Pearl in the shell in Panajachel

Published: June 11th 2016
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Today we were travelling southeast from San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico to Panajachel in Guatemala.

We woke early (5:30am) and prepared ourselves for the ten hour bus journey and border crossing into Panajachel. We’d heard there were national strikes and road blocks planned in Guatemala, and that these may delay our trip even further. At 8:15am we discovered the road blocks were definitely in place, and that our departure had been delayed until 12pm (we were originally meant to leave at 8:30am). It was better to sit at the hotel for three hours than sit in a hot minibus on the side of the road in Guatemala for the same amount of time.

We headed into the city centre and had breakfast at Tonantzin. I ordered a cafe organico, while Ren had a mushroom omelette. We wandered around the main plaza, picked up some toothpaste from the local supermarket and visited San Nicola’s Temple. We then headed back to the hotel and used the time to work on our travel writing. I’d picked up a stomach bug during our stay in San Cristobal, so I wasn’t looking forward to this bus trip with much enthusiasm.

We eventually left San Cristobal at midday, driving through the industrial part of town in our very comfy minibus – which it needed to be, as we had ten hours on the road (at least). We climbed into the foggy highlands, and within no time at all we were in rural forest. We then began our descent into Comitan, with extremely steep drop-offs on the side of the road into the valley below. We had only been travelling 30 minutes before our driver received a call informing him there were Mexican roadblocks on our route to Guatemala, which coincidently (or not so coincidently) coincided with the Guatemalan roadblocks. He pulled over and waited for instructions regarding an alternative route to Guatemala that would have the least chance of us waiting at a roadblock.

We spent a lot of time trying to avoid the Mexican roadblocks, navigating dirt roads in long conveys of vehicles. One detour took us through a small rural village, where locals were lining the side of the road, asking for a small amount of money to let us through. I’m not sure whether our driver actually paid them, as I was sitting towards the back of the bus and couldn’t quite see what was going on. This was becoming quite an adventure, and our destination (Panajachel) was looking a very long way away.

The road became incredibly windy, with very rare straight stretches of highway. Laptop use became virtually impossible as we wound our way down out of the mountains, passing through the township San Gregorio Chamic at 3pm. Small square concrete buildings gave way to makeshift dwellings made out of corrugated iron, plastic sheeting and wood. Poverty is so entrenched and evident within rural Mexico. Field upon field of corn dominated the arid and rocky (yet predominantly green) landscape, and the ever-present vultures circling above us were disconcerting.

We finally arrived in the border town of Ciudad Cuauhtemoc (on the Mexican side) at 3:30pm. We handed our passports, departure slips and pesos to our guide and waited in the searing afternoon sun until he emerged from a drab grey building with our passports stamped – we didn’t even need to show our faces! We jumped back into the minibus and drove to the small and busy border town of La Mesilla (on the Guatemalan side), where we discovered our bus to Panajachel was running late due to the Guatemalan roadblocks! This was turning into an epic journey. We walked to a small and nondescript immigration office, handed our passports over the counter and watched in amazement as two officers checked our details using the most antiquated computers I’ve seen for a long time. With a stamp of approval we wandered through La Mesilla, grabbed some cold drinks, looked with little interest at the many stalls lining the streets and generally tried to kill time as we waited for our bus. For the second time on this trip, we were stranded in a remote part of Central America…

We eventually left La Mesilla at 6:15pm – we were finally on our way to Panajachel! We climbed a very narrow road out of the border town and began winding our way through a mountain range, with steep hills rising on each side of the road. We had a six hour drive ahead, and it looked like we would be on the road until midnight. As dusk settled, I noticed we were following a river that carved a gorge through the mountain range. Tiny lights were shimmering from the mountain sides, the only signs of life I could make out through the window of the minibus. Before long, darkness had engulfed us, and with no view out the window and typing out of the question, I opted for music.

