Monday, June 29, 2015

90-Day Visa Run to San Cristobal

This is the first of two parts about our recent trip from Panajachel, Guatemala, to San Cristóbal, Mexico, in order to renew our 90-day tourist visas. I'm splitting this into two parts so that I can appeal to people interested in the facts of renewing your tourist visa in Guatemala, and also the people interested in our personal adventures in San Cris.
Our shuttle at the break we took near Xela.

So here's the reasoning behind doing what is commonly called a "visa run". When you enter Guatemala, you receive a tourist visa that is good for 90 days. After 90 days in the country, you are required to either get an extension of your visa (which is done in Guatemala City), or you have to leave the country for 72 hours and re-enter to get a new 90-day tourist visa.

The visa extension process is complex, time-consuming, and irritating. It involves two trips to the city -- one to drop off your passport and forms, another to pick them up a week later -- which is something we weren't interested in doing. Plus, you can only get an extension once per year, so eventually you'll have to do a visa run anyway if you want to stay in Guatemala for longer than 12 months. That's why we chose the option to leave and re-enter Guatemala to get our new 90-day stamp.

One note: Guatemala has an agreement called the CA-4. This means that going into El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Honduras doesn't count to renew your tourist visa. You have to go to Mexico or Belize, or further out to Costa Rica or Panama... or back home, if you so desire.

Originally I had wanted to do a one-day turnaround to Tapachula, Mexico, which is the nearest border crossing to renew your Guatemalan tourist visa. I went to three different travel agencies in Panajachel and was surprised to learn that none of them would take us directly to Tapachula.

The last place I stopped in was Mario's Tours on Calle Principale. They told us that it would be cheaper to just go straight to San Cristóbal de las Casas, rather than Tapachula. So we booked with them to leave Friday morning and paid Q1,000 for two people, round trip. (If we had paid in U.S. dollars, it would have been $35 per person each way, so $140 total.)

Using TripAdvisor, I found a hotel in San Cristóbal called Posada la Media Luna (Inn of the Half Moon.) I reserved through Expedia using my Mastercard without having to pay anything up front. It was an great little hotel! I highly recommend it.

I had heard there would be moneychangers at the border but I wanted to be prepared, so I went to Guipil's on Santander in Panajachel and changed some quetzales into Mexican pesos. For Q500, I got MXN$909.09. Not bad.


On Friday morning, the shuttle was supposed to pick us up at our house at 6:20 am but didn't show up until 6:40, a pretty standard Guatemala time delay. Even though we booked through Mario's Tours, the bus was labeled with another tour company from Pana, Magic Travel. I guess the tour operators in Pana work together to fill each shuttle to capacity, so I imagine it wouldn't really matter who you booked with. You'll all end up on the same bus!
Our shuttle held 13 passengers, with three more people in the front: the driver and his two friends. It was clean and comfortable... at first. I have to say, anything can get uncomfortable after 10 hours! The van had air conditioning, but we had the windows open for the majority of the trip. There were seatbelts in the bus, although I think only Bert and I actually used ours.

Here's our morning timeline:
6:40 am -- picked up at our house
7:00 am -- left Panajachel after picking up other passengers around town
9:00 am -- stopped at a Shell gas station on the edge of Xela (Quetzaltenango). Bathroom break, snacks, leg stretch.
12:30 pm -- arrived at the border town of Mesilla, Guatemala (Note the long time between the last bathroom break and the border. When they say bathrooms, use them!)

One note: the driver didn't speak English. He gave instructions at each stop in Spanish. Luckily, there were bilingual passengers who helped translate for those who didn't understand. I think it would be very helpful for the tour companies to hand out flyers or have a sign hanging in the bus to explain the procedures, as many people were in the dark about what was going on. It would be a simple enough procedure to even give out a explanatory note with your receipt from the tour company. But not for you, dear reader! You're smart enough to be doing your research ahead of time by reading Chasing Marbles. You've got it all figured out.  :D

The Guatemala/Mexico border at Mesilla is a hot mess. Emphasis on the HOT. When the shuttle stopped, a man we didn't know opened the side door and told us in Spanish to go inside to get our passports stamped and then meet him back outside. We guessed (correctly) that he was our new bus driver.

