The Painted Fish and Other Mayan Feasts - An edible memoir from the back roads and beaches of the Yucatan

About the Author
Sonja Lillvik When Sonja Lillvik first encountered the Maya world, the meeting occurred in a kitchen. Hired as a manager at Kai Lu’um, a rustic but elegant resort on the Maya Caribbean, Sonja arrived without forewarning that her staff consisted of mostly monolingual Maya speakers. With cooking as the medium of communication, Sonja rose to the challenge and learned to create regional gourmet meals. Increasingly intrigued by Maya culture, Sonja soon sought further adventures in language and learning, a quest that brought her to Punta Allen, a lobster fishing village deep within the Mexican biosphere reserve called Sian Ka’an, in Maya, "the land where the sky was born."

Sonja Lillvik combines the organizational skills of the executive, the generosity of the teacher and the aesthetic sense of the artist with a keen spirit of adventure. Founder of a successful business in the San Francisco Bay area, Sonja conducted seminars to share her expertise with aspiring small business owners. Formerly an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, she pursued her creative interests as a ceramic artist and gourmet cook. She explored the intricacies of Middle Eastern, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine. Skiing, scuba diving, and flying airplanes nourished the love of adventure, which later led her to the Yucatan peninsula.

There, through the universal language of food, Sonja found herself drawn even deeper into the daily rituals of Maya life. To share her appreciation of this culture and cuisine, Sonja founded Cuzan Guest House with her husband, Armando Lopez, A Maya lobster fisherman. Located in Punta Allen, a fishing village in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Casa Cuzan has provided a center for cultural exchange in a community otherwise remote from the outside world.

Sonja Lillvik on
The West End Report on the Arts

November 24, 2010

The first in the area to embrace eco-tourism, Sonja and Armando sponsor activities which introduce visitors to the beauties of the biosphere, while offering local residents both new skills and new applications of native wisdom (They have hosted groups from Earth Watch and from universities, involving foreign and native scholars in a shared learning environment). Functioning also as a fishing lodge, Casa Cuzan employs native guides who draw on their knowledge of the waters of Ascension Bay to locate the bonefish, tarpon and snook sought by fly fishermen from all over the world.

Sonja Lillvik and Rory Flood on
The West End Report on the Arts

November 6, 2009

Each year, Sonja and Armando organize a sports fishing tournament at Cuzan, drawing boats from Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and other parts of Caribbean coast. A major celebration featuring music, dance and festive foods, the tournament benefits the secondary school.

In a new venture, Sonja and Armando turn their attention from the coast to develop an inland nature preserve, Ranch el Angel. Here visitors traverse wooded paths beneath a forest canopy adorned with orchids, butterflies and tropical birds, while a Maya guide shares lore from medicinal plants to local legends. A feast from Armando’s open hearth completes the experience. At sylvan Rancho el Angel, as at Casa Cuzan on the Caribbean, Sonja and Armando link others with the Maya community through exploration, education and fine food.

The Painted Fish • 108A Old Pittsboro Rd. • Carrboro, NC 27510 • 919-967-6730 • Email Us