A page with larger
Panajachel is on the edge of Lago Atitlan, a
beautiful mountain lake bordered by volcanoes along its shores.
Nicknamed Gringotenango because of the presence of so many tourists,
travelers, and expats, Pana is filled with young and old hippies,
dropouts, and drifters.
The main street is lined
with colorful craft stalls, and wandering indigenia vendors who
are both streetwise and persistent. There are a lot of vegetarian
and open air restaurants, new age shops, and even a DHL overnight
express shipping store. Pana is an odd blend of funky counter culture
commerce and upscale tourist ambiance.
>>> A volcano, seen from the village
of Panajachel, dwarfs local fishing boats on Lago Atitlan in the
Solala district of Guatemala. A trio of 3000 meter volcanoes, one
of which is still active, rise above the lake that surrounds them.
<<< The ornate fountain in the Parque
Central of Antigua, once the grandest colonial city in Central America.
Surrounded by three massive volcanoes, the former capital of Guatemala
was twice destroyed by earthquakes in the 1700's.
The busy plaza in Antigua is filled with indigenias, local ladinos
and tourists from Guatemala City, North America and Europe. Language
school students fill the town along with the crush of tourists and
Looming over the town, Volcan de Agua commands your focus as you
turn a street corner and look up. Two more volcanoes, one with a
plume of snake-like smoke, rise in the distance towering beyond
the market. The impact of the volcanoes and reminders of earthquakes
haunt Antigua. Destroyed cathedrals with crumbled walls, vanished
rooftops, gutted interiors, and overgrown weeds give the town a
ghostly ambiance contrasted against its colorful vibrancy. Haunting
and empty, yet filled with shops and visitors. Crumbling and abandoned
ruins populated with street vendors and tourists.
Small Mayan women, garbed in multi-colored skirts and blouses, walk
with bushel sized baskets balanced on their heads filled to the
brim with produce, crafts, or clothing. They carry their infants
in sling-styled pouches or suspended from their backs. Dressed in
brightly colored clothes and ornately patterned embroidery on their
traditional huipiles the indigenias seem unintimidated by the gringos.
Their grace and dignity combines with their dark hair and beauty,
their easy laughter and coy looks.
brightly painted former U.S. school buses have been retrofitted
and recycled for daily use as public transportation throughout Guatemala.
Next to the crowded public market, which is
a labyrinth of shops and vendors, buses come and go in the massive
dirt lot that serves as the bus station. The old U.S. school buses,
some painted in bright primary colors, others still institutional
yellow, are filled with passengers and stacked with luggage and
goods on the roof.
The buses are an amazing experience. People crowd the narrow aisles
that run between small seats which hold three or more passengers.
On many occasions I had difficulty just getting out of my seat,
moving past the people in the aisles and making my way to the bus
Each bus driver has a helper who collects fares by deftly moving
through the mass of humanity. I've observed them crawl out the window
in the front of the bus as it races along. They crawl along the
side using the roof rack as a handhold and the window frames as
footholds, as they make their way to the back door and reenter the
<<< A view of
Temple II or Temple of the Masks, in the Great Plaza of Tikal. Located
in the dense tropical jungles of the remote Peten region of northern
Guatemala, Tikal was once one of the largest Mayan cities in the
I boarded a small twenty passenger plane at
the Guatemala national airport to Santa Elena in the Peten jungle.
The one hour flight saved me a 15 hour bus ride over some of the
roughest roads in the country.
An airport collectivo, a small passenger van, carried me across
the narrow dirt and rock causeway that connected Santa Elena to
the nearby island village of Flores. I checked into the Hotel Tucan,
a lazy little restaurant and hotel fronting Lake Peten.
I caught another shuttle to the National Park in Tikal. There I
spent five hours wandering around the ruins of Tikal, climbing the
pyramids and watching the tropical birds and monkeys in the tree
Crowds of people wandered around the ruins in the blazing tropical
sun. I slipped away from the crowds after seeing the major sites
and explored the less traveled jungle paths and sites. For a short
while I shared a remote set of ruins with a vulture who remained
on the top steps until other tourists arrived and it flew off.
More about Mexico:
Lonely Planet Guatemala Travel Guide
Lonely Planet Ruta Maya Guide
Lonely Planet Central America Guide
I, Rigoberta Menchu - Rigoberta Menchu
Time Among The Maya - Ronald Wright
T R A V E L M E N U
A I N M E N U
Photography by Paul Picus. Copy by
Paul Picus. Copyright © 1996-2008 Paul Picus
Copyright © 1996-2008 Gar Benedick,
All Rights Reserved.