Video: Panajachel at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

This video shows the amazing views of Lake Atitlan from Panajachel, Guatemala. It gives you glimpses of the magic surrounding the lake and of the city of Panajachel itself.

Driving from Antigua to Panajachel was quite a hairy ride. You drive along steep cliffs at a far from safe speed, but the views are amazing. Also the higher you get up, the mistier it becomes and suddenly you are surrounded by maize fields and you start imagining yourself as part of the film “Children of the corn” 🙂 scary

Arriving at Panajachel in the late afternoon when it was raining didn’t leave the best first hand impression, but shortly after it cleared up and we went to have the first view of the lake impressive. However, not nearly as impressive as it looked the morning after when we got up at 6 and went down to the lake. The sun was rising over the volcanoes in the distance, the mist lifting up from the water and the green mountain sides melting your soul. It was so beautiful and I immediately understood why this place attracts so many people.

Packing list for South & Central America

Tina and I have just left for Guatemala in Central America. It’s the start of a trip starting in Guatemala and taking in some of the countries in Central America and South America over the next year (or so). You can see what I packed below.

Packing list for South America and Latin America

I thought I’d publish a list of what I packed for the trip. This list is also a lesson in how not to travel light! At the start of our trip, we’re intending to study Spanish for some time, both in Guatemala and probably Ecuador – for this reason I’ve packed some extra books. Also, as we’ve bought one way tickets, I’ve brought ‘a bit extra’ in case we end up living and working in Latin America. My bags are now so heavy (22.6KG for the main bag, 6 KG for the small bag), I feel like a pack horse. Here’s the list:

Clothes
1 Berghaus Gore-tex waterproof raincoat
1 pair Northface Terrainius Gore-Tex shoes
1 pair Billabong shorts
1 pair of board shorts / swimming shorts
1 O’Neil fleece (thick)
1 North Face fleece (thin)
5 t-shirts
1 vest top
1 pair jeans
1 pair cotton chino style trousers
6 pairs underwear
5 pairs socks
1 pair flip-flops
1 sun hat
1 beach towel
1 pair hot-pants style swimming trunks
Swimming goggles
2 pairs sunglasses (+ 1 case)

Electronics
Sony Vaio laptop computer + power supply
Canon Eos 20D digital camera + recharger + case
Canon Powershot G9 digital camera + recharger + case
Apple iPod 40G + charger
Iriver IFP 899 MP3 recorder/player + external lapel mics (for Podcasting)
Mini Sony Walkman speakers
1 LED head-torch (+ 2 spare Lithium batteries)
1 mini wind-up torch
160 GB external drive
1 Nokia mobile phone + charger
4 spare memory cards
4 spare Panasonic batteries for Iriver MP3 player
3 travel plug adaptors

Miscellaneous items
Roll-top waterproof bag
Box Earthoria Business cards
5 CD-ROMs in case with important software
2 pens
Camera cleaning tissues and blower
1 sleeping bag (comfortable to about 6 degrees C)
1 cotton sleeping sheet
1 extra light trek towel
4 pairs of ear plugs
1 eye mask
1 large padlock and keys (for room doors)
2 mini padlocks and keys for rucksack
Rucksack wire net security mesh protector
Rucksack waterproof rain cover
1 Money Belt
1 Leather wallet
1 Swiss Army pen-knife
1 small key-ring thermometer

Books
Spanish Dictionary
Spanish Verb Tables
3 x Novels
Footprint South American Handbook 2009
Canon G9 Canon User Guide
A4 pad of paper

Toiletries & medical supplies
1 toiletries bag
2 bottles insect repellant with DEET
2 small deodorant bottles
1 Gillette Mach 3 razor
8 spare razor blades
1 small shaving foam canister
1 extra small shaving oil canister
40 plasters
Nivea Factor 30 sun lotion
1 comb
Radox shower gel
Travel size shampoo bottle
Mini pocket tissues
Migraleve migraine relief tablets
20 Aspirin tablets
20 Ibuprofen tablets
1 tube Antihistamine cream
1 small bottle Iodine
1 packet water purification tablets
6 weeks of Nicotine replacement therapy patches

Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala #3

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I have now entered week 5 of my studies at the Co-operative of Guatemalan Spanish Teachers in San Pedro La Laguna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Click below to listen to it.

