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.
bus is headed to Guatemala City, but it's the one we
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
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.
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.
than five minutes later, along came our bus that would
take us into Panajachel.
bus stopped here in Sololá for 5 minutes to drop off
passengers and pick others up before heading down the
hill to Panajachel, known simply as 'Pana'.
Sololá was a
market we intended to visit on Friday when thousands of
Maya come in complete traditional dress to buy and sell
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.
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.
colorful buildings and tight, narrow streets of
wide central plaza is the main attraction in
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
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.
at this turn!
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...!
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
we and our packs arrived
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
hotel had several rooms to choose from and was both quiet and
from our second floor balcony.
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.
typical room with firm beds, internet, hot water in a
private bathroom, cable TV, a small desk and a balcony
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,
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
The Adventurer's Guide to
Don’t go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
to take you around or across the lake are docked here.
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.
boat service to all
of the towns on the lake.
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.
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.
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
Unfortunately we noticed a vendor attitude here at Lake
can happen in tourist towns.
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?
North Americans understand this tradition and sequence
and I call this exchange between vendor and purchaser,
financial ecology. It has been our experience that
if this interchange becomes unbalanced, emotional
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.
financial ecology of the place was in a state of
unbalance, and both sides felt it.
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.
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.
the Spaniards 'converted' all these peoples to
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
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.
next stop, the energetic, unique and colorful market of
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