2 June 2016
As I said in our previous blog, we hired a taxi driver to take us from Antigua Guatemala to Panajachel. It was a 2.5 hour or so trip, travelling roughly 130 km (about 80 miles). Our route took us through several large towns along the PanAmerican highway, numerous small towns, and up into the mountains in the central region. We also drove through farmland, although many of the family farms include fields planted up the sides of the hills and mountains.
We arrived in Panajachel, which is located on Lake (or Lago) Atitlan. The elevation here is just about a mile, some 5100 feet, or roughly 1700 meters. The lake is large, 50.25 square miles surface area and about 30 miles in circumference (50 km). This is also the deepest lake in Central America.
And Lago Atitlan is ringed by mountains, including three volcanoes. These aren’t currently active volcanoes, but they are dormant. So, periodically they rumble or puff or steam. Haven’t heard about any recent eruptions, so we’re not concerned. The lake bed itself is part of an old volcanic caldera, and part valley between all the mountains. Really an interesting and beautiful place!
Our hotel has absolutely gorgeous flowers and a wonderful garden. I find it odd, though, that we have beautiful tropical flowers like the hanging trumpet flowers growing right next to roses, who wilt at the slightest hint of heat. This seems to be a unique environment in the Guatemalan highlands, where polar opposite flowers can both thrive.
Panajachel, as in Antigua, has wonderful shops and stands and markets and wandering vendors all selling the amazing textiles that are produced all over this country. I chatted with one woman in a shop, and as I suspected, there are differences from town to town in the style of the clothing. One town might weave the designs into the fabrics, another town might weave plain fabric and then embroider the designs. Another town may have the tradition to always make striped fabric, with or without floral designs around the neckline. Each community has their own style, and people recognize where people are from based on their traditional clothing.
I also found an article about the weaving of Guatemala, and wanted to share just a little information. This comes from “Revue – Guatemala’s English-language Magazine” – the April 2016 edition.
“Weaving is an artisan tradition in Guatemala, one that women have been doing for centuries. In 2005, an external study commissioned by USAID estimated that there were between 700,000 and 900,000 weavers in the country – most of them indigenous women. The trade provides stable work in a place where poverty is abundant and job opportunities for women are scarce. [There are approximately 15.4 people living in Guatemala.]
“According to the World Factbook, 54% of the Guatemalan population lives below the poverty line and the majority are indigenous. By purchasing and wearing traje (traditional embroidered and woven clothing), a person does more than promote their culture – they contribute to the local economy and the advancement of local artisans.”
I don’t know what the population of the country is, but somewhere between three-quarters of a million to nearly one million people in this country weave textiles – clothing for men, women and children; table linens; fabric for purses, luggage, backpacks, even shoes! And yet these weavers, mostly women, are struggling to support their families and keep their children in school.
But I think I definitely need to buy a few items.
Okay, today we decided to take the public boat to San Pedro, one of the towns on Lago Atitlan. There are twelve main towns on the shores of the lake, and most are accessible only by boat. A few have roads in and out, but most don’t. So we walked down to the docks, which are really just peeled logs for pilings and some wood boards to walk along to reach the boat. There are private boats for 500 or so queztales (about $70 US), or the public boats for 25 queztales (about $3.75 US). Yeah, we waited for the public boat.
It was quite the ride across the lake to San Pedro. Near the shore was smooth and glassy, with great views of the various mountain peaks. Mid-lake, however, was a little rough – there were small waves, and our captain never slowed down for the rougher water. So we basically bounced our way across the center of the lake, bam bam bam with those spine-jarring thuds that only happen with motor boats.
When we got out of the boat at San Pedro, we found out why our captain drove this way. He was a child whose voice hasn’t even changed yet, probably all of 12 years old! I have no idea who put this child in charge of driving a motorboat across a mountain lake – but having taught middle school for 25 years, well, trust me, I wouldn’t put a 12 year old in charge of a motorboat and a group of tourists. Seriously!
The town of San Pedro is located at the base of Volcan San Pedro, so walking around tends to be up and down steep hills. We took a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled taxi, up to the market area and walked around a while. We made our way to the park in the center of town, a truly lovely spot full of flowers, trees trimmed to look like birds, and a statue of San Pedro – or in English, Saint Peter. We spent some time hanging out in the park, because it was just so peaceful.
