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    Posted April 5, 2014 by
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    "Southern" Hospitality


    As a native New Yorker, myths of the “southern gentleman” and people that are as sweet as their tea have been haunting this rather verbal and opinionated Brooklynite for 34 years. What I just found out on my recent trip “down south” was that the urban legend they speak of is further down than Savannah, Georgia or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They’re actually talking about the folks of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

    After a five hour flight, a three-hour car ride and 20 minutes on a boat, I arrived in the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Atitlan. Surrounded by three very large volcanoes and too many mountains to count, this lake of a greenish/blue hue makes one wonder why anyone ever chooses to live in a big city. The calmness of this crystal clear lake reflects directly back onto the soul of its people.

    Proud as their landscape is beautiful, I encountered locals everywhere who were happy to share their Mayan culture with me. Whether it be by sharing a personal story or an ancient myth, I learned quite fast that these natives were more than happy to be a part of what was to be a very enriching and educational vacation for me “by the water” or “Atitlan”.

    There are 12 towns surrounding the lake, each with its own charm and distinctiveness. There’s San Pedro or as everyone calls it “the hippie town”. Everywhere you look you see color! From their homes and shops painted bright, flashy colors to the tourists doing yoga in their tie dyed tees… it is easy to see why any ex-pat would retire here. You can find everything from Thai massages to green beer at the local Irish pub (I was there on St. Patrick’s Day); from a Yankee serving up the “best breakfast in town” to some of the best street tacos any connoisseur of “street meat” would write home about.

    In Panajachel you do not have to look far to find your inner daredevil. Amazing hikes with beautiful waterfalls at the end, zip lining through the tall, full trees and paragliding off of dormant volcanoes leave even the biggest adrenaline junkie completely satisfied. And after you’ve had your dose of adventure, you can wonder the cobblestone streets, shop for some crafts made by the talented locals or eat at some of Guatemala’s best restaurants.

    I was lucky enough to stay in San Antonio Palopo. I discovered a rather new boutique hotel that was tucked into the mountainside right at the water’s edge. From the moment I arrived at Atitlan Villas, I knew I’d come to the right place. I feasted on five-star dinners prepared in a one-man kitchen, made with organic vegetables grown in their very own garden, enjoyed endless cups of delicious coffee every morning with the beautiful moon slowly setting behind the volcanoes and had the pleasure of photographing some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever laid eyes on. To say I was happy there would be an understatement.

    This vacation provided me with the visual stimulation that I so craved coming from one of the worst New York winters in my life. Winter white was quickly forgotten about when I feasted my eyes on the lush vegetation surrounding the bold blue waters of Lake Atitlan. I was also reminded to stop and talk to the people. Working in Manhattan, I'm embarrassed to admit that I avoid tourists. Thankfully, the kind people of Lake Atitlan did not disregard me as well. Through them I learned about their proud heritage, I tasted the love in their food, heard stories about the strength in their families, and I left with the sense that they may be the happiest people on earth.

    I’ll be back, but I cannot promise that I’ll leave next time.

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