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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Panajachel, Guatemala
(Pronounced: Pan-ah-hah-SHELL, Gwah-te-MAH-lah)

The Beginning of the World
Currency Conversion Site 

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Continuing on our 105 Day Adventure we leave Xela, Guatemala, the unofficial yet rarely disputed Capital of Maya Culture, and head towards Lake Atitlan, where Maya believe the world began. Since the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world December 21, 2012, we wanted to find out first hand what these indigenous people thought about their ancient prophecies.

But first, we had to grab a taxi.

It was a clear and crisp morning when we walked to Parque Centroamerica and hailed a 30 Quetzales taxi to take us to the bus station. Since there were four of us traveling with our gear, and these taxis are small, we scrunched our backpacks into the tiny trunk as best we could. What wouldn't fit, we placed on our laps, and to tell you the truth, we were pretty jammed inside that little vehicle.

 

Arrive, we did, at the bus station and for 20Q's each, we bought tickets on a bus that was to take us to Encuentras, where we were to change busses.

 

This bus is headed to Guatemala City, but it's the one we took.

Perhaps the bus you are taking doesn't have your destination on the signs in the windows. It is good to check a couple of times - including once with the driver - to be sure you are headed to the correct location. Since we needed to change buses along the way to arrive in Panajachel, we continued to check with the driver and bus handlers to instruct us when to get off at our stop. These handlers do look out for you, but it is your responsibility to be aware of where you are and be sure your communication together is clear.

It ended up that we left our bus, not exactly in Encuentras, but at some juncture of the road out in what seemed the middle of nowhere. I admit to being a bit nervous, but others were disembarking as well, and we chatted with everyone to be sure this drop-off was where we needed to be to catch the next leg of our journey.

Less than five minutes later, along came our bus that would take us into Panajachel.

 

Bustling SololŠ Market

Our bus stopped here in SololŠ for 5 minutes to drop off passengers and pick others up before heading down the hill to Panajachel, known simply as 'Pana'. SololŠ was a market we intended to visit on Friday when thousands of Maya come in complete traditional dress to buy and sell their wares.

A colorful event not to be missed!

Notice in the center of the photo a woman carrying a baby in her woven kaperraj cloth tied about her shoulder. There are a couple of men in hats and traditional cowboy-type shirts, with a woven piece of fabric, tzutes, tied around their waists. Another woman has a plastic tub, probably filled with masa which she carries on her head, wrapped in a colorful woven textile. Masa is a staple here in Guatemala and all Latin countries. It is used to make mole, tortillas, atole and all sorts of things I do not yet know about. Maya consider corn to be food of the gods.

A vendor sells 'Delicious Eagle Ice Cream', another has fresh day cheese for sale. A fruit stand offers a selection of fruit and some avocados. A few men sit in the shade as the day wears on.

 

The colorful buildings and tight, narrow streets of SololŠ

The wide central plaza is the main attraction in SololŠ, especially on the market days. The town itself is perched on a natural balcony 600 meters above the lake and 10 kilometers from Panajachel.

 

Our first look at Lake Atitlan

Back in the 1960's and '70's, Panajachel on the lake was a choice Central American hippie stomping ground. But due to obtaining a bad reputation for becoming a drug-taking, dropout gringo hangout, Pana made a concerted effort to become more integrated into the tourist mainstream. Today, this location is now popular with Guatemalans, Mexicans, Salvadoreans as well as Norte Americanos.

 

Look at this turn!

No guardrails, and we're picking up speed here, going downhill on our way to Pana. The bus you see in the center of the photo is chugging his way up and we'll meet him somewhere over the tunnel...!

Oh wait!

 That bridge is only one lane!

Somehow both drivers timed their passings-by, neither had to stop, and each passenger-packed bus made it to their respective destinations with everyone very much alive.

 

Both we and our packs arrived safely.

I don't know if it is necessary to state this or not, but if you have a tender tummy, take something to settle it when on these curvy bus rides.

Once we reached Pana, we caught a tuk-tuk (a three wheeled vehicle) for 5Q's each and went to Guajimbos, an Uruguayan Parilla in the center of town. Here we dropped off both the boys and our luggage at this popular grill where they suffered in the open air restaurant listening to South American Jazz and having a cold one. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I looked for a place to stay the night.

 

Hotel El Chaparral

There are many choices of hotels along Santander, the main street in Pana down by the lake. Just begin almost anywhere along this road and take some side turns to discover your options.

Lodging, we are finding, is a bit higher than in Mexico, but food prices are very reasonable. We chose this location because the owner was willing to bargain and gave us the price of 160Q's a night (about $20 USD) if we stayed 4 nights or more.