At the border, be prepared to stand in line with a bunch of other tourists in mass confusion. Several shuttle buses were arriving all at once, from both sides of the border. There are moneychangers and, yes, their rates are awful. There are also beggars. Cars kick up dust as they pass by, and it's stinking hot. Fortunately, there are stores right up to the very border gates where you can get snacks or drinks, plus I heard there were some bathrooms nearby but I never used them.

The Migración office is quite small and consists only of a counter with a few men sitting behind it at desks, and a younger man who gathers the passports in bunches from the tourists to hand to the men at the computers. They only asked us were we were going. Nothing more. It was only a short wait before they handed our passports back with an exit stamp.

We went back outside into the hot hot hot hot hot sun and stood with the new man. Once he had matched all of the bus passengers to his paper, he asked us to follow him. We picked up our bags and walked across the border, which is just a big grey steel gate across the road. We then walked a few more blocks to where he had parked his van and all loaded all into this nicer, newer, more comfy shuttle and we were off... for five minutes.

That's when we arrived at Mexican immigration. This was a bit more complex. We all stood in line to get our passports checked, and to receive a form from the single man working behind the counter. He waved us away to a table to fill out the form, which luckily had English instructions. We still didn't do it right though! Once we filled out the form, we all got back in line, only to find out that we were supposed to fill out the top AND the bottom. We all scrambled to scribble in the information with the few available pens. (TIP: always carry a pen!) Finally handed in the correctly filled-out forms and our passports and got a stamp and a portion of that form back. HANG ON to that paper! You'll need it for your return trip.

That was it! We were officially in Mexico, and could stay for 180 days, if we wished. However, if we did stay longer than seven days, we would have to pay an exit fee. Also, Mexico observes daylight savings, so we had to turn our watches forward one hour.

The rest of the journey from the border to San Cristóbal was pretty uneventful. We went through a military checkpoint a few miles into the country, but the armed guard simply opened the side door, looked us over, and asked the driver a few questions in Spanish. About an hour's drive into Mexico, we drove into another checkpoint area, a big fancy new building, and we all had to unload from the bus and take our luggage off the top rack. We went into the building and put our luggage through an X-ray machine. Then there was a button to press. Oooh, fun! If it the light turned green, you were free to go. If it turned red, you had to get your luggage inspected by a guard. Bert got RED! Ha! But he was only carrying his Guatemala "man-purse", so the guard just waved him off.

We only made one more pit stop for snacks and bathrooms, then arrived in San Cristóbal at around 5:00 pm Guatemalan time, 6:00 pm Mexican time. That's about 10 hours in travel time and plenty of sore rear ends! They dropped us off in the main square, the Zocalo (map here), which was unexpected. Luckily, I had done my research beforehand and knew how to walk to our hotel, which was very close.
Statue in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

After two nights and one fun-filled day in San Cristóbal, we awoke early on Sunday to catch the shuttle home. We stood outside in the cold -- yes, cold! -- for an hour waiting for the shuttle. Fretting, I went back into our hotel and asked the receptionist to call the tour bus number but there was no answer. Just as I was getting panicky that we'd been left behind in Mexico, our shuttle showed up. Yay! We hopped in and then proceeded to waste an hour driving around town searching for four lost passengers. Finally, the driver got a phone call to go to the main square where the lost four were anxiously waiting. We loaded up and were on our way, leaving town around 8:00 am.

We stopped once for breakfast at a rather expensive and not tasty restaurant. They gave us 40 minutes to eat, which I thought was strange but it made sense later.

The way back into Guatemala from Mexico was the same as leaving, only in reverse. We arrived at the Mexican immigration office, the same one we went into on the way to San Cris, just around 11:00 am. We handed in that slip of paper to the man, and he ran it through his computer, then stamped us out of Mexico. We got back on the bus, drove to a parking spot, walked across the border back into Guatemala, then went back into the same immigration office, where they stamped us into Guatemala.

