Anything you’ve read about San Marcos is probably, most definitely, true. It’s one of many towns of Lake Atitlan, however has the reputation of being the most ‘hippy’ and ‘far out’ of them all. San Marcos has been over-taken by French gypsies and expat gringos; however this isn’t always a bad thing, as the foreign investors there start local programs within the community and hire local Mayan people, creating more opportunities.
San Marcos is the town you come to for a day, a week, or a month if you’re wanting to get in touch with yourself and find a little spirituality amongst the towering volcanoes above. The sleepy little town is accessible by road or lancha, directly via Panajachel or San Pedro. The thing is the lake is so massive the wind can make a vast difference in your sailing travel time, for example what is normally a 10-15 minute trip from San Pedro can be 30 minutes, the same for Pana, sometimes taking up to 1 hour to arrive at the San Marcos dock. If you’re planing to take the ‘trip’ and trip to San Marcos (pun intended) make sure you keep travel time in mind if you’re planning to make it to that yoga class!
Once you arrive, the main path leads through the central village, flooded with vegan friendly cafes, restaurants, gypsy jewellery and local handicraft markets. The advice is to take your time through San Marcos. Wander through the shops, get lost in the laneways and maybe spend a little time at the local ‘adult playground’ Él Fuego- a little area designed for any creative vomit we humans can spin! From: acoustic sing-alongside, poetry, yoga inversion practice, painting, fire twirling and creative writing circles! Oh yeah, we out ‘ere!
Up to date with your current inner chakra knowledge or not, a must do for the visitor to San Marcos is the cliff side national park called Cerro Tzankujil costing 15GTQ to enter. Included is a little hike up to a mirador (viewpoint) with fantastic views of the San Pedro volcano; it also includes your swim pass, and you’re able to swim in the fresh water lake! If daring enough you can take the plunge off the wooden landing 10 metres into the refreshing lake!
Let’s get onto important things: yoga and food. There is an endless choice of accommodation in San Marcos, most retreat-style places offering daily yoga and meditation classes for the keen yogi. A few recommendations would be the Yoga Forest or Mahadevi Ashram. As for food, most accommodation have their own restaurants, however it doesn’t hurt to take the short walk through town and sample all the goods grown and brewed right in San Marcos.
If you’re a gut-health snob like myself, I highly recommend taking the little stroll up the hill to the Love Probiotics Farm. There are wooden signs throughout town, though if you ask local cafes or health food stores stocking their produce you can ask for directions and they’ll be happy to provide.
Love Probiotics is a locally owned permaculture farm, distributing home made products such as: kombucha, kefir, apple cider and local jamaica flower vinegar, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, organic peanut butter, bliss and protein balls and anything cacao. Considering I was in Central America and my daily diet consisted of rice and beans, I went berserk on the products Love had to offer.
Cutting to the chase, the main reason I had my eye on San Marcos was to attend a highly anticipated Cacao Ceremony. I figured I’m in Maya country, where Shamans did (and still do) use Cacao as an ancient, tribal healing aid as well as for pleasure. Being a standard chocoholic, and cacao lover (is this chocolate 70%-80%?) I decided to give it a go.
Every Sunday a local man named Keith – the Cacao Shaman holds the ceremonies is his private house, a short walk out of town. All details regarding the cost, direction, and expected experience can be found at the site of the Cacao Tribe HERE.
But here’s my experience for those of the curious mind! We arrived at 12 noon. The cost was 200GTQ each which my friend Em and I found a little much, though we figured it’s a one off experience, and seeing the lineup getting bigger outside the Cacao house on a Sunday afternoon kept us curious. We entered, paid our money (to be told if you return a second time, it’s half price) and took a seat on the cushions spread across the floor in a yoga shala meditation style. The ceremony began as Keith explained us his personal history, the history of Cacao with the Mayans and it’s importance today in holistic medicine.
We were each given a large cup of hot 100% organic cacao. There was the option to add chili powder (as the Mayans do) or panela sugar – sweet, brown, untreated sugar. We took our goblets and began to listen to Keith whilst sipping our cacao. He described the effects it has on the body, as we finished our first cups we began to share in a group meditation.
Within an hour or so I began to feel the effects of the cacao on my body, with my mind feeling rather calm by my heart racing quite fast. Through this process Keith instructed us into different groups and pairs and we began to discuss matters of the universe: confidence, empathy, forgiveness, sympathy, loving each other, and basically the standard Woodstock ’69 kombi conversation. There was laughter and there were tears as we experienced a group energy throughout the meditation session. Time flew by sometimes in deafening silence and we couldn’t have been more content. As my heart began to slow back to normal, I began to feel very sleepy and hungry. After purchasing a few cacao cookies to see us through the afternoon, Em and I decided to call our Cacao ceremony quits and head back to the dock to catch the last boats around 5:30pm. There is no formal conclusion to the ceremony, just ‘leave when you’re ready’ and we were some of the first to leave after 5 hours!
Being a yogi and a meditation lover I can say without hesitation I enjoyed my first cacao ceremony. The feeling of a manifested group energy is something really special and some of the teachings Keith gave us that day I still remember to hold dear to my heart.
If you’re curious about the whole thing, I say – ¿por qué no? Why not? I recommend giving it a go. Whether you’re a ‘facts only’ cynic, or a ‘gone with the wind’ free soul, try it! The worst that could happen is that you get to spend an afternoon eating and drinking delicious chocolate!