In this small country the size of Ireland, or Tennessee, the population is 60% indigenous Mayan, most of the rest being Ladino or Spanish. It is no wonder then that we have been well served by plant guides both in Antigua and on Lake Atitlan.
In Antigua, we were privileged to visit two very diffferent organic farms that are making the most of the appetite from locals and foreigners alike for fresh organic produce. At Caoba Farms a short walk south of the enchanting town, Alex and his team have built a resounding success of a business by growing organic food in fields and under cover and marketing through a store and weekly buzzing farmers market. Other vendors sell their products here too and Mayan women prepare excellent food from local ingredients. Alex is from here and has been growing organically (in more ways than one) for thirteen years. He went and picked some nettle for Gundi's skin irritation and offered to harvest some dandelion if we wanted to come and pick it up in a day or so.
A couple of days later, we were excited to hop into the minibus shuttle up the dusty bending road to Cerro San Cristobal with its magnificent views over Antigua, the valley and volcanoes. On arrival we were hustled onto the terrace for lunch. The best view was obscured and lunch was not the best, despite the promise of field-to-table organic food. This destination appears to be a victim of its own success. With overflow traffic on weekends, they clearly prepare a lot of food ahead of time, and it shows. To their credit, the owners allow the public to wander freely through the organic market garden, and the bounty from the volcanic soil on steep mountain-sides is impressive, thanks largely to drip-irrigation throughout.
In town, we discovered the Pachamama Healthy Market herbal store, which advertises "Natural, Local, Fresco". Don Jorge prescribed a herbal tea blend for Gundi's skin irritation, largely to boost the immune system. It consisted of green tea, moringa, cardamom, yerba mate, nettle, plantain, dandelion, echinacea root, turmeric, lemongrass, whole black pepper. What a blend!
Here on Lake Atitlan we are getting into a happy routine, nicely ensconsed in our AirBnB home with a fabulous view over the lake. At night, the twinkling lights of the north shore villages beneath the starlit sky soothe the soul. San Pedro offers all that we need in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, organic products (albeit pricey) from international brands at the health food stores, a great selection of freezer beef, pork, tuna, fish at Smokey Joe's, and fresh-picked greens from roadside market gardens.
Over the hill in the next village of San Juan, we came across Planta Medicinales Maya, a co-operative of thirty Mayan women. In this region that is 90% Mayan in make-up, the women and girls always wear their traditional dress woven from brightly-coloured textile in styles particular to each pueblo.
Their backyard garden is a repository of local indigenous medicinal plants and herbs. We purchased some yarrow skin cream, moringa tea (for normalizing blood sugar levels, providing energy, detoxifying, promoting liver and kidney function, and strengthening the immune system), and a digestive tea (with mint, parsley, chamomile, basil, artemisia, rue, mago, lemon balm).
We are well set as we continue our explorations of this fascinating place and culture!