(SIDE NOTE: We had been out of Guatemala for less than 72 hours. We worried that this would be a problem, but no one batted an eye. We received our new stamps, double-checked them to ensure they said 90 days, and left with relieved smiles!)

So we had our new stamps and were ready to go... but there was no shuttle. We waited in the sun, the hot freaking sun, until 12:55. We figured out that we had been waiting for the shuttle that was coming from Panajachel to the border, the one that should have left Pana at 6:30 am. Just another sign of inefficiency in the process. If the shuttles have to meet at the border to "switch off", and it's five hours from the Guat side and a little over three hours from the Mexican side, why not leave later from San Cristóbal rather than making us wait almost two hours in the stinking hot dust of the border? Hmph. Not impressed. Anyway, just be warned. Patience is required. :)

We finally got loaded onto the new shuttle and completed the curvy journey back through Guatemala to Panajachel. Made two stops for bathrooms, snacks, and leg stretches, and arrived in Pana a little late at around 5:30 pm.

So that's the nitty gritty of doing a visa run from Guatemala to Mexico. If you want to hear more of a personal take on it, tune in tomorrow for my account of our trip and some pictures of lovely San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Here are some links that I used to do research and to hear others' stories of their visa runs:
The Visa Run: To Tapachula, Mexico 
Xela to Tapachula Visa Run
Guatemala Visa Renewal and Guatemala Visa Run
Living in Guatemala Visa Renewal Trip

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Joyous Summer Solstice!

It was an absolutely perfect day here. We went for a walk up to the mirador (viewpoint) for an amazing panoramic view of Lake Atitlan. We took quite a few pictures but when looking at them later, we realized that pictures just can't capture the beauty and scale of this land. Or maybe I just need a better camera!
A lot of the rocks and cliff faces and telephone phone poles used to be painted with political symbols.
A few weeks ago, a group of locals got together and went around and painted over them all with pretty pictures!
Very cool looking bug. Only the size of a housefly.
This buggy came flying across the road right at Bert! It was shiny copper in the sun.
Rather big... about the size of my thumb!
Pickup and passengers going to Santa Catarina. Bert & Pachi on the side. 
Sweaty selfie! It's a big hill.  :)
Getting closer to the top. You can see our house down there!
Neat stairs that lead up to someone's fancy home.
Hard to tell in this picture, but the stairs are "floating", no support underneath.
Still not quite at the top but a lovely view nonetheless.
Bert & Pachi hiding in some shade while I take pictures.
Volcanoes all hazy.
Yay! The view from the mirador. Remember we were here on our first day in Guatemala?
Very breezy day so I took off my bandana. Nice hair. Sheesh!
The little building at the mirador. Bert chillin'.
Love how the plants are growing on the roof. This building is always locked up.
Pachi is such a good dog!
Cacti at the top. :)
Trying to get a picture of the giant cliff we walked next to.
I took a video from up at the lookout too. The lake was soooo blue today! An amazing view and well worth the walk.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grocery Shopping at Despensa Familiar in Panajachel

Grocery shopping -- love it or hate it -- is a necessary thing no matter where you live. Here in Panajachel, Guatemala, if you want a good ol' homestyle grocery store experience, you get to shop at... *drum roll* ...the Despensa Familiar!
Yup, that's the place. Notice the little old Mayan lady to the left of the door. I think she sells hot corn.
For the benefit of those readers who are thinking of visiting or moving to Guatemala, let me walk you through the Despensa so you can get a sense of familiarity.

So probably the first thing you'll notice is there is a security guard usually standing to the left of the entrance. This is awesome, as it makes the Despensa feel very safe. And it's a great bonus for when you're looking for a safe bank machine in Pana. Directly as you enter the store, turn right and there are two ATMs right there. If you face them, (your back to the checkouts) the one on the left is 5B and the one on the right is BI. The 5B bank machine charges a higher fee, but you can withdraw up to Q3000. The BI machine charges a lower fee but you can only get up to Q2000. I have successfully used my TD bank card at both of these machines, and my President's Choice Financial card works at the BI machine.
Directly to the left of the entrance, there are rows of green lockers. Put your bag or backpack in these and take the key with you while you shop. Grab a basket near here too, or a shopping cart from outside.
Photo of the Despensa Familiar courtesy of  A Note From Abroad
The first aisle straight ahead is a whole lot of rice and beans! An entire row. It's madness. There is also oil, margarine (not refrigerated!) ramen noodles, soup, a small selection of spices, tuna and other canned meats, refried beans, sugar, mustard, mayo, salad dressing, and some other stuff.

