Tuesday, 9 September 2014

0097 Guatemala City and back to Panajachel

Janet’s entry into Guatemala was a lot less traumatic than mine !   She arrived with no hassles from customs or immigration, and apart from being tired after a long series of flights from Brisbane to Guatemala via LA and Dallas, was in good shape !

By the time we got back to the hotel we were both quite hungry, so we went down the road to a Spanish restaurant and had an excellent meal before Janet crashed for the night.

The next morning was slow, and it was obvious Janet didn’t really want to head out into the country side and camp straight away, so we booked another night in the hotel.  This allowed us to spend some time in Guatemala City while Janet slowly got her internal clock a bit more organized, and got over her jet lag.  Guatemala City is divided into numbered Zones, with Zone 1 being the older original part of the city, which is now of questionable reputation safety wise.  Other zones vary in their safety, especially at night, with Zone 10 being regarded as one of the safest, and having most of the “western” hotels, a lot of restaurants and shopping centres, and also quite a lot of the night life.  And as our Hotel was in Zone 10, we were in good shape !!  So after a slow morning while I searched on line for the locations of things to do, and also shops, in the city, we ended up wandering around the area and finding our feet a little.  We determined that there really wasn’t a lot sightseeing-wise that we wanted to do or see in the City – Other areas like Antigua were far more attractive and interesting.  We also decided that we would spend a week or two learning some Spanish as soon as possible – The City was no good because there was no camping available, and also because it is so expensive compared to the country areas.  Antigua might be nice, but again there is limited camping available there – The only known spot is the car park of the local Tourist Police Office – Acceptable for maybe a night or two, but not for a 2 week stay !!   I did not want to go back to the city of Quetzaanango to the west, so we settled on Panajachel, where I had spent the last week.  I wanted to bring Janet back here as it is so peaceful and beautiful, and so the decision was made – We would head back to Pana, check out Antigua on the way, and learn our Spanish in Pana, where there was good safe camping, and it was only a 5 minute walk to the Spanish school.

Wandering around Guatemala City was fine, but it really is nothing at all like the countryside.  In the City are fancy shops and restaurants and supermarkets not found anywhere else in the country, and I couldn’t believe how many Porsches and BMW’s I saw driving around.  But it was interesting to see – Especially when we found a great little German style sausage bar with all the trimmings including German beer !! So that was our late lunch taken care of !  We wandered round several shopping centres – And one useful thing we found was an Opticians, where I was able to get a nose piece that had broken off my reading glasses replaced for $6, making it a great deal more comfortable to read than it had been for the past few weeks !

That evening we went to an Argentinian style restaurant and had some excellent steak – By now not only was my stomach starting to revolt at all this rich food I was suddenly eating after several weeks of slumming it, but also Janet was starting to think that this is what Guatemala was going to be like all over !!  Must be time to leave !!  So the next morning, after a final cooked breakfast in the hotel (couldn’t miss out on one last one !!), we headed out.  We planned to visit a large supermarket on the way out of town for a quick stock up on supplies before going to Antigua for a quick look, and then on to Panajachel at Lago de Atitlan before 5 pm.   As usual in this part of the world, plans took a back seat to the traffic, and it was a while before we even got to the supermarket, and after the supermarket it was another couple of hours of traffic jams (on a Saturday !) before we headed into the country.  There was now insufficient time to allow us to go into Antigua and still reach Pana before dark – Just no way I would ever want to drive here in the dark – So we kept going, through Solola, up over 2600 metres, and then dropping into Panajachel by about 4.30 pm. 

We set up camp where I had been before, and crashed – Driving even 200 kms on these roads and in this traffic sure takes it out of you !!  The next day, Sunday, was very wet, and apart from a quick walk into Pana, most of the day was spent in the van, or close to it.  We also met Marco, from Argentina, who was camping near us and has ridden his motorbike up from Argentina, en route to Alaska. I think he was a bit surprised when I told him he couldn't really ride in Alaska till about May next year !!  Monday morning saw us in town early and looking into the Spanish Schools. We met a young chap on the street who asked us if we wanted a boat ride or a taxi, and when we said we were looking for the Spanish Language school, he took us there – Down these very twisty narrow alleyways which had us looking at each other with raised eyebrows as we went deeper and deeper into the heart of Pana !!  Suddenly it opened into this beautiful and peaceful garden – Jardin de Americas Spanish Language School.  The person there that day was not the official so could only give us a brochure for us to consider – We said we would return I the morning to confirm.

We then wandered into town and found a delightful little coffee shop where we tarried a while and chatted to a couple of long term expats, before looking for some lunch.  Right next door we found a great little place, ordered “Soup of the Day” and ended up with the most amazing meal of soup plus an enormous plate of meat and veggies each, plus a beer, for $15 !!  This also included a ham and cheese sandwich and chips that I ordered by mistake when I thought I was only getting a bowl of soup – So we left the table well stuffed for the day !!

 We just got home before the regular afternoon storm blew in across the lake, and had a lazy siesta-ish afternoon reading and snoozing by the lake side.  We decided to go ahead with that Spanish School – The other school in Pana is at the other end of town and would be too far for us to walk, or even catch a Tuk Tuk – Much easier to go to the Jardin one which is just a 5 minute stroll from our camp site.  So this morning (today is Tuesday 9th) we went to the school and signed up for a one week course of 4 hours a day, starting tomorrow morning. They offer 5 and 6 hours a day, and up to 4 weeks, but it is full on, one-on-one, so we are not sure quite how much our old and feeble brains can take in, so we decided 4 hours would be enough to start with, and at the end of the first week we can decide whether we want / need to do more here in Pana, or whether we feel we then have enough Spanish to keep heading south and if we then feel we want to learn some more, we can always stop and do another course in Costa Rica or similar.  Lots of choices – Lets see how we go over the next week.

Next weekend is apparently Guatemala’s National Day, so it is a good time to be sitting still in one place and not trying to drive around the countryside !  We understand a big Fiesta is planned for Pana, so I am sure we will find quite enough to keep us occupied here for the next week or so.

After signing on for the school, we wandered into town and found a great little upstairs café overlooking the local primary school, and had local coffee and a light breakfast, meanwhile watching all the kids, some in national costume, in the school yard.  After a very leisurely hour or so watching all the activity in the street below us, we then headed up through town towards the local church and then the markets, as we were in need of some fruit and veggies.  The church is amazing – I need to check on the internet but my understanding is that it is several hundred years old (Later - 16th Century) and one of the few buildings that survived the major earthquakes in the 1700’s – I will check it out when I get on the internet and let you know.  Then it was up to the markets where we wandered around looking at everything – They are mostly so friendly here, wherever you go – Always a Bondia or Hola and a smile. Bought our veggies, avoided buying anything in the meat section (very similar to the wet markets in Singapore or Thailand), and then headed back down towards our camp site, visiting the chemist (need more Immodium !!) and the Panaderia for some fresh rolls for lunch.

Once again a lazy siesta afternoon, during which I found that all my photos I have taken over the last few days have somehow got corrupted – The SD card just reads “Card Error” when you try to boot it up.  So you don’t get any pics today, I am afraid.  The camera is OK, and I have another SD Card, so it is just the last few days of photos that I have lost.  


Anyway, we are safe and sound, and having a lovely time sitting beside the Lake in Panajachel, and by this time next week will hopefully be fully fluent in Spanish !!! 


  1. Hola, gringos australianos, como estas? . Good on you for doing the Language School. I'm so impressed! Have a great time.

  2. Excellent blog. Good to know Janet is with you to keep you in line. Cheeers
    Coll and Al