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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Pleasures of Panajachel

Calle Satander in the morning with craft stalls and the volcano in the mist

We have had a great time in Panajachel, starting from the heavenly simplicity of Mario's Rooms and continuing with the amazing hamburgers and soup from Guajimbo's Uruguayan restaurant down the street which had the largest purest beef patties I have ever seen laced with Mediterranean pizza type filling instead of lettuce and tomato. One of these and a bowl of vegetable soup would fill us up for the whole evening for the price of a single main or around $5.25 US. The weather is near perfect since the lake is at 1573 m (5238 ft).

Panorama of Atitlan and its two volcanoes in the morning mist (click to enlarge)

The first morning I got up around 7am and stumped down to the shoreline and took this panorama of the lake peerless in the morning mist. This is pretty essential because like many places in Central America, the day frequently tends to cloud over ending in rain in late afternoon.

Boats on the shoreline ferry passengers to several other towns around Atitlan

Later after arranging some laundry and looking at the huipils, or women's embroidered tops, we set off in a speed boat for Santiago Atitlan which will be the subject of the next blog.

Women on the beach wearing traditional female attire

Hills above Pana in the early morning light

Pana, or at least Satander street running down to the lake is an unashamed tourist trap, lined with trinket and craft stalls, little bucket shop travel agents arranging shuttle buses to just about any tourist destination between Mexico and Nicaragua, restaurants and guesthouses, as well as being filled with a mix of tourists and Guatemalan women trying to sell textile items bound up in balls of produce on their heads. Many of the other towns reached by boat are also heavily dominated by the tourist trade filled with restaurants and small hotels.

Ubiquitous tuk-tuks

It's almost impossible to sit down to eat without being besieged by people trying to sell you anything from a scarf through jewelry to a joint, yet it's still a very pleasant place to hang out.

The girl left managed to persuade us to buy a little scarf while we were eating dinner ,
which I did partly so she would consent to this photograph.
The man right shows a common version of male traditional clothing

These two women walking past the craft stalls wear the simple blue huipils of San Antonio,
but are trying to sell all manner of tourist junk items.

Most women still prefer to wear ornamented Guatemalan textiles in some form or other

These ones for instance have modern style short skirts, but very rich striking huipils.

Crazy store fronts at the intersection of Satander and the main calle

On the second day, after organizing our shuttle bus on to San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico I suddenly had an afterthought, realizing that there were a couple of somewhat neglected towns that could be reached by road along the shore west of Pana, one of which I had walked to when I was here in 1980. So we walked up to the main road and along to a corner where pickup trucks collect passengers to take to the towns of Santa Catarina and San Antonio.

The one remaining functional bridge across the local river

At the corner to the road to San Antonio, a ute with seats in the back appeared and we and a bunch of women wearing plain blue huipils, who were also very camera shy, although they were the same shameless street sellers I photographed with bundles on their heads, also piled in and we took off out of town. We had to make a major detour because the recent rains and floods had left only one bridge fully operational.

The flood plain of the river

The road wound precipitously along the precipitous shoreline, interrupted at almost every turn with massive washouts sometimes with boulders the size of small trucks washed down the ravines.

Here and there there were stunning views of the lake.

Santa Catarina Palopo

We passed on through the first village Santa Catarina, although it has a reputation for fine huipils, because it was in the middle of some rather nasty reconstruction, and the ute was already going to San Antonio at the end of the road.

After a delay while road teams cleared a section of the road we made it to the steep hill town of San Antonio Palopo a village absolutely remote from the touristic hype and spin of many of the towns you can reach by boat across the lake.

San Antonio Palopo

Panorama of Atitlan and San Antonio (click to enlarge)

All the people were very camera shy and the women and girls all wore the same plain tie dyed fabric huipils mostly purple but some in red, with only a few flowers sometimes embroidered around the neck, instead bearing head dresses streaked with shiny blue, white and yellow plastic threads in their long platted hair.

Women in blue and red huipils and male attire

Several of the women came up and tried to make us buy a few fabric items most of which were standard tourist stuff, although they did have a few huipils, but much simpler than those of other villages despite them claiming they were 'swerte'.

The local church is a simple affair with similar mixed Maya Catholic undertones to others in Guatemala, from Chichicastenango to Santiago Atitlan, so it becomes a kind of spiritual repository for all forms of devotion, rather than being driven solely by the organized services of Christianity.

We had planned to stop on the way back at Santa Catarina, but after the long road delays and the fact that we had to get back to Pana before all the stalls closed to get one or two gifts, as we were leaving first thing in the morning, we continued on despite the fact that everyone in this village was wearing much more exciting embroidered huipils.

If you look in the above picture, you can see a woman sitting in a bule huipil an alcove and on the right just the corner of a back-strap loom, which an older women in a brilliant red huipil was demonstrating weaving. As we flashed past I called out to Christine there they are doing the weaving do you want to stop and see them? But we couldn't decide in time and flashed on by. Here it is expanded below ...

Now this takes me back 30 years in a flash to the same village which I had walked to in 1980 and here are my flash back images from then, showing exactly the scene we missed, in flying by today, in even more resplendent colour ...

A man from Santa Catarina 1980 and a girl selling fruit on the beach

Santa Catarina as it was then (compare with the slightly blurred image on the way in above)

Now on to our boat trip across the lake.

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