At the end of the first row is a very sad assortment of fruits and vegetables. Don't buy from here unless you're desperate. Go to the market! It's fresher and cheaper. Also at the back wall you can find some ziplocs, aluminum foil, and matches tucked away at the bottom. Handy!

Against the back wall of the Despensa is the refrigerated meats, mostly variations on wieners, plus the butcher's counter. They have great chicken burgers here! They're Q5 apiece (about $0.80 Canadian) and totally remind me of home. You can get ground beef here, tons of chicken, and some other cuts of meat. Everything is refrigerated, which is great if you're wary of buying from the butchers around town who hang their meat out on even on the hottest days.

Second aisle: about a bazillion ketchups, one type of BBQ sauce, pasta, pasta sauces, cereal, oatmeal, and a huge selection of powdered milk. It's strange that the pasta come in such small packages, only enough for two or three servings, and the sauce is only enough for one person. Odd.

Third aisle: tons of instant coffee, some teas, factory-made bread and buns (if you're into that pappy white stuff), cookies and crackers, pancake mix, syrup, jams, overpriced and weird-tasting peanut butter (go to Chalo's for Jif!), and juices, both powdered and bottled. Pick up some Yus brand powdered juice mix. It's delicious and actually contains vitamins too. We guzzle the stuff, especially the mora (blackberry) flavored one.

Fourth and fifth aisle: this is where it gets weird. There are almost two full aisles of cleaning products. They use up almost as much space for cleaning as for food! I guess it's important. Mixed in there are baby products, hair products, shampoos behind weird plastic doors, a small selection of pet food, and paper products.

Last aisle: along the back half of the far wall are fridge and freezer items, including: yogurt, milk, butter and other dairy, a small assortment of frozen seafood, one tiny frozen pizza brand, some frozen chicken items (not as good as the butcher's), and ice cream. Also in this aisle are candy, chips, chocolate, beer, and liquor. And eggs at the back, not refrigerated.

That is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it makes you feel like it's just a regular grocery store much like the ones in Canada or the States or wherever!

A quick note about the checkout process. The checkout person will ask you for your NIT, which is Número de Identificación Tributaria, the Guatemalan tax identification number. If you're a tourist, you don't need one. If you're doing business in Guatemala, you might have to get one. Just say, "No" to the first question. Then they'll ask if you want a bag: "Bolsa?" Plastic bags cost Q0.20 (20 centavos, or about three cents Canadian.)

After you pay, take your groceries and your bag to the counter on the front wall beside the ATMs. Pack your groceries there. Lastly, don't forget to pick up your backpack from the lockers before you leave!

Yes, it is true that Despensa Familiar is a division of Walmart. If you're one of those folks that hates the "big man", you can shop at Chalo's, right across the street, or at Sandra's, the expensive import store, or at any of the small stores in the market.

Why do I like to shop at the Despensa? Two main reasons: the low prices, and the fact that the prices are written ON the shelves. This is one of my pet peeves of shopping in Panajachel. They don't have prices on anything in most stores! The shopkeeper could basically tell you any number he wanted, and you would have no clue if it was right or not. I'm quite forgetful too, so they could be telling me a new price every time and I wouldn't know.

Anyway, this may be a bit boring of a post for most people but I remember wondering about grocery stores in Guatemala before I came, so I wanted to share my experience. I hope it was helpful!

Bonus photo: pretty butterfly I saw on my way to the store yesterday.
Beautiful tiny butterfly in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. He was only about the size of a quarter!

