Lake Atitlán – Panajachel

Feb 8 – We are running low on quetzales, and Santa Cruz has no ATM, so today we took the public lancha (motorboat) back to Panajachel (Pana-ha-SHELL, or just call it Pana like the locals do). We’ve befriended Canadian sisters Monica and Mary from British Columbia, and Jim offered to cook supper for them, so we will go to the market and see if there are ingredients on offer that will make a meal.

As we approached the dock, a boat was just pulling away, but the pilot called out “Pana?” and when we nodded in the affirmative, he pulled back in so we could hop on. I sat next to an American retired couple who purchased a house here several years ago so they could winter here and summer in Maine. Now, that sounds like a perfect life.

Panajachel has all the hustle of a city, with touts approaching at every turn offering taxi rides, food and souvenirs.

During our search for an ATM, I spied these little cuties. Photographed from the back only, of course.

We were told that every town has its own design for traditional clothing. Ladies from Santa Cruz use blue and green thread, and the triangles represent the volcanoes.

Everywhere we walked a little knot of locals followed us, offering key chains and pencils as well as the more expensive woven, carved and leather goods. When we sat down in a restaurant to eat lunch, they followed us in!

We weren’t buying souvenirs today, so after finding the ATM, we looked for what other things of interest Panajachel had to offer. We found the church of course, Iglesia San Francisco.

As soon as we stepped inside, we heard this god-awful wailing. I feared we had stumbled into a funeral, but as my eyes adjusted, I could see a parade of people crawling on their knees, from the back of the church, down the hard tiled center aisle toward the altar, presumably exhorting the Lord with lamentations and prayer. What a racket!

We sat quietly in a pew, then watched as each person reached the altar, than started the long journey back up the aisle, on their knees, crawling backwards, still wailing. That was enough for me.

We’ve seen this form of penance before, at pilgrimage sites like Lourdes and Fatima. This was the first time we’ve seen it in a local church.

As we were about to leave, the caretaker of the church approached Jim and asked if we wanted to see the side chapels. He unlocked the gates and let us in.

Then he asked if we wanted to see upstairs. We gamely climbed into the choir loft, which was just a dusty space devoid of organ or pews.

Then he showed us another circular stone stair that led up to the bell tower. From the narrow step I was standing on, I would have to leap across empty space to access the other stair – no thanks! Of course, long-legged Jim was up for the challenge. Do you know what was up there? A bell!

That was enough excitement for one day. We found a modern supermarket, Jim bought provisions for the next few days, and we took the lancha back home to Santa Cruz.

Jim set to work in the big kitchen, managing to slice his thumb in addition to the mushrooms, peppers, onion, garlic and chorizo that went into his super spaghetti sauce. With fresh garlic bread, cold cervesa, and the good company of Monica and Mary, it was a meal that couldn’t be beat!

Monica and Mary, adventure-loving sisters from British Columbia

After supper, it started to get windy, than really windy. At about 8pm the town lost electricity, and we prepared for bed by candlelight. I wonder how long the battery in my iPad will last?

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