We pulled into a service station with a small shop at 9:30pm, but another group had beat us to it, so there was a queue for both toilets. We left the service station at 10pm, and we still had one and a half hours to go. We started a very steep descent into Panajachel at 11pm, and eventually arrived at Hotel Utz-Jay at 11:30pm. We checked in, dropped our bags in our room and headed out for food at midnight. We found a street stall selling hot dogs and gringas (wheat tortillas with cheese, chicken, salsa and cooked on a griddle), so we ordered one of each, picked up some beers and headed back to our private deck to enjoy a very late dinner. We’d been travelling for 12 hours, and we were completely exhausted. Ren went to bed while I stayed up writing until 1am.

We woke early and headed down to the hotel’s breakfast area for coffee, fruit, toast and banana bread. We then walked to the lakeshore for a day long boat trip around Lago Atitlan. There was a mist (possibly smoke) in the air, so we could barely make out the three volcanoes – Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro – on the southern shore of the lake (our hotel was on the northern side).

We walked onto a makeshift wooden jetty, jumped into a long boat with a canopy and headed off into the misty lake. We hadn’t travelled far before we docked at another makeshift jetty, clambered out of the boat and started walking along the lakeshore. This was a fantastic experience, as it allowed us to see the lake from a very different perspective, and it also allowed us to witness the lifestyle of the very rich who could afford holiday houses on the lakeshore.

We walked through the small village of Santa Cruz la Lunga before climbing up into the hills and traversing a fairly narrow rocky path with a steep drop into the lake. We eventually reached Hotel la Casa del Mundo, where we clambered down stone steps to the shoreline and dived into the lake from the hotel’s wooden jetty (much to the annoyance of the hotel’s owner).

Our boat pulled into the hotel’s private jetty around 11:30am and took us to San Juan la Laguna. We arrived at midday, climbed a steep cobblestone road into the village and walked to Ixoq Ajkeem, a weaving cooperative set up by the local women’s empowerment association. Two woman from the cooperative facilitated a spinning, dyeing and weaving workshop while we looked on. Ren tried her hand at spinning and picked up a scarf from the cooperative’s small shop.

We then made our way back to the boat and headed to San Pedro la Laguna, where we walked a few hundred metres from the jetty to get an insight into coffee production around the lake. The sun was beating down and we were tiring, so we jumped back into the boat and headed to Santiago Atitlan. This was a much bigger village than San Juan and San Pedro, and it was bustling with local tourists. We climbed a very steep and busy cobblestone road to the village centre, where we jumped into a tuk tuk (small three wheeled local transport) and headed to Posada de Santiago for lunch. The restaurant was nestled on the lakeshore just out of the village, and it was fantastic. We shared fish tacos and tacitos mixtos (mixed tacos) of beef, chicken and cheese. The tacos were fantastic, and it was good to be out of the afternoon sun.

After lunch we clambered into the back of a picop (a pick-up truck) with standing room only, and headed to a tiny, nondescript house in a narrow suburban street to see the Shrine of Maximon, a Maya god that has somehow been merged and juxtaposed with Catholicism, much to the dismay (I’m assuming) of the Vatican. Maximon is a cigar smoking, rum drinking Maya god who is moved to a different house (along with Jesus in a coffin) in Santiago Atitlan each year, and the house residents guard him 24 hours a day. As I stood in the room with Maximon, Jesus and the resident guards, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of despair. With photos taken (at cost), we left and walked to the local church which houses a small room (now a chapel) in which Father Stanley Rother was assassinated in 1981. Rother was an American Catholic priest who championed the rights of Santiago Atitlan’s indigenous Tzutujil people, and this didn’t sit well with the Guatemalan government of the time.

We left the church and made our way through the markets of Santiago Atitlan, sampling ‘nances’ fruit on the way (which has a very odd and slightly unpleasant egg-like taste). We arrived back at the jetty at 5pm, clambered aboard our boat and sped back across the lake to Panajachel. We docked at one of the makeshift jetties, walked to our hotel, freshened up and headed out to Parrillada Atitlan Restaurant for dinner, where we shared a filete de pescado a la plancha (grilled fish). I ordered a very welcome copa de vino tinto (glass of red wine) while Ren had a daiquiri. The meal came with a garlic chicken soup and garlic bread, and it was very enjoyable. We then retired to the hotel room of two fellow travellers for drinks. It had been an absolutely fantastic travel day.