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Collection of Chuchos

I love taking pictures of the dogs of Panajachel. They are so many interesting pups just hanging out doing their doggie thing. It's fascinating to me to see how dogs interact when they aren't on leashes and over-stimulated by nervous owners. They have their own language and etiquette. 
Can you hear his gruff bark in your head?  :D

Soaking up some sun in the morning. (UNE is a political party.)

This fella was in Santiago Atitlan.
We threw this pup a piece of pizza crust but apparently it wasn't tasty enough. So Pachi ate it!
So sleepy!
17? Maybe she just finished running a marathon? 
A handsome old fella in the back streets of Jucanya.
This teeny Chihuahua was watching another dog across the lane.
Bert and I really love this dog. I'm sure he's somebody's though. He's too clean and healthy to be a chucho.
Napping in front of the big church in Panajachel.

I've told you before about the charity, AYUDA, that helps the animals of Lake Atitlan. There is also an animal division of Mayan Families that accepts donations and volunteers. Bert goes to walk dogs there now and then. They have many animals up for adoption but they don't often get much publicity. Please check out their site and help if you can!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Trip to the Wellness Clinic in Panajachel

The sign on the gate at the front of the Clinic property.
Unfortunately, we had to take a trip to the Lake Atitlan Wellness Clinic this morning. Bert started feeling very badly yesterday and was only worse this morning. Analyzing his symptoms with the help of Dr. Google, I determined that this sort of thing should be dealt with right away!

Bert felt well enough to walk to town, although I think he was regretting that decision about halfway. We made to the Despensa, where I got some money from the ATM. We hailed a tuk-tuk to take us the rest of the way.
The Wellness Clinic is located on Calle Monte Ray in Panajachel, just off of Santander. Here is a video that shows the clinic. It is a charity set up to treat the local population, but we had been told by our landlady, P., that we could also go see Dr. Luis anytime. We knew he spoke English too, so that helped make the decision easier.

We arrived just after the clinic opened at 9am, and there were already eight people waiting. Bert sat down on the floor, partly because there were no chairs left, and partly because he was exhausted.

The outside of the Lake Atitlan Wellness Clinic. Very unassuming.
We figured out pretty quickly how things worked. A patient would come out of the side room, and the doctor would say something that sounded like, "Sigue", which we figured meant "Next!" The person sitting in the chair closest to the room would get up and go in, and then everyone would get out of their seats and move over one! It was a neat way to handle patients without a secretary or checking people in or crazy paperwork.
Poor Bert had to use the bathroom to throw up, and then discovered that the toilet wasn't flushing. When we informed the doctor later, he said, "There's no water. It's a third world country. It happens."

Bert's pale face and miserable demeanor caught the attention of the kind Mayan woman in front of us in the chair-line. She spoke to us in Spanish, most of which we didn't understand, but we took it to mean that we could go ahead of her. So sweet!

Bert and I went into together when it was our turn. Dr. Luis de Peña was sitting behind a desk with a laptop open, a giant array of drugs arranged on the shelves behind him. A Guatemalan woman was helping him.
Bert sat in one of the chairs. We introduced ourselves, that we lived with P&B, and that we had spoken before on the phone. He was very friendly but very busy, so we jumped right to it. Within seconds of describing Bert's symptoms, he told us that Bert most likely caught a bug from something he ate. He told us the nurse would give Bert an antibiotic shot in the other room, and that he would have our medicine ready when we were done.
The woman took us through an open door to the adjacent room, which looked more like a doctor's exam room, with a examining table and various mysterious medical things. The nurse readied a syringe and I asked, "Amoxicillin?" She said, "Yes." She gave Bert the shot in his hip. He cringed. I said, "Oh, ow!" The nurse chuckled and left the room.
That's when Bert ducked out of sight of the doctor and started going, "OW OW OW! Oh my god, that's the worst pain I've ever felt. Ow ow ow ow!" I laughed! Oh, poor baby.
(But truly, it was a painful shot and he limped for quite a while after.)

Coming out of the room, Dr. Luis gave us 10 tablets of Ciprofloxacin 500mg, an antibiotic. Pretty standard treatment for a variety of buggie-boos that can infect a person here in Guatemala. He gave us a few instructions and waved us out, already focused on the next patient. We had been in his office for less than five minutes.

