SPECIAL PLACES: Lake Atitlan in Guatemala has lots of pretty towns along its shores. This is a view from Panajachel.
SPECIAL PLACES: Lake Atitlan in Guatemala has lots of pretty towns along its shores. This is a view from Panajachel. Rae Wilson

Snapshot of lake life in Guatemala

PUEDO tomar un foto? Puedo? Puedo?

Can I take a photo? Can I?

My young host brother was a budding photographer, desperate to use my camera to record life in San Jorge.

That's Saint George in English, a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

The photos might have been a bit blurry but he had more guile than me in taking photos of the locals as we walked up the steep incline to our casa.

Simple but complete with the basics, our concrete abode was warm with love and laughter during our short stay. I could see the chickens, and the rooster that acted as our alarm clock, from our bedroom door.

The kitchen wasn't in our detached structure but up at grandma's house next door.

Rice. Beans. Tortillas. It was a simple dinner but those beans were the best I've ever tasted.

My host dad was a bus inspector in nearby Panajachel, though he had recently been bedridden for some months after another vehicle crashed into him as he rode his bicycle.

I think, anyway. This was all in Spanish.

I figure my host mum was an explorer, given her name was Dora. Yeah - my dad jokes have been flying thick and fast.

My host brothers Cristofer, Danilo and Antony were super cute and cuddly. Cristofer is in his last year at primary school which is just around the corner with amazing views of a volcano. Danilo, my budding photographer, is in the middle and Antony is the baby in grade two.

They speak Spanish, the local Mayan language Kaqchikel, and know a surprisingly large number of English words. Impressive.

Proudly taking us for a walk around town, we got a fabulous vista of the lake and volcano as well as watching a soccer game in the main square.

The vistas around Lake Atitlan are stunning; it's hard to take a bad shot.

And each town has its own beauty.

In San Juan, I succumbed to the charm of a painting depicting a bird's eye view of a cotton field full of people picking from the plants.

The town is well known for its cotton weaving, of which we had a demonstration too.

San Pedro is known as the hippy part of the lake, with health food shops and a chilled vibe.

In Santiago Atitlan, we took a ride in the back of a truck to a shaman's house to see a statue of a saint the Mayans worship. The effigy, which loves alcohol and cigarettes, was dressed in a cowboy hat with silk cloth draped over his head and shoulders, with strange boots.

A local man in ill-health was dressed in the same outfit seeking help from the saint.

With candles all over the floor and smoke from a cigarette in the statue's mouth swirling about, the man's priest chanted a message to the saint while swinging an incense burner.

The cynic in me, of course, questioned the legitimacy of it all but the local guy was completely entranced.

Another highlight in the region is the Chichicastenango markets.

This huge maze of handicraft and food stores on Thursdays and Saturdays is dotted with indigenous women dressed in traditional costume ready to bargain.

Just watch out for the infamous Guatemalan "chicken buses" on the way to and from the markets.

They don't seem to feel the need to slow down even on hairpin bends high on the mountain tops. Loco.