We woke early and walked down to the lakeshore, hoping the volcanoes would be visible. We were in luck – we arrived at 5:45am and the iconic volcanoes were in perfect view. We stayed for an hour, taking every possible shot of the volcanoes and their reflection in the still waters of Lago Atitlan. We then wandered back to the hotel, showered and headed down to the breakfast area for coffee, fruit, toast and banana bread at 7:30am.

Tonight we were staying and eating with a host family in San Jorge la Laguna, the next village around from Panajachel on Lago Atitlan, so we picked up a few grocery items to share with them (Australian milk powder, sardines, macaroni & cheese and an almond cake). We checked out of Hotel Utz-Jay at midday, left our packs in a store room and meandered down to the shoreline of Lago Atitlan, where we lunched at Los Amigos. We shared tortillas con pollo (chicken tacos) as we sat back and enjoyed the serenity of the lake. We then slowly made our way back to the hotel, as we had to catch a minibus to San Jorge la Laguna at 3pm.

We were travelling from San Cristobal in Mexico to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala this morning. We were supposed to have an 8:30am start, so we decided to skip breakfast as Andrew wasn’t feeling 100% and we had a ten or so hour bus trip coming up. However, when we walked outside with our packs, Fabian announced that the trip had been postponed a few hours as there was a general strike in Guatemala, and once we crossed the Mexican border we could be stuck on the road for a long time as there were road blocks in place. Intrepid Travel opted to have us stay in the comfort of our hotel room in San Cristobal until check out at midday rather than have us sit on a bus for that time.

I thought that was an excellent call. While it was disappointing that we’d have less time in Panajachel because of the delay, in a way the travel gods had been kind to Andrew so he could have a morning walking around and sitting in a hotel room rather than being stuck on a bus. We walked down to Tonantzin where we’d had breakfast two mornings ago and ordered a mushroom omelette and a pineapple juice. It was delicious and exactly what I felt like. Andrew just had two coffees, as he really loved the organic coffee they served and didn’t feel like any food.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring a side chapel of the main Cathedral (Templo San Nicola) and visiting the local supermarket to stock up on toiletries (very oddly, the toothpaste was in a locked cabinet, but the alcohol was on open shelving) before walking back to the hotel to do some writing. We were happy to have a chance to post our Playa del Carmen blog, which we just hadn’t been able to edit and pick photos for before this.

We boarded a minibus to the Mexican Border at noon. It was a minibus that seated 17, so the nine of us spread out for the four hour drive to the border. We started going downhill almost as soon as we left San Cristobal, driving through pine forests, small farming villages each with a small but prominent church, newer fully concrete hillside towns whose main streets were lined with fruit stalls and small shops with rows of bottles of pickles, and very old towns build in the colonial Spanish style with a village square and ornate churches.

We’d delayed our trip because of roadblocks in Guatemala, but on the way we heard of two road blocks in Mexico too. Our driver was in touch with his boss to try and figure out the best way around them. The first block had been disbanded by the time we got there, but the second one was still in place, so we diverted down dirt roads when we got to it. We went a fair way through small farming communities. The enterprising locals had banded together and roped off their village road and asked for fifty pesos per vehicle to pass through, which was fair enough given the sudden increase in constant highway traffic through their villages.

When we finally got to the border, the Mexican border officials didn’t even need to see us. Fabian collected our passports, the exit fee and our exit paperwork and walked into a building, where our passports were stamped out. It seems their computers were down, so we weren’t even sure if we’d officially left Mexico. We’ll find out when we leave Guatemala and fly to Mexico City in a few days.

There was a fair drive of about ten minutes from the Mexican border to the Guatemalan border, at which point we found out that our bus for the rest of the journey hadn’t arrived yet as it had got held up in the road blocks in Guatemala. So we had about an hour and a half to kill in the messy border town of La Mesilla. We walked to the border post and got stamped into Guatemala in a room that could have been out of a 1960s film. It was small and hot, with two bored looking officials behind computers, while a young guy in a Barcelona football top took our passports over to the older immigration guy who seemed very unfamiliar with his computer. It probably didn’t help that he was smoking a cigarette while trying to process our passports.