 

Colonial style architecture with gardens and a climatized pool.

This hotel had several rooms to choose from and was both quiet and clean.

 

View from our second floor balcony.

The office was downstairs along with these short garden trails. We chose upstairs rooms for the view, the light and because we enjoyed the room style better.

 

A typical room with firm beds, internet, hot water in a private bathroom, cable TV, a small desk and a balcony view.

 

Panajachel used to be a quiet little village of Kaqchikel Maya whose ancestors were settled here after the Spanish conquered another branch of the Maya family, the Tz'utujil.

Tradition still dominates daily life in this area and power is divided up into two distinct Maya clans, the rules and details of which are only known to the Maya themselves.

The Adventurer's Guide to Guatemala

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Boats to take you around or across the lake are docked here.

Billy visited this area over thirty years ago, and at that time the only way across or around the lake was by the mail boat a couple of times a week. Today, it's a thriving daily business for these launches taking tourists to other towns on Lake Atitlan. Maya workers located in towns other than Pana are brought here to work in the many restaurants and shops.

 

Daily boat service to all of the towns on the lake.

There are two pricing systems here - one for the locals and one for tourists - so be prepared to deal with it. 

Locals are charged 10 Q's to travel to Santiago, whereas tourists are charged 25 Q's. If you visit and want to see these other areas around the lake - perhaps your first and only time there - you might think it's no big deal. However if you spend time in this location, and cross the lake regularly the difference adds up.

One foreigner who owns a massage business in San Marcos and travels often across the water told us his way of handling this pricing prejudice. He has exact change ready for the boat drivers and gives them the amount that locals pay.

Period.

Boat drivers begin to recognize you and your travels and few will contest your operating in this manner.

 

Schedule of minivan shuttle service to surrounding cities

Unfortunately we noticed a vendor attitude here at Lake Atitlan which can happen in tourist towns.

After years of tourists being unaware of what the neighborhood pricing is, and willing to pay 3, 5, even 10 times or more than anyone in the vicinity would ever pay, vendors who make their living here begin to automatically assume all tourists are rich, money is due to them and is simply there to be grabbed. While it is easy to think 'well, it's just a few bucks and they really need it more than I do,' a disrespectful and distasteful posture develops between the two cultures.

Indigenous people honor and value the skill of bargaining, and they know what something is worth. Even if they make faces or have drama with their hands up in the air, it's all part of the play. If money is thrown at them due to what we might perceive as compassion, the native finds himself in the curious position of wanting and needing the money you have, and disliking you for tossing it around so carelessly. He also dislikes himself for having taken your money without the expected bargaining process.

How can an Indigenous person respect someone who does not know proper value when they see it and simply casts money away like that?

Few North Americans understand this tradition and sequence of events.

Billy and I call this exchange between vendor and purchaser, financial ecology. It has been our experience that if this interchange becomes unbalanced, emotional attitudes sour.

While we were attracted to look at many of the items vendors had for sale, we were driven back by vendors who cussed us under their breath, or in the case of one vendor, shouting at us all the street words he knew in English.

The financial ecology of the place was in a state of unbalance, and both sides felt it.

 

The physical beauty of Pana and Lake Atitlan remains.

Panajachel is isolated in the Guatemalan highlands on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlan. Maya believe that the world began here, out of the primordial waters of the lake and the sky. The three volcanoes were the first things created - Volcan Toliman, Volcan Atitlan, and Volcan San Pedro.

The lake covers 128 square kilometers and has a depth of more than 325 meters.

 

As we mentioned, the town attracted many hippies in the 1960s, but the numbers of foreign visitors plummeted during the Guatemalan Civil War. After the war ended, tourists started coming back, and Panajachel's economy is once again primarily based on tourism.

Lake Atitlan gets its name from the Mayan word atitlan which means, the place where the rainbow gets its colors.

 

Native Mayan and Indian peoples found their lives and futures irretrievably changed once the Spanish arrived. One of the greatest battles between these cultures and peoples happened here at the lake in the 1500's. The Kaqchikel Maya aligned themselves with the Spaniards and conquered the Tz'utujil.

Then the Spaniards 'converted' all these peoples to Christianity.

But the Maya culture integrated what they learned from the Spanish and blended it with their own culture, so that many Maya traditions and beliefs have endured.

 

Thirty years ago, this hotel did not exist. One might call it progress, or not, depending on one's perspective.

 

Life goes on and things don't remain the same forever. There is still magic in them thar hills and this area of Guatemala is certainly worth the time to visit.

 

Magnificent sunset over mystical Lake Atitlan.

Our next stop, the energetic, unique and colorful market of SololŠ!

For more information, stories and photos of Guatemala, click here

 

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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