I paused at his door before leaving, a bit confused. Even though I knew the clinic was a charity, I was still expecting him to ask for some sort of money to pay for the drugs at least! Feeling a bit foolish, I asked, "Can I make a donation?" He said, "Sure. I'll take whatever I can get." I pulled some cash from my bag and handed it to him. He smiled and said, "I'll spend on a beer at the Palapa!" I laughed and replied, "We'll see you there... in a few weeks."

So that was it! Bert has a series of pills to take for the next five days and we'll see if that works. To be honest, I don't think he got the right medicine. I think he has either Giardia or H. pylori, which would require a different set of medications, but then again, I'm not a doctor. Bert is quite tired but feels better already. Fingers crossed for a full recovery!

For those looking for an English-speaking Walk-In Clinic in Panajachel, here is the phone number, as of June 2015:
Dr. Luis de Peña, Lake Atitlan Wellness Clinic, Panajachel. 5595-6731

Another doctor that was recommended to us:
Dr. Anabella Perez, Atitlab, in Jucanya near Hotel del Sol. Phone for appointment 5526-9099

Other Resources
One man's hospital experience in Guatemala:
Medical Travel and Assistance --

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Few Coffees of Guatemala

One of the most profitable exports of Guatemala is coffee. In fact, I've read that Guatemaltecos don't drink real coffee here, and instead drink instant coffee, because it's more profitable for them to sell the real stuff and suffer with the instant. I think I get it. I mean, if you could sell a pound of coffee for $10, you could buy a lot more instant coffee with that!

We have been trying various local coffees since we got here, searching for one we love. This is not only in the cafes, but also at home in our percolator. There are sooooooo many coffees to choose from! Not only are there dozens of ground and whole bean coffees in the grocery stores, but also sold by vendors on Santander, sold by traveling coffee guys who carry small stoppered glass jars of their beans, and sold by the coffee shops too.

Here are the results of our first four ground coffee samplings!

The first bag we bought was from Chalo's. It cost Q39.25 for 350 grams, or about $6.38 Canadian. It wasn't the cheapest nor the most expensive on the shelf. I thought it was a bit skunky at first but I got used to it. Bert didn't like it but when we bought a second different bag when this bag was done, he preferred this one.
Our first sample of Guatemalan coffee. Not good. :(
The second bag we purchased was Q50 for 460 grams, or about $8.09 Canadian. I thought it had an undertone of molasses. It was a bit stronger than the first, but I  liked the first one better. Bert -- not impressed. Made a nasty face.

The third bag was another one from Chalo's grocery. I went down in price to see if cheaper might be better. It only got Q26.25 ($4.25 Cdn) for 350 grams. It actually had a nice smell and tasted pretty good, but like a lot of Guatemalan coffees was very weak.

Not sure if I've been spoiled by Tim Hortons' Dark Roast, but I find a lot of coffee here is not strong enough for me. I need some kick! The plus side to mild coffee is that it tastes okay without milk or cream. In fact, Bert has stopped taking milk in his coffee altogether. It's a good thing, as most restaurants here charge an extra Q2 for milk.

Our fourth bag we bought at the coffee shop that serves the best coffee in town -- Cafe Loco! (Although Crossroads Cafe is a close second.) This was the clear winner! We paid Q60 for 1 pound. That's about $9.75 Canadian. It was freshly ground on the spot by the lovely, friendly Korean boys at Cafe Loco. It's perfect: dark, rich, strong, and smooth.
Most awesome coffee we've found... so far. Thanks, Cafe Loco!
We've only been here two months now, so I know we have many more coffees to try. I think I may have a hard time getting Bert to agree to something new now that we've found one we like though!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

You Never Know What You'll See in Panajachel

A few days ago, Bert worked for a day helping a guy move. He made a decent Guatemalan wage of Q100 for about eight hours. That's a whopping $2.03 Canadian per hour! But it gave him something to do, plus he made a new contact in the gringo world.

