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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

September 29th: Panajachel

On September 29th 1975 I was in Panajachel in Guatemala.

Panajachel was really a hang-out town. It had no great attraction of its own, a mestizo town a good walk from Lake Atitlan, which was a world apart for rich kids from Guatemala City. Panajachel was convenient, a place where it was easy to stay for a while for cool North Americans, with a Pie Shop, a vegetarian restaurant and good places for breakfast, but within easy reach of the Indian towns and villages where staying overnight was more intrusive and less comfortable.  Panajachel had places you could rent by the week and I stayed in one such in a thatched room in a courtyard full of chickens and turkeys.
Santiago Atitlan Recently Picture by Bitxi

This was the day I finally got to Santiago Atitlan, after several attempts. There was a good boat ride across the lake with the volcanoes clear, via Santa Caterina and Palopo to San Lucas where I had breakfast under the perfect volcano shape of Mt Toliman. Santiago was very attractive with a market in full swing where I shopped for fruit, mamay, pitache and anona included. The weaving being worn was splendid and the tourists were keen to buy it. There were a lot of thatched houses in the town, wide streets with even cobbles. I looked in the church, where the statues in vivid colours had pieces of clothing on them.  These were mainly veils though Christ wore a rebozo.

A few days before I had been to Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango in 1975.  Picture Wikimedia Commons
and enjoyed the market there, again for the sights, as everyone was wearing their best clothes, like the woman at whose stall I had beans and tortillas. Copal, Mayan incense, was being burned outside the larger white church in the centre, and there were plenty of tourists around. I did the journey in the common way in this area, part hitchhiking and part on the buses, taking whatever came along. The journey over the hills was very beautiful, clear air and some of the maize fields were draped with garlands.

My favourite excursion was to the town of Solola quite near to Panajachel where the market had fewer foreigners and a band played in the square.

Everything for Panajachel, as for much of Guatemala was about to change, because on 4th February 1976, barely four months after my visit, Guatemala was hit by an huge earthquake.  26000 people died and the geology of the lake was disturbed. This was then followed by repeated conflict between the military and indigenos. It seemed from a distance that Mayan culture would never survive, but of course it has survived worse events in its history.

Ten years after my visit, Ronald Wright, in Time Among The Maya, described Panajachel as full of concrete hotels and hippies in muddled versions of the native costume. I suspect by then the scene had moved to the beach. Wright also went to Chichicastenango, which he reminds us was where the Popul Voh was found, and found traces of chicken sacrifice after mass and visited a private house where Christian/Maya rites were performed.

View Solola in a larger map

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