Cooperative School, San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

In this podcast we give you an update of our housing situation, having moved out of the home stay and into a wonderful new house by the lake, we visit the cemetery during a festival for the dead, and discuss how our Spanish studies are going. We finish the podcast with a brief chat about some of the strange energies and mysteries surrounding Lake Atitlan. We’ll post more details of these here in the next few days.

Links

Our photos of Guatemala – including Lake Atitlan, San Pedro, The School, & Antigua
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala #1
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala #2
Video tour of the Cooperative School plus an interview with the Coordinator

Some myths about Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

During my six weeks of Spanish classes in San Pedro, some of the things I’ve discussed with my teacher have included the myths and legends surrounding Lake Atitlan. I’ve re-written a few of them below.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Missing tourist

Seven or eight years ago, a French tourist in San Pedro with his family told his wife that he was going across Lake Atitlan for the day to visit Panajachel. After a few hours he telephoned his wife, and rather cryptically told her "I’m in a beautiful place, I’m surrounded by flowers and amazing plants and have an amazing view across the lake". His wife said he sounded elated, and she presumed he had changed his plans and decided to climb the San Pedro volcano instead of going to Panajachel.

After a few hours when he’d still not returned, she began to worry. When he also didn’t return that night, she notified the authorities. After a couple of days there was still no sign of him, and the authorities sent out helicopters and specially trained sniffer dogs to look for him. The San Pedro villagers also helped in the search for him, but after several days of extensive searching there was still no sign of him, and strangely, even the sniffer dogs hadn’t picked up a single trace.

Several years on, the locals talk of his disappearance as though the volcano opened up and swallowed him up. Local folklore talks of doorways to an ‘alternate dimension’ in the countryside surrounding the lake here, and when children are young, they are warned not to touch or go near any objects they come across in the countryside that seem ‘out of place’, as they could be gateways to this mysterious dimension.

The woodcutter’s story

In San Pedro there’s an elderly man with an interesting story from his youth. It happened about 40 years ago, and his experience has now passed into local folklore.

When he was young, he walked a few hours from home into a deserted forest near Lake Atitlan, where he stopped and began felling trees for firewood. Feeling weary after a couple of hours, he stopped to rest for a while, and placed his axe carefully on the lush grass covering the area in which he was working. When he went to pick his axe up again to resume work, it was nowhere to be found.

Utterly perplexed by this, he hunted for his axe for a couple of hours but was forced to give up as nightfall was approaching and he was some distance from San Pedro. He walked back to the village, and upon entering the house was startled to find his friends and extended family all gathered in his house. "Where have you been?!" they asked anxiously, "We’ve been so worried we’ve hunted everywhere but there was no sign of you!"

The woodcutter replied rather sheepishly that he’d lost his axe and had been hunting for it for a couple of hours, which was why he was a bit late home. "But you’ve been gone two nights!" they replied.

The woodcutter had no recollection of the time he had missed, and the next day returned to the spot he’d been cutting wood. The axe was back exactly where he’d placed it, and everything was the same except the grass that had previously covered the area was no longer there.

The Atitlan attraction

For many years locals in San Pedro have wondered why so many people come to Lake Atitlan and fail to leave. Since the 1960s Lake Atitlan has been a Mecca for hippie types, and there are countless stories of people coming here for a week, and remaining forever. It’s not hard to attribute this fatal attraction to the natural beauty of the place, but there’s something else here, an indescribable magnetism and energy.

There’s a local myth that attempts to explain the Lake Atitlan magnetism, and it goes back many centuries to the time of the Spanish Conquistadors’ arrival in Guatemala

When the Spanish first arrived in Lake Atitlan they were camping somewhere around what later became Panajachel, when one of the young soldiers set eyes on a local Mayan girl washing clothes in the lake. Transfixed by her beauty, but fearing there was no way she would consider the advances of a Spaniard, he concocted a plan to win her over. He visited a local witch and asked her to cast a spell on a gold ring, which would ensure that she would find him irresistibly attractive.