While he was out making the big bucks, I walked to town by myself and explored some laneways of Jucanya (Hoo-can-YA). I was so happy to be a gawking tourist... and got gawked at myself a few times when I wandered down some dead-end alleys.
A lovely gateway in Jucanya.

So many amazing flowers in Guatemala... and we're not even the rainforest-y part. :)

Jucanya is a maze of narrow streets, with even narrower alleys like this one branching off.

One of the "main" streets in Jucanya. Narrow, cobbled, meandering. I love it!

I took this picture as I was walking down this alley, not knowing the black door was the end of the road.

I turned around and took a picture back the way I came.
Unfortunately, my camera's battery died so I didn't get any more pictures of my day. I ended up finding my way out of the maze of Jucanya and to the beach, which is really nice except for the piles of smelly aquatic plants washed up onshore. I walked through the park that we visited before on a Sunday, but this time it was mostly empty, just a few people buying snacks, six Mayan girls giggling over ice creams, and a young couple lounging on a pier.
The beach led to the delta of the river, and I thought it would be as easy to cross as last time. No such luck! The little footbridge was gone. I tried hopping over the numerous small streams but soon got stranded on a sandbar and decided to just walk straight through the water in my sandals. It was actually quite refreshing!
Crossing the river delta gets you straight to the lakefront area of Panajachel, so I walked back up Santander, bought some groceries, and then walked all the way back home. What a hike! It was probably about 10 kilometers or so in total.

Today, Bert and I went to town in search of a new guitar. He sold the one he brought here from Canada, spent some of the money having fun, and the rest on buying a nylon-string Spanish guitar and soft carrying case/kitty bed.
Willow has a new bed! (Her eyes are wonky in this picture, aren't they? Ha!)

Strumming happily!
I took a few pictures as I shopped for groceries today in Panajachel. I love this crazy town. It's always such an adventure, with so many things to see.
This is on Calle Santander heading northeast. That old Mayan woman walks around town gathering cans from the garbages, and she is always shadowed by many, many dogs. I've seen seven with her on some days!

A closer picture of the abuelita (little grandmother) with Bert & Pachi on the right.

Last week, these tables were filled with books for sale. This week it's hard donut-shaped bread and peanuts in the shell.
I wondered if there was some significance to this particular combo, so I asked on Facebook. Sifting through the joke responses -- "They are pre-Columbian artifacts." -- I discovered that today was Corpus Christi.

Along Calle Principale on the way to the market, people set up to sell lunches and snacks. This young woman makes the most amazing-smelling meat on her grill. I have yet to try it. I am shy!

The lady in the pink blouse is at the "sweets" stand. Then there's a stand of fresh fruit, and an ice cream cart!
I sometimes feel like I'm walking through an amusement park with all the little food carts. :)

While I was in the Despensa (big grocery store), I heard some hooting and hollering outside. Luckily, Bert was outside with Pachi and snapped a quick picture of some costumed folks strolling down the street! People were also setting off banging fireworks around the city. What a way to celebrate a religious holiday!  :D
Here is a video I took on Calle Principale to show you what the town is like.
One of the strange preconceptions I had of Pana before I came here was what the town would be like. I remember poring over the Google map and imagining myself walking down the streets. But it's NOTHING like I imagined!
The streets are very busy, loud, smelly, narrow, and rough. They're either bumpy asphalt or cobblestones... and I'm thinking cobblestones are better! A few of the bigger streets are one-way to make traffic easier, and there are traffic "cops" at the busiest intersections at certain times, armed only with whistles and neon vests. There are some sidewalks, but other times you're within inches of the traffic, squeezing between a truck unloading Pepsi and a soot-belching chicken bus roaring through town. Chuchos (street dogs) are everywhere, sniffing, scrounging, sleeping. And people... so many fascinating people to see! Mayan ladies with their gorgeous dresses and baskets on their heads, Mayan men wearing cowboy hats and carrying machetes, people riding bicycles while talking on cell phones, school kids in a myriad of uniforms, and of course gringo tourists with backpacks, cameras, and stunned smiles.
Just another wonderful day in Panajachel!