Saint Peter, Saint John, Saint Paul, and Saint Mark. Their names in Spanish (San Pedro, San Juan, San Pablo, and San Marcos La Laguna) were given to four villages that line the shores of a lake the depths of which until recently was unknown. The villages are watched over by volcanoes—mostly dormant—that rise above Lake Atitlan, about three hours from Guatemala City.
In darker times, the lake became the final resting place of the bodies of victims of human rights abuse tossed over the side of nocturnal watercraft.
Decades have passed and those bones are now largely silent, although shadows of it history still creep across the landscape and mudslides have sometimes added to their numbers. Above those eternally resting in the currents of the lake, the inhabitants of these villages bob in cayucos, boats once carved from the trunk of a single tree and now largely constructed as any wooden boat would be. They drop their fishing lines into the waters and become one with the gentle and sometimes fierce undulation of its surface.
Most mornings, except during the rainy season, the waters are like glass-calm, blue-green toward the shore, solid blue toward the center. In the afternoons, the Xocomil winds can blow the waters into churning and chopping waves that make riding the public launches a real adventure as the boat’s bottom slaps hard against the water. Overhead clouds that sometimes gather deepen the color of the lake as they cross the skies above it.
This is a place that inspired St. Exupery’s story of Le Petit Prince. This is a place that inspires me everyday I’m here, setting aside its tragic history. The challenges for the people from these villages—speakers of the Mayan languages—are many. In spite of this, they are surrounded by a natural beauty that eases some of those challenges. Although our shared language is Spanish, I am privileged at times to share this beauty with them. This place is stepped in a wonder that fascinates beyond words.