The spell worked and the young Mayan woman fell in love with the Spanish soldier. However, a short while later, the soldier’s commander found out about the affair, and ordered her execution. Standing over her body, the commander saw the ring, and stole it from the body. A short while later, he started feeling irresistibly attracted to the young soldier, and fearing that the ring had something to do with his developing homosexual tendencies, he took a boat to the middle of Lake Atitlan, and disgusted, hurled the ring in.

The story goes that through the years the ring has passed its powers onto the lake, working its spell on all who venture here

Indian’s nose | La Nariz de Indio

All we seem to do nowadays is study, study, study. We’re in week four of our Spanish studies at The Co-operative of Guatemalan Spanish Teachers and the weeks are flying past.

Most weekends the school lays on some kind of event or excursion, and this Saturday morning we got up far too early to climb the Indian’s nose – a mountain overlooking Lake Atitlan. After about an hour and a half of lung busting climbing, we reached the summit and were treated to this spectacular view.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, showing San Pedro volcano

Links

More photos of Lake Atitlan taken from the Indian’s nose.
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 1
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 2
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 3

A house by the lake in San Pedro La Laguna

We’re now into week four of our Spanish studies at The Co-operative of Guatemalan Spanish Teachers in San Pedro, Guatemala, and the Spanish is noticeably improving.

House in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Having spent two very interesting weeks with Jose, Maria & two year-old Felix as part of our homestay with a Guatemalan family, we both decided that our studies would benefit from a bit of ‘space’ for a couple of weeks. Although we’d thoroughly recommend the homestay experience to anyone learning Spanish in Guatemala, you are living with a family & depending on various factors such as the size of the family’s house, number & age of the children, and their TV watching habits etc. you may find that from time to time it can prove a challenge studying.

What you may lose in terms of privacy however, is more than made up for with the extra Spanish conversation practice the family provides, and of course what you learn about Guatemalan life.

Luckily for us, nearing the end of our homestay early last week, Tina was walking past one of the backstreet restaurants near the Cooperative School, and having struck up a conversation with the manager was offered a house rental. We went to see the house, and couldn’t really believe it – a house with a beautiful garden right on the shore of Lake Atitlan (see photo above). We accepted right away and moved into our new house two days later.

Links

Photos of our new house & garden
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 1
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 2
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 3

Costs of studying Spanish in Guatemala

Accommodation costs: Guesthouses range from $4 a night, for a basic room with a private hot shower, up to about $20 a night for something much fancier.

Study costs: About $90 a week for 20 hours one-on-one Spanish language tuition (a significant proportion of this is used to help out particularly poor local families that the Cooperative school works with).

Homestay costs: About $60 a week for accommodation, with 3 meals a day provided 6 days a week (on Sundays students eat out).

Restaurant costs: Meals average about 25 Quetzals ($3.30) in most of the ‘tourist restaurants’ but are as little as $1.50 in other restaurants. A soft drink is about $0.60, a litre of local beer is about $3.50.

House costs: A bit less than the homestay with two meals a day in the manager’s restaurant thrown in. We’re not sure how this compares with other houses in the area, but imagine that if you’re staying here longer term you should be able to find something comparable.

Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala #2

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This week Tina and I have moved in with a Guatemalan family as part of a homestay arranged by the school we’re studying at – The Co-operative of Guatemalan Spanish Teachers. You can listen to the podcast we made below:

In this podcast, we discuss what it’s like to live with a family here, along with how our Spanish studies have been going moving into their second week. We finish the podcast with a trip to the colourful Sunday market at Chichicastenango – two hours from San Pedro.

Studying Spanish & living with a Guatemalan family

Links

Our photos of Guatemala – including Lake Atitlan, San Pedro, The School, & Antigua
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 1
Podcast: Studying Spanish in Guatemala Episode 3
Video tour of the school including an interview with Luis, the Coordinator

You can also view the accompanying photos of Chichicastenango, Guatemala here.