visit The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania. From Warsaw, it’s an eight hour drive on tree lined roads. Since the times of the Crusaders, people have been making pilgrimages to this unusual site. It is neither easy to get to nor to find but it is well worth the journey into Northern Lithuania.

Entering Lithuania

Entering Lithuania

As we drive on the road, I see broken lamps; metaphors from the days of communism. The further east you go, the more symbols like the broken lamp one sees. My friend Hanna says “I have cake from my mother, special for you.” Her mother had baked a coffee cake for our road trip, another act of kindness. We listened to Michael Jackson, we listened to silence.

En route to Lithuania

En route to Lithuania

Poland was and is full of trees along the roads. The trees served a purpose during WWII; the main strategy was to hide the tanks from the planes. Even if a plane noticed the tanks, it’s hard to hit a tank so close to many trees.

The Road from Poland to Lithuania

The Road from Poland to Lithuania

On a hill, in the town of Siauliai, are thousands of crosses in every size and shape. Not only crosses but crucifixes, Virgin Mary statues, Lithuanian patriot carvings, tiny rosaries and effigies.The crosses combine elements of architecture, sculpture, blacksmith art, and painting. I left a wooden cross from Mexico and another from my dearest friend in a corner of the hill that seemed perfect. My friend from Poland, along with her gentle, kind son who drove us, left four crosses.

Entrance to The HIll of Crosses

Entrance to The HIll of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The first crosses were placed there 182 years ago by relatives killed during an anti-Russian uprising in 1831. This site is a symbol of hope, of father and freedom for the Lithuanian people.

As I climbed up and down the narrow paths, I felt stillness and in the quiet, I could sometimes hear the wind chimes blowing in the breeze, creating a special musical sound. The Hill of Crosses, like Jerusalem, is experiential. My photos cannot do justice to seeing this sight in person.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lithuania was occupied three times: first by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and finally by the USSR again in 1944. Mass deportations continued until the death of Stalin.

The site has been destroyed multiple times. The Soviet government could not tolerate such spiritual expression and in 1961 completely destroyed the hill. Every cross was bulldozed, burned and recycled. The crosses returned. The Soviets destroyed it again in 1973 and 1975. The exact number of crosses there now is unknown but there are estimates of put it at about 100,000 in 2006.

The Hill of Crosses took my breath away as I could feel the undefeated faith of the Lithuanian people along with hope and devotion, even amidst the suffering. The country suffered a 33% population loss due to the Holocaust, executions, incarcerations and forced emigration.

Leaving my friend's cross

Leaving my friend’s cross

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

Two crosses I placed; one from Mexico and one from my closest friend.

Two crosses I placed; one from Mexico and one from my closest friend.

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses

Hannah & her son, Bartek

Hannah & her son, Bartek

Self portrait in Lithuania

Self portrait in Lithuania

En route to Warsaw, Poland

En route to Warsaw, Poland

Lithuanian proverb: Visur gerai, namie greasier. “Everywhere is good to live, but home is best.”

The Hill of Crosses in Lithuania


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