Pimp my Chicken Bus

Panajachel Travel Blog

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All aboard the chicken bus

Even though a week has passed now and we have reached our mid-point of our trip, it feels like we have been here longer as we have done so much, I can't say I will be looking forward to my return, we're now in Pana on Lago Atitlan,  first I should explain our crazy bus ride here; the ride from Xela to Pana was an interesting one, we took a 2nd class bus this time rather than 1st class, so how does this differ I hear you ask? Well for a start the bus in question the buses started north of the border in the USA as the bright yellow buses the kids go to school in. When they reach their quota of mileage the US government allows them to do they get sold to the likes of Guatemala, this isn't as bad  as it sounds though.

The church near our guest house
Here they get their old engines etc stripped out and they are sold to individual drivers who then own the bus, but this isn't the best bit, when they buy the bus it undergoes a transformation like Pimp My Ride, the bus gets painted in loud colours, loads of chrome is added, the bus gets a new name and in some cases various religious icons like the Virgin Mary are added swinging from the mirror. The chicken buses are called chicken buses for good reason too, not only are they cram packed with locals they are packed with locals carrying livestock, I thought LP was exaggerated till a lady's bin liner moved and out popped the head of a chicken - hilarious!

We were hoping to get a direct bus but it wasn't to be but after some help from some super helpful locals and super slick transfers between two buses that would make most Western transport authorities blush we arrived in Panajechl or Pana as its known to everyone in Guatemala.

My new kitty friend

Pana is set in the most breathtaking location on the edge of Lago Atitlan, Guatemala is a bit unlucky on the natural disasters front as its prone to cyclones, earthquakes and volcanoes, the volcano part however leads to some crazy and beautiful scenery, Lago Atitlan being one of those examples. Its formed from a collapsed volcano which means the lake is 300m deep at its deepest point and is around 18km at its widest point and is surrounded by three volcano's. The lake is also ringed by some pretty villages that range from fairly touristy to no tourists whatsoever. Pana is more of the touristy variety but that does mean it has its advantages like cheap accommodation and a wide variety of great food. We originally had thought that we stay in one of the other villages for a few nights but as the place we were staying in Pana was so nice and so cheap we decided to make Pana our base.

At the market at Chi Chi admiring the brightly coloured costumes of the local ladies

 We spent the first day just checking the place out, doing some shopping and checking out places to eat and drink, owing to Pana's touristy nature you can't even sit down for 5 mins in a cafe or restaurant before someone is trying to sell you something, they're not aggressive sellers though and if they don't manage to sell you anything they'll even sit down for a chat, one poor lady was so hot and bothered she asked if we'd mind buying her a coke, of course being nice folk we obliged.
Day two we headed to the countries most famous market at Chichicastenago, Chichi for short. Joel then proceeded to try and buy every Mayