The day after arriving at Panajachel (Pana), we decided to explore the surrounding roads and took the road less traveled--in the words of Robert Frost (had to learn that one in high school)--and went by several villages and hamlets which seemed to be embedded into the mountains. Lovely and scary (some bridges are sort of rickety and the week after we were there, one actually imploded!).
After a while of awesome views and lots of very winding curves, we really needed to make a bathroom stop.
Driving by one town called Agua Escondida (Hidden Waters) we saw a roadside restaurant which looked decent enough, Restaurant Chi Swan, and stopped to buy a soda and use the bathroom. We were really surprised upon entering to be faced with wide open windows right to the lake below, a view of such beauty it was truly breathtaking. The sodas were ice-cold. AND... the bathrooms were clean! Riches abound.
The food, though, was meh! I mean, it was digestible and abundant. But not greatest.
Since we had no timetable and nowhere specific to go, we just hung around the place awhile chatting with the owner, Edgar Alvarez, who is originally from Sololá and started his working life as a busboy in Panajachel restaurants and now owns his own restaurant and hotel. Very entrepreneurial guy.
Curious as to what there is to do in a hamlet like Agua Escondida, which seems to provide habitus for ... I don't know, like 20 families maybe (if!)... I asked him what people do 'round there for fun.
He seemed surprised at my ignorance and told me that there are well-known hiking and trekking trails all around, hot springs, waterfalls and other such wonders. He caters to this particular crowd, especially on the weekends. Me, not so much into hiking and trekking and all that healthful and natureful stuff.
But still, hey, what do you know? I guess they're not so isolated after all, in this tiny townlet. Lovely weather and awesome views, I thought it was more an ideal place to go recover from a nervous breakdown or hunker away from it all while writing the great American novel. Or the never-ending dissertation.
Which is where I am at right now, as my dissertation chair just sent me a few tremendously long and dense articles I must incorporate in my dissertation. But I don't even want to go there!
As you can see, the rooms at Chi Swan are quite kitschy, to say the least, but all of them have a balcony and wide open view to the lake and mountains, plus Internet access, so like I said, the ideal place to get away from it all. Except the Internet doesn't really let us get away from it all, but at least we can hide behind an anonymous screen.
Still, I don't know what's with the daisies painted on the wall, but, whatever. That would sort of irk me after a couple days there. Maybe the other rooms don't have them. In which case, I could see myself staying there to recover from my nervous breakdown. After this dissertation has been finally beaten to death.
Mr. Álvarez told us which were the longest, most winding roads taken only by locals. He failed to explain--perhaps it would have been obvious to less unenlightened city rats than us?--that such roads are unpaved, have hair-rising 45-degree angles in which one has to negotiate the road inch by inch while the Jeep seems to be slithering on sandy stuff and we're left staring face down at a bottomless precipice.
Nobody would even notice if we fell down a precipice, since they are very lonely roads.
The road was like twice the time length than the paved road, and the views were even more amazing. So lots to see.
And we kept driving down, down, down, at very steep angles, at times barely a sliver of grass away from a dizzying precipice.
We drove through the main street of several small villages. These have mazes of seriously narrow streets that go straight up almost vertically into the mountain. The houses sort of just perch on the mountain side! All of them seem to have a breathtaking view of the lake and mountains.
Almost everybody who has a car in these places has a small Toyota pick-up truck. More like the toy kind. They are everywhere. Brown and red seem to be preferred colors. One guy told us that it is because they are very economic in their gas usage and very sturdy.
As beautiful as the views are and as picturesque as the towns can be, there doesn't seem to be much to do for young people during their down time but spend hours just idly standing on high spots staring at the lake or town. There are plenty of miradores, or public areas specifically designated to enjoy the view, and young people--mostly Mayans--congregate there, seemingly separated by gender, and look at the view.
One thing that young people around the world seem to have in common is the attachment to the cell phone. This young woman (below) was looking at the lake and talking on the phone in very rapid kak'chikel the same way that all teenagers seem to talk: breathlessly and giggling a lot.
The boys in these towns seemed to prefer texting. They walk in groups but instead of talking to each other, all the boys are looking intently at their cellphones and texting away. Probably the same everywhere else in the world.
