On October 5, 2005, a landslide cause by the torrential rains of Hurricane Stan buried the village of Panabaj, part of Santiago Atitlán, under tons of mud. Hundreds of people died. Many of the surviving residents of Panabaj were eventually relocated to a new government-built village called Chuk Muk.
When I describe to people where Lake Villa Guatemala is located, they often say “oh, is it near that new village?” From almost anywhere on the lake, the red roofs of the new houses or the string of lights at the base of Toliman volcano are a landmark, but few people outside of Santiago Atitlán know the village’s name or the story of Chuk Muk.
Though I’ve driven past the entrances to Chuk Muk hundreds of times, I’d never been through the village. We recently took a walk and wandered our way from one end to the other.
Chuk Muk is home to around 7,000 people, but it has a feeling of spaciousness. As we walked along the stone-paved streets, we had lovely views of the lake and volcanoes. One feature that caught our attention was an abundance of sidewalks. Sidewalks in a Lake Atitlán residential area? The sidewalks and stone paving abruptly end as you move off the main streets.
People in Chuk Muk are clearly not used to gringos walking through their village. We were met with friendly, shy replies to our greetings of “buen día” and a small group of children started following us.
You won’t find hotels, restaurants, or historic churches in Chuk Muk: go into Santiago Atitlán for that. What you will find is a community of people who have rebuilt their lives after a horrific tragedy.