Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
We’re now at the end of a month here in Panajachel Guatemala, for Spanish school, on the always beautiful and interesting Lake Atitlan in the Western Highlands. October has typically been fairly warm during the day with regular afternoon rain that varies from short showers of around 15 minutes to several hours of on and off showers. The town of Panajachel is roughly 15,000 people at an elevation of 1560m. It rests immediately on the lake edge and is the most common starting point for people exploring the other towns and areas of the lake. Lake Atitlan itself was formed after a massive eruption some 85,000 years ago which blew volcanic ash as far as Florida and Panama. The lake today is around 300m deep at roughly 19km east to west and 10km north to south. The primary means of transportation is boat between towns or in some cases pickup truck or Tuc Tucs where roads connect.
Details of activities in Panajachel can be found in a separate blog here
San Cristobal to Panajachel
We left San Cristobal, Mexico at 7am on a 10 hour trip to Panajachel, Guatemala. This involved taking two shuttles (vans); one to the Guatemala border then changing drivers at the border and catching a second shuttle bus (Guatemalan shuttle) the rest of the way. This cost us 300MXN/$25 each. The ride went smoothly we even received a packed lunch consisting of a banana, sandwich and water to eat during our trip. Unfortunately Toby left his phone and camera batteries on the Mexican shuttle bus and we tried to communicate in our broken Spanish to the driver. The tour company tried to call the driver but unfortunately they couldn’t find it. On the bright side it wasn’t his shoes this time so we wouldn’t have to spend hours and hours trying to find shoes in his size :).
Arriving in the early evening into the main tourist street of Calle Santander in Panajachel (Pana), we were hassled (as we had large backpacks) asking if we needed accommodation. We already booked a place via hostelworld. A note to other travelers, hostelworld seems to be significantly more than the going rate, so going forward we will probably find a place when we arrive. When we first arrived, we were amazed how touristy Pana is, but later found out it was just the street our hotel was on. There are many stores, and restaurants catered to tourists (as everyone seemed to be able to speak English). After settling into our hostel, we headed to the lake front to view the spectacular sunset. Life is hard as this was going to be our view for the next month.
Fresh market day
It’s surprising how different the market can be on any given day. Thursday is meant to be the first day of new produce followed by a lot more on Friday and Saturday. Saturday especially seems to have a lot more as people in surrounding towns bring their goods to sell. It’s always a bit of a test to find the best price for the freshest and best quality. Playing one of many local white tourists I think also reduces my bargaining power along with my below average Spanish. Also, we had to be reminded that you need to “sanitise” your fresh food here. Usually this is for anything that you don’t peel, so fruit like apples, strawberries, zucchini. However, for things you take the skins off you should be fine such as potatoes, carrots, pineapple and banana. The concept is to clean off pesticides and then if non-clean water was used to clean the fruit/vegetable you also need to be safe. Essentially this is like washing them in a low grade chlorine. Sanavida that comes in a green bottle and cost less than Q20 (US$3) is what we were recommended and bought from the supermarket. Google doesn’t seem to like it when searching for it, not sure why.
We were always worried about keeping a somewhat healthy diet as we travelled. So far, I think we’ve been lucky in finding regular fresh and fairly high quality fruit and vegetables at very low prices. I’m still debating over whether the pineapple or strawberries have been the winner. They both seem to be the same cost of Q5 (US$0.50) for a full pineapple or 1 pound (1/2kg) of strawberries. So probably for size and value the pineapple might win out even though it’s a bit more annoying to cut up.
Another test seems to be how to identify what we might be buying. There’s a lot more variety here compared to what I would normally see in Australia or Canada. I’ll start with a couple of new ones that I’ve managed to learn in my time here in Central America.
The Rambutan comes from a medium-sized tropical tree. From my research it appears to be native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It is closely related to several other edible tropical fruits including the lychee, longan, and mamoncillo. This is a fruit you don’t appear to need to wash as you peel it’s fairly tough outer skin off to get inside. The white fleshy centre reminded me of what I know as Lychee. Eat the sweet flesh and leave the inner seed to the garbage. Cost in Mexico was around MXN$10 (US$1) for 1 pound (1/2 kg) of them. In Guatemala they seem less common where we are in Panajachel, but typically it’s a similar price or maybe up 25% more for fresh off the tree.
The Jocote certainly appeared to be very commonly sold outside the market by local people. I had never seen them before in my life. Quick research was needed as they seemed quite popular. It comes from a species of flowering plant in the cashew family that is native to tropical regions of the Americas. Other common names include Red Mombin, Purple Mombin, Hog Plum, Ciruela Huesito (Venezuela), Sineguela, and Siriguela. The tree itself is small to medium-sized up to 25 feet tall. The fruit is an edible oval drupe, 3–5 cm long and 2-3.5 cm broad, ripening red (occasionally yellow) and containing a single large seed. It is now widely cultivated in tropical regions throughout the world for its edible fruit, and is also naturalised in some areas, including the Philippines and Nigeria. It is also abundant in Jamaica and Central America. When I asked around here for opinions the most common answer seemed to be that it tasted similar to a mango. I think this is somewhat true, but perhaps unfair on Mangoes. I tried the Jocotes you see in the photos, but once getting through the tough skin and eating the very small amount of flesh, all you get is a huge seed. At market prices of somewhere around Q5 (US$0.50) for 10, I think I’d much prefer the regular pineapple and strawberries we’ve been tasting.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/