I also chased after a monarch butterfly, who finally relented and posed for a moment so I could get a photo.
A bit more wandering around, a cold drink, and we were sort of finished with the town. We had heard that San Pedro was a big party town, sort of wild and crazy. I’m not sure if we were there at the wrong time of year, or the wrong time of day, or what. It seemed like a normal little town with pretty churches, a mellow market, the lovely central park, and fairly quiet and boring other than that. (The other thought is that we may be out of the demographic invited to party. There is that.)
So we caught another boat heading back to Panajachel. This turned out to be more adventure than the rest of the day all added together!
Our boat puttered along. This was the local boat, stopping at each town between San Pedro and Panajachel. At one stop, an older woman and a group of children clamored aboard, the kids with school bags. They were cute and friendly, ranging from maybe 5 yrs old to 10 or so. We stopped at another town, I asked the woman where we were, she told me the route we’d be taking.
At the next town, apparently our captain saw another boat trying to beat him to the public boat dock. The other boat got there, and some tourists climbed on. Our captain felt this was wrong, because the other boat wasn’t the public boat and wasn’t supposed to pick up these people. (Or something like that.) So he drove up next to the parked boat and gave it a good bump!
THAT captain got all upset and jumped onto our boat and came rampaging through, with the little kids all scattering in this wake. The two captains started yelling and shoving and who knows what else, we couldn’t quite see what was happening. But our engine was still going, and we started drifting out into the lake! Some of the littlest kids burst out crying, they were so scared. People on the dock started yelling and gesturing. Our captain took control and started driving away, but we still had this other captain on board. He tried going back to the dock, but people were mobbing the place. So he pulled away.
Then some older guy on the dock threw a large rock which hit the side of our boat, right next to Richard! The older woman got all the kids onto the floor in the middle of the boat, and told us to get in there too, since who knew what would happen next!
Of course, Richard and I were ready to step in – he was turned around telling the captains to chill out and calm down, I was putting together my Spanish to yell at the rock thrower that we were a bunch of women and children and tourists!
And one of the local guys on our boat was recording the whole thing on his cell phone. For youtube.
I don’t know how things resolved. We drifted a bit. We drove over to some other dock, people went running over there. The lady tried to get the kids off the boat but we weren’t close enough. We went back to the first dock, but the tourists waved and yelled NO NO NO – I guess they didn’t want to get any more involved!
So we headed off to the next town, speeding along because we were way behind schedule by now. (I don’t know when the other captain got off our boat, but I guess he did.) We had a few more stops, then we were back at Panajachel. We climbed out. I told the captain and co-captain “el proximo tiempo, mas tranquillo, si?” (Next time, more tranquil!)
Except now, we were at the pier at the opposite end of town, and the roads didn’t go through, and we tried walking but hit several dead ends and were just lost. And tired. And frazzled after our crazed ride. A tuk-tuk came by, and that was the best solution.
I went out for a bite of lunch, and encountered another crazy event. What I saw as I ate: a car with several piñatas on top, being pushed down the road by a group of young people, with others running along cheering, and a few kids on bicycles. Okay, whatever. A few minutes later, another car goes by, with totally different decorations, being pushed and accompanied by runners and bikers. Maybe five more minutes, here comes a third car, with someone wearing an Alvin the Chipmunk head!
I finally asked the waitress what was going on. She explained this is the anniversary of something I didn’t understand, and this is how they celebrate. I don’t know the word for race, so asked if it was a competicione (yeah, competition with a Spanish pronunciation). She said si, si.
A Batmobile went by, with runners all in Batman tee shirts. A red car with huge yellow paper French fries (Los Pappasitos, The Potato Guys). Another car looking maybe like a cat, or a rat? Kids in Santa hats. Just, totally bizarre!
And then all afternoon, a band playing at the school next door! I asked and the hotel guard said the parade was finished, they were now having the music. We finally got the full explanation from the front desk: this is the school’s anniversary, they have a yearly celebration. So they do this crazy race and parade down the main street in town, and then yes, they have a big musical celebration right at the school. Which is located next to our hotel.
That was our first full day in Panajachel.
Wow! And yes, I hope our subsequent days are a little calmer! Well, okay, the crazy school parade pushing cars down the street was funny. And the boat captain altercation was sort of an adventure.
But it also was something we’d have been happy to do without.