We then walked along the very manic main road, as some group members needed to use an ATM, and we were also looking for somewhere to have some drinks. In doing this we crossed back into the Mexican side of the border… there seems to be a very relaxed border policy where locals live and work on both sides of the border and both currencies (pesos and quetzals) are used interchangeably. Poor Crystal wasn’t feeling well, so we sat in a shady outdoor taco place and ordered some drinks while we waited for our minibus. Not one of us could even think of eating in this town – and that said a lot!

When we eventually heard our Guatemalan minibus was nearby, we got our packs, walked back into Guatemala and waited. It was about 6pm when it arrived and I wasn’t looking forward to driving such a long distance in the dark, especially when I realised we would be sharing the windy pot holed road with crazy hooning Guatemalan ‘chicken buses’.

I wrote for a bit and then tried to get some sleep, but the air conditioning was set on arctic and I didn’t have my jacket with me. We were all cold, but we were quietly more worried about keeping our driver awake, so we all shut up and put up with the cold minibus. We eventually stopped at a service station for a toilet break (and to warm up in the cold night air that was warmer than our minibus!) before driving on into the night towards Lake Atitlan.

As I mentioned in our Antigua blog, Guatemala is not short on seismic activity, and Lake Atitlan displays most of that evidence. This area is at the confluence of three tectonic plates, and experiences almost daily activity. I hadn’t been this interested in plate tectonics since my first year Geology classes!

We were in the Guatemalan volcanic highlands (about 1600m above sea level), where Panajachel (pronounced pana-HA-chel but referred to as Pana) sits on the northeast shore of beautiful Lake Atitlan. The Lake is ringed by steep volcanoes and colourful villages.

It had been a very long day of travel – about four hours to get to the Mexican/Guatemalan border and then another six hours to get to our final destination. So after checking into our hotel (Hotel Utz-Jay), using all the energy we could muster, we pointed ourselves in the direction of dinner and some drinks. We had a street food dinner of a gringa (wheat tortillas with cheese, chicken, salsa and cooked on a griddle) and a hot dog for Andrew (with cabbage, mayo, tomato and mustard). There was also a stop at a local shop for the local Guatemalan Gallo beer – Andrew’s favourite beer on the trip. We walked back to our hotel, and while I wasn’t a fan of our grungy upstairs cabin, it had the massive advantage of a small deck where we had dinner. I didn’t think I would be able to finish the rather large gringa, but turned out I was hungry after all. Andrew was surprised at how good his hot dog was… I didn’t even get a chance to taste it as it was inhaled in two seconds flat. 😊

The next morning we had been expecting to get that great view of the three volcanoes (San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlan) majestically encircling the lake, so we were very disappointed to find that the volcanoes were hidden behind a wall of smog being blown over from the Pacific Coast where farmers were burning corn fields after the harvest.

Pana was a small and friendly place, but the actual town was far from beautiful. Town planning hadn’t been a high priority. There were a high number of stalls along most of the roads, but the stall holders were quite pleasant, so we could browse without being harassed too much. I think we needed to spend a bit more time here than we did to unravel its secrets.

After a tropical continental breakfast at the hotel, we decided to spend the day exploring the beautiful lake and the little villages near Pana. We signed up for a village and lake tour and met our local guide Umberto outside our hotel before catching a small private boat named Nimachachi from the public jetty. We’d hired the boat to take us on a scenic route across the lake as well as to visit the villages of San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan. We decided to do this trip first thing, as we were told that a wind known as xocomil picked up in the afternoon.

The area surrounding Pana was dotted with villages which can be reached on foot or by small boat called lanchas. In each village the local indigenous life has changed little over the last few hundred years. Traditional attire is still the norm, and each village has its own outfit. They make all the textiles themselves in designs passed down through generations.

