No, really folks, we did not.
Itís just that one thing led to another and here we are some four months later
in Panajachel. Believe me, it could be worse. What I mean is that we could be
stuck in a lot of places and Pana, as the locals call it, is one nice place to
be. The outstanding natural beauty of this
- like Lake Tahoe in northern Californiaa only warmer with the funky feel of Key
West Florida - is one reason
this place is a draw. Other pleasant pulls are the kindness of the Mayan people,
vibrant fruits and vegetables and a variety of cultures around the lake. There
is also an expat community here which is very much involved in the local
Perfect innocence of the Maya children
Ok, weíre not really stuck but
decided to spend more time here which is a benefit of our lifestyle.
Iíve nicknamed Panajachel
ďThailand LiteĒ since there are many similarities. The cost of living is about
the same or less than in
Thailand. Tuk tuks are everywhere, and at 5Qís (about
60 cents) per trip, itís a deal to get anywhere in a hurry. In both locations
street food is available at all hours, volunteer opportunities abound, handiwork
is high quality, access to the indigenous is easy and people are warm and
welcoming. In Thailand one can enter a Buddhist Wat at any time of day for some
peace and quiet, and the same goes for entering a Church here in town.
Strong Maya families
Air quality is better here in
Pana than in Chiang Mai, Thailand where at certain times of the year it is smart
to wear a breathing mask. Overall, the health
care is better in Thailand - although my
recent medical adventure in Guatemala City
went very well.
Mai has an international airport, whereas itís a three
hour drive to get to one from Pana. You can receive a
two hour massage
in Thailand for $6-$10 dollars and here at Lakeside it is $30 for an hour and a
Guatemala has the same time
zone as the Central U.S and flights from the States are much shorter than
traveling to Thailand. The local currency, called the Quetzal, is pretty much
pegged to the Dollar so a weaker dollar is not hurting us here. Compare this to
the years we traveled through Thailand where the Baht went from 45 to one U.S.
Dollar to below 30. That made an impact, but Thailand is still a very good value
for money spent.
Bigger towns are a short bus
trip away from Pana and at an elevation of 5,240 feet; the general climate is
awesome with both pine trees and palms. The rainy season in both places can be
filled with gully washer down pours and we have experienced two
floods in Chiang
Thailand has always been tricky
with issues concerning visas as their regulations seem to constantly change.
However, Guatemala is a breeze. Upon arrival you receive 90 days free which
allows you to travel between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Our
visa recently ran out and renewing it was a snap costing $40USD each for another
three months. We went through an agency which made the experience hassle-free.
Shoe repair is a steady business in
One thing we enjoy here is the
ease of living life and getting things done. Everything we need or want is
within walking distance - from the local market for food shopping, ATM machines
for cash, to repair shops, computer stores, barbers and tailors. And we have
utilized all of these services. When we needed our eye glasses fixed, we walked
in, the repair was taken care of and then we walked out in a matter of
minutes. Shoe repairs are handled while we wait and a hair cut for me was 2
bucks. Akaisha had a designer jean jacket made from scratch. She took her
locally woven fabric and design to our
tailor on Saturday afternoon, he had her return Monday for a fitting, and
Tuesday morning it was ready Ė complete with lining and inside pockets. Computer repairs for a bad cooling fan were made in half a day,
visa renewal was done in less than a week and we never had to leave Pana.
Fresh food comes to us daily as
vendors walk our side street selling vegetables, fruit, seafood, shrimp or ice
cream and chocolate dipped bananas. If we want a hot cooked meal delivered to
our hotel, we call our favorite restaurants, order off their menu and pay the 5
Quetzal tuk tuk delivery fee and they come right to our door. Pizza and fried
chicken are delivered by motorbike.
Simple and social
Panajachel, which has a
population of about 11,000 people, is like a large friendly neighborhood. Men, women
and children of all ages say hello or good morning as we walk by. After a bit of
time has passed and our faces and routine have become familiar to them, they
will ask us inside their home to share a meal. If we need help picking out just
the right avocado or a sweet papaya, we can ask any Maya woman who will
immediately stop doing what she is doing and assist in choosing. Itís all so
One other advantage is that
many locals proudly speak English and there is an English speaking school for
both expat kids and Guatemalans.
Stunning vistas everywhere you look
Need a change of scenery?
If we want to get out of dodge
for a few hours, we walk down to the docks at the lake. We can grab a launch Ė
or more likely the handlers will grab us -- to take us to any number of towns
that dot Lake Atitlan. For 3 bucks each we can traverse across the lake for
lunch, shopping or visiting friends. Each town has a different flavor. Some are
completely indigenous with Mayans weaving textiles in their homes and others are
gringo haunts with nice hotels and restaurants to complement them. There are a
couple of New-Agey type towns if you want to go to a health food store, learn yoga
or alternative healing
methods, meditate under a pyramid, or take classes in eco-conservation.
Antigua and Xela are close by
A couple of hours in a minivan
will take us to
a beautiful colonial town and Guatemalaís old capital city, which is nestled
between three major volcanoes. Free concerts, great dining, language schools,
unlimited opportunities for diversion, an international city feel and another expat community are all available there. Quetzaltenango - or
as the Mayans call it - is an hour and a half by bus and there are quality
hospitals and clinics, a bustling Maya community and more immersion language
schools. The largest open air market in Guatemala can be
found in Chichicastenango, a couple of hours away and a must see for any traveler.
My first trip here was in the
early 1970ís and, even though the town has grown a bit as would be expected, it
is still one of the best destinationson the
Now, if they only had tennis
courts here I might never leave.