How exciting it was to move to Panajachel, Guatemala for several reasons. Number one, San Antonio Palópo, the village we were leaving and Panajachel are only 12 km apart. I am so tired of crossing borders, that moving to Pana (as it is known locally) was a breeze. Of course, we'd amassed more stuff than anticipated so we took two vehicles to get there. I rode in a tuk-tuk with all the boxes and my partner took public transportation (back of a pick-up) from the church.
Panajachel is the most bustling of the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan with a population of approximately 15,000 people who consist of The Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil Maya - mostly from surrounding villages, Ladinos and Gringos who run the businesses plus a heavy dollop of tourists thrown in the mix. As soon as you drive across the bridge spanning the river (Rio Panajachel) there's a marked difference between the tranquility of San Antonio Palópo and the bustle and traffic of Pana. The noise is palpable. Fortunately, our casita is situated in Barrio Norte which is a ten minute walk north of the market, far enough from the madding crowd to be palatable. If I had to live in the center of town, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have moved here. It's that crazy!
The first week in my new place I felt like a kid in a candy store. Cable TV, WiFi, a normal sized fridge with a separate freezer, a working oven, hot water on-demand, places to walk, pizza and neighborhood bars (order dependent on my mood) were the things I missed in San Antonio Palópo and the reason we moved from the country to the city, so to speak.
The vegetable market is awesome and so inexpensive. There are some things you just can't find - lemons for instance, but for the most part you won't be disappointed. Everything is fresh and local. And of course, there are vegetables I've never seen before. I can't wait to try something new.
I love the market here but before moving here I wasn't aware of the covered part. Inside is where the meat and fish are sold along with spices, more veggies, pots and pans, hardware and clothing stalls. I haven't had fresh fish since coming to Guatemala and now I can. There were small shrimp, crabs and Patin (a local minnow recipe). The fishermen were also selling black bass, at least I think that's what it was.
There are butchers everywhere in the market. I found pork, lamb, and beef. In the only supermarket in town (Despensa Familiar) you can't get much more than hamburger and chicken, so this was a treat. I'm amazed that I hadn't found this before, but better late than never.
I wouldn't be me if I didn't find a decent watering hole to patronize, and La Palapa on Calle Principal has become the bar of choice. I've never been there at night but I know they have live music and it's packed with tourists. I'm more of a day person when the patrons are local and it's quiet enough to have a conversation. Saturday’s world famous BBQ with Smokin’ Joe who serves the best ribs, steaks and filet mignon this side of Memphis is not to be missed. The atmosphere is relaxed, the beer is cheap, the food is good, the dogs are friendly.
The Church of St. Francis of Assisi is located beside the market and just off Calle Principal in the center of town. Aside from being beautiful colonial architecture - it was built circa 1731 by the Franciscans, the courtyard is spacious and virtually empty every time I've been there. It's a lovely place to sit and catch your breath!
Shopping on Santander
Calle Santander is the main tourist drag where all the hawkers sell their wares. It's loud, colorful and full of people. The myriad hotels, restaurants and clothing shops make my head spin. Undoubtedly, if you are shopping for a piece of Guatemalan weaving or a new purse or scarf, you can find it here - not dirt cheap but at a decent price. I have my eye on a beautifully made woven cloth and leather purse for Q530 (US $70) and that's before we haggle!
• One third of the way down Santander in a small open shopping plaza there's a delightful second-hand English-language book shop (The Book Store) with a very eclectic selection and they give half the cost of the book back upon return. Digging that!
Also on Santander are my two favorite cafés: Café Loco for Lattes, but more importantly the best message board in town where you will find everything from apartments for rent to volunteer jobs and bikes for sale. Further down the street, near the post office, there's Café Asawa-Ko where I go for the best cheesecake and apple pie in town.
What makes me uncomfortable on this street are the ubiquitous "shoeshine boys" who approach me and beg for money. They should be in school but I suppose they are more valuable to the family out on Santander trying to make a couple of Quetzales. There is so much poverty here and even if all the gringos who live here aren't wealthy, we have a darn sight more than a lot of people here. I carry a pocket of small change when I walk around in town because I can't refuse them. What else does one do? They can't shoeshine my flip-flops.
And speaking of Post Offices - El Correo de Guatemala is my best friend. If it weren't for these very diligent people, I wouldn't have a business. It was such a relief to find a reliable mail system after the nightmare of Mexico. Decent international delivery times, free tracking and reasonable rates make me and my customers happy campers.
Well, that's all for now. Next I'll explore the beach area and let you know what I find.
Have you been to Panajachel? If so, let me know of some more cool places to find and I'll write about them here.