In many of these towns most of the able-bodied men are gone to the US to earn money--agriculture here is subsistence farming and subsistence here is more in the line of barebones subsistence. Prosperous farmers and town dwellers don't leave.
This has meant a change in gender roles, and women now do jobs that used to be male: they plant, they sow, the reap, the carry wood for their cooking. They also have less children because the men are away. I am sure this make for strange dynamics in these very traditional societies.
The women in the photo above were unloading wood from a truck. They spoke only K'akchikel and dress alike in the clothing that marks them as from that specific town. The next town from that had women wearing clothing in a different color. Many--especially older women and men--don't like to be photographed up close and since they don't speak Spanish, when one asks permission to take their picture, they just throw a cover over their heads to signal their unwillingness.
These towns are really very colorful, with a strong preference for deep blues and bright yellows. Their clothing also shows a marked preference for blue and yellow. Interestingly, the lake and mountains are blue and the mountains are dotted everywhere by very bright yellow flowers. I wonder if that influences the whole color scheme going on here.
The people of San Antonio Palopo produce, besides lovely textiles, beautiful ceramics. The designs show some serious external influence combined with local Mayan preferences and traditions. There are ceramic workshops and stores all over town.
The work is really pretty and the prices are to die for! Everything would be much more expensive in the capital city and even more so in the US. I was not aware that this area was a ceramic production area, and most of the stuff is taken to bigger markets and to the city.
The ceramic store manager, a Mayan woman with her baby on her back, allowed me to photograph her from behind. I wish I could buy a ton of stuff there, but I have no more space for any more ceramics, paintings, books and just, you know, stuff! So I bought something for one of my daughters in the US instead.
Back in Panajachel a lot of people were absolutely amazed that we had actually taken that road and driven it all the way through. Even a lot of locals don't take it. I am glad we did, it was a great experience. The people are very friendly and the view is awesome. Much to be said for less traffic as well, no crammed buses teetering on one side about to fall over or trucks with produce crawling ahead at a mile per hour. Just a few Toyota pick-ups and bicycles bouncing away, and pedestrians.
One of the businesses I loved in Pana, by the way, is Dina's Chocolates. The chocolates they sell are organic, handmade, sweetened with honey and delicious. At about US$2 a bar they aren't cheap, relatively speaking, but they are worth every bite. I admit two biases here: one for good chocolate and another one for food and other things made the artisan way. It is a good place to go at the end of the day for coffee and some chocolate munchies.
The owner, Luciano, is from Italy (the northern part) and after years of traveling the world, fell in love with and married a Guatemalan woman and voila! He's settled on Calle Santander, in Panajachel, with his own business now.
You can buy cacao pods and seeds there as well. In case you don't know this, chocolate originated from the area of Guatemala and expanded from there to the rest of the world after the Spanish conquest.
By the way, one pet peeve: the word is NOT conquistadors. It is either conquerors or conquistadores. Either way, lots of foreigners who have successfully made their home in Guatemala, obviously. As they say, where there's a will, there's a way.
all abandoned. What the hell? Was it during the years of the civil war? Or as the systems mechanized, workers became obsolete and so did their housing and churches?
It was a bit icky yet fascinating to get into the grasses--crickets and birds screeching everywhere and slithering creatures making slithering noises in the grass--to take pictures.
I wanted to post them today but it will have to wait, again, for next time. As I said, I must work on my dissertation. I am physically tired from bringing in big potted plants all over the building and inn. I am a plant freak, I am afraid, I just love indoor spaces full of plants.
Moreover, there are some scholars from University of Wisconsin staying at the inn and we happily agreed to go have a beer with them tonight. They are doing research at the libraries and archives around here. I am always impressed at home many US visitors can speak Spanish fluently. Who says Americans cannot speak other languages?
I am planning a trip to Antigua to visit the libraries and archives there myself, but that won't happen till later this week. It doesn't look like the dissertation work will get done today either, does it? I do promise to post the pictures of the abandoned coastal haciendas (plantations), churches, etc., very soon. Next time. For sure!
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City