We started the tour with a 45 minute anti-clockwise hike that took us through the little village of Santa Cruz and along the lakeshore past many beautiful private houses and hotels. We climbed quite high and got a good view of the lake below us. We passed small farms of coffee and corn and many fruit trees. As we walked past all the luxury houses on the lakeshore, Andrew asked Umberto how the locals felt about foreigners owning such prime real estate. Umberto’s position was that tourism and the expat culture had brought positive changes to the area, as they provided employment opportunities for the indigenous population. I could see his point. However, my sceptical side was also aware that he worked as a guide and driver for tourists, so of course he would put a positive spin on it. Nevertheless, I really appreciated how he was able to provide us with a contemporary context that helped us understand the opportunities and challenges facing the indigenous people in this area.

About ten minutes into the walk, a German Shepherd came out of one of the houses and raced to the front of our single file line. We named him Pedro (after the closest volcano to us at that point) and he stayed with us for the entire walk. I loved the walk and thought it was a lovely way to engage with the lake. The walk ended at La Casa del Mundo (World’s End Hotel), a beautiful place perched on the side of the steep lakeshore. We had some cold drinks and Andrew and a few others jumped off the jetty into the refreshing water of the lake. I was constantly aware that there were three big volcanoes looming over us the entire time, even though we could only really make out San Pedro through the haze.

Our boat picked us up at the hotel’s jetty and we were ferried to San Juan la Laguna to check out a women’s weaving cooperative called Ixoq Ajkeem. We watched the women making cotton thread from the cotton pod, then dye it and weave it on a Backstrap Loom. I had a go at trying to make the cotton thread, which is a process of pulling the thread with a twisting motion onto a spindle while holding the bundle of raw cotton in my other hand and applying subtle pressure. Unsurprisingly, it was much harder than it looked. Your hands have to simultaneously perform very different tasks with contrasting levels of pressure… I only got about 30cm of thread pulled before the whole thing snapped. I try not to pass up any opportunity to acquire a new skill, however obscure it may seem. 😊

The cooperative labels all their products with the weaver’s name, and each weaving family has a different weaving pattern and style. I bought a beautiful soft black and red scarf as a Guatemalan souvenir for myself. We didn’t spend much time in San Juan, but I took an immediate liking to the colour and vibrancy of the place. It was full of winding cobbled roads, shops full of bright art works and locals in beautiful woven fabrics chatting the afternoon away.

Amazingly, many of the villages around the lake speak entirely different native languages, even though you can stand on the shore of one village and almost look across the water into the neighbouring community on the other side. They must have had long periods of isolation for different languages and so many dialects to develop. The villages on the northern shores of the lake speak Kaqchiquel while the southern villages speak Tzutuhil.

San Pedro, the village at the base of the San Pedro volcano, was a busy little village, but there wasn’t any immediately apparent character or charm about the place. From what we could see from the water, it had a very backpacker vibe with yoga studios, bars with loud music and a grassy essence pervading the streets. We were only there to check out the old fashioned coffee sorting and processing machine. The hills of the volcanoes make for fertile coffee growing conditions, and even though it wasn’t coffee harvest time (which is in November), Umberto wanted to talk us through the process. After crossing an overgrown field of sorts that was apparently used for drying the beans, he showed us into a derelict looking shed that housed a machine that sorted and fermented the beans before the drying process. There were many, many other explanations from Umberto, but it was very HOT, and we were still tired from our previous day of long travel (as well as being quite hungry), so that’s about all I could absorb.

I was grateful when we left San Pedro for Santiago Atitlan. Santiago has the largest population of Tzutuhil people, and with 40,000 people, it is much bigger than the other villages. It sits on a rivulet between the San Pedro and Toliman volcanoes. We walked through Santiago’s streets, the colourful textile and craft market and the very busy local produce market. It was still very much a traditional village and Maya life carried on during market day.

Umberto’s favourite restaurant was booked out, so we caught tuks tuks (small three wheeled local transport) to Posado de Santiago in the residential part of the village on the lakeshore, which turned out to be a great place. Set in a large church-like building, I cooled down with a pineapple juice and we shared fabulous fish tacos (fish from the lake) and a plate of mixed tacos on blue corn tortillas with chicken, arrachera (skirt steak) and cheese. I have never been able to taste the different types of corn used in tortillas, but I really did this time. I’m now a big fan of blue corn tortillas.

