Sunday, 9.September 2007, Panajachel
It is now just over 6 weeks since we arrived in Panajachel on the beautiful Lago de Atitlán, and it is the longest we have stayed anywhere on our journey. We came seeking somewhere to learn some more Spanish and, after exploring other possibilities both here in Pana and elsewhere, we settled on the Jabel Tinamit School here in Pana. We now have 2 more lessons on Monday and Tuesday to complete our 4 weeks (these are to make up for 2 we missed the week before last because we were both too sick with the flu to sit through class) and on Wednesday or Thursday we will start moving again.
During those 6 weeks we have left Pana twice - the first time to visit Xela (Quetzaltenango) to check out if we would like to study there. We decided the city was too big and too busy and too polluted to be a nice place to spend so much time. The drive to and from Xela was made all the more interesting by the roadworks we encountered. Not only because it is impossible to see any logic in the process, but also because of the road blocks with long hold-ups, which develop into a spectacle of their own. There are numerous vendors trying to sell everything from drinks to snacks to handcrafts. And then there is the skilled craft of the guy sliding his wooden bar, spiked with long sharp nails, on and off the road. He allows the working vehicles to pass, but makes sure the rest of us are really obeying him. Then there's the race to be through first once the spikes are removed - most likely with chicken buses recklessly overtaking everybody else and then squeezing them almost off the road once they are faced with oncoming vehicles.
We also crossed the lake by boat early on to visit San Pedro with the view of maybe going there to study. It is quite a different town to Pana but the streets are very steep and very narrow, since it is actually built on the side of a volcano, and we couldn't really work out where we could park to stay there. An Icelandic couple we met in Pana, and visited San Pedro with, decided to study there, but they dry camped on the lake edge for the time they were there. Unfortunately we don't have a big enough water tank or waste tanks to do that for such a long period of time. So we settled on Pana and set up our home on the lakeshore at the Hotel Tzanjuyú.
We had thought to spend some time in a homestay in order to improve our Spanish more quickly by communicating with a family. It took a lot of our time to find somewhere safe to leave the camper and then we finally moved in with the family. They were very nice and they tried really hard to keep a conversation going with our limited Spanish, but after an almost sleepless night due to roaming packs of barking dogs and a rooster that crowed so loud it could have been right in the bedroom with us, we returned to the relative tranquillity of the lake side. Nowhere is really quiet in these countries but the campground at Hotel Tzanjuyú is better than a lot of places. And it has a view that is really hard to beat.
Two weeks into our course we had to leave Pana again to drive to the Mexican border in order to obtain a new permit for our vehicle. In their wisdom, the government of Guatemala gives visas of 90 days to tourists and vehicle permits for 42! It was quite a nice journey actually, except for the fact that I started to get sick on the day we set out. We left from Pana driving southwards along the eastern side of Lago de Atitlan. We were afforded some magnificent views that really made the trip pleasurable. This lake really must be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!
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