After lunch Umberto hailed a picop (a ute/pick-up truck) and we climbed into the back tray. We were heading to a very old part of town to visit San Maximon (St Simon) in a local house. Maximon is the protective deity of the village of Santiago Atitlan. Maximon is part Maya god and part Catholic saint, and he is represented by a slightly bizarre wooden deity who drinks rum and smokes cigars and cigarettes. Maximon brings together various Guatemalan cultures and beliefs, and apparently he has a vengeful side that needs to be appeased with rum and cigars. While most saint statues would reside in a church, Maximon very unconventionally lives between ten different family homes in the village, for a year at a time.

We hooned our way (well not really, but I loved the thrill of going fast while swaying wildly in the back of a ute tray) past small concrete houses in various states of disrepair, through the town’s crumbling old narrow streets, before eventually stopping outside a house not distinguishable from the other houses in any other way. Umberto had asked around for directions, as Maximon had only moved into his new residence two days earlier.

We walked up a very narrow alley and into a house where Maximon was guarded by male members of the family, who were also members of the brotherhood of Maximon. It was dark inside the house, and the row of small candles and little beams of light that poured in from the doorway illuminated incense smoke. The effigy of Maximon sat in the middle of the room with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, and candles and offerings of rum and money at his feet. He was dressed in a traditional cloak, with a range of ties hanging off his neck and a hat covering his wooden head. There were other Catholic statues and paraphernalia around the room, and a coffin with a statue signifying Jesus on one side of the room. While we were there a devotee came in to pray and lit a sea of candles at the feet of a statue of Mary, while quietly chanting to himself. We didn’t stay long. We gave Maximon’s keepers 10 quetzals to take a few photos of him before walking back into the bright light outside. It was a bizarre experience. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but Maximon definitely wasn’t a good looking saint by any means.

We then walked down to the Catholic Church in a square full of children playing soccer, and others in school uniform fresh from band practice. Umberto led us into one of the back chapels. Santiago witnessed horrible atrocities during the violent civil war of the 1980s. Local art works depict the brutality experienced here, and the little chapel we visited was the assassination site of Father Francis Stanley Rother. He was fighting for indigenous rights and providing tools for better education and skills for the indigenous population.

For me this village of Santiago was a particular highlight of Atitlan. Having reached the end of our village and lake tour, we crossed the choppy lake back to Pana with a gorgeous red sunset to one side of us… no doubt enhanced by the smog that hadn’t lifted all day.

Umberto taught us to say hello and thank you in Kaqchiquel in preparation for our homestay the next day. He also bought us some fruit from the market that I’d been curious about, but the little yellow nances fruit looked cuter than they tasted… there was an eggy taste about them that we couldn’t take to. It had been an excellent day of exploration, culture and food. I would highly recommend Umberto, who can be contacted through the tour agency near Hotel Utz-Jay.

Back in Pana, we walked back to our hotel to shower and relax before dinner. Our upstairs cabin at Hotel Utz-Jay was small and poxy, but we loved the garden setting and we used our deck among the trees quite a lot. It was quite lovey sitting outside with a drink and getting distracted from my writing by all the birds, squirrels and the ongoing territory war between two ginger cats. The hotel had another big bonus – two resident German Shepherds called Nacho and Lani who entertained us very much.

We walked to dinner at Parrillada Atitlan Restaurant through the night stalls full of souvenirs. We shared a meal of grilled fish, but it paled in comparison to the lunch we’d had. The meal also came with chicken soup and garlic bread which were strangely enjoyable. My pineapple daiquiri on the other hand was as large as it was delicious. We had post-dinner drinks in Brendan and Logan’s ‘house’, as they had scored a weird room that came with a lounge room and kitchen. It had been a long two days, and for the second night in a row I went to bed without preparing for the next day or writing any notes. But we did manage to post the Chichen Itza blog, which was a relief, as we had started to fall behind in our posting.

The next morning the smog from the day before had cleared and we realised we could actually see the top of the twin volcanoes from our room. We rushed down to the water at 5:30am to get some dawn photos. The lake was a huge expanse of deep blue still water edged by the three volcanoes – San Pedro, and the twins Toliman and Atitlan standing shoulder to shoulder. I felt like I’d woken up inside a painting. Atitlan would easily be among the most spectacular landscapes I’ve seen (when it’s a clear day)... it was breathtakingly beautiful. Even as we watched the sunrise, the wind picked up and the water got choppier, but thankfully the smog kept away for the day. For the first hour or so that we were there, our only company was an occasional small boat or empty ferry and a couple of the local dogs who were obliging models for our photos. Then people started to gradually filter into the jetty area, and ferries carrying people from the surrounding villages started docking. It was quite beautiful to watch the water and the volcanoes alter so rapidly before our eyes - with the changing colours of the sky and rising sun, as well as the changing wind conditions. I took far more photographs than I needed. 😊

We had another tropical continental breakfast at the hotel and then walked to the local supermarket to buy some food-type presents for the homestay family we would meet in the afternoon. With a game of tic-tac-toe, an almond cake and other food goodies in hand, we stored our packs and checked out of the hotel. We walked to the lake front for lunch with Logan and Nadine and had a simple meal of chicken tacos at Los Amigos before wandering back to the hotel to await our minibus to take us to our homestay.

When I think of our stay in Pana, I will think of a quiet early morning staring out at Lake Atitlan from the public jetties, watching the occasional ferry go past in the foreground with distant volcanoes hugging the horizon. I have no doubt that I’ll add this to my list of ‘most picturesque landscapes’ I’ve travelled to.

Next we travel to a small village on the lake – San Jorge la laguna – for a homestay.


12th June 2016
lake atitlan

Discriminating taste & picturesque landscapes
Glad your palate has advanced to being able to taste the various corn tortillas. What a trip of delays and set backs. As always love the pup and food photos. You've discovered tranquillity on the water. Peaceful.
13th June 2016
lake atitlan

Re: Discriminating taste & picturesque landscapes
Two tortilla lessons learnt on this trip - 1) not all corn tortillas are created equal, and 2) Handmade tortillas are not always better than machine made (contrary to what we wish to believe in Australia) :) As much as we like to use public transport when we travel, we were very glad that we weren't catching a public bus on the day of the general strikes!
13th June 2016

I support you brothers, now get out my way.
Have a love hate thing for roadblocks, you support their non violent cause, but boy it can be annoying being delayed, especially if you are short on time. Great write up on the journey, felt like I was at the back of the bus with you. Photos of Atitlan are bloody awesome.
13th June 2016

Re: I support you brothers, now get out my way.
Thanks guys, we are rather fond of our Lake Atitlan photos. And yes, we seriously could have done without a longer than normal travel day on a day that about three of our group were feeling dodgy...but it could have been worse, we could have spent four hours in a bus on the side of the road rather than in a comfy ensuited hotel room :)
14th June 2016
lake atitlan

Early morning rewards!
So glad the smoke haze cleared for your grand photos of the lake and volcanoes--I guess it pays to arise early, though I personally have no experience with this. Lovely the boat and walking circle of the lake and those yummy, black-corn tortilla tacos. Pana has been called Hippytanango because the ex-pat presence allowed you to buy Aussie powdered milk, and back in the day, I had my first granola and yogurt after a year of rice and beans. And roadblocks, well I take the chicken buses and have been delayed for a day in dodgy places--not a pretty site, but like you, I support the people's causes, so Viva la Huelga (long live the strike)! Hope you encounter them no more.
15th June 2016
lake atitlan

Re: Early morning rewards!
At one point we wondered if the smoke haze would hang around for the whole three days we were at the lake...thankfully it didn't. From what I observed, apart from the big supermarket which stocked western items, a few big hotels, and travel agencies - Pana had quite a local feel to it. It was a commercial and transport hub, but we hardly saw other tourists who were staying in town. There were MUCH more hippy/tourist/expat heavy places on the prettier parts of the lake. Thankfully that was the last of our travel delays, and it wasn't all that bad really... compared to people who were stuck in places for days because of strikes and road blocks.
28th July 2016

Hoho - those pier with lake and volcano views are so photogenic! I have a number of them in my travel blog too :)
28th July 2016

Re: Photogenic!
That was easily our favourite landscape to photograph on the whole trip. I'm about to go over and check out your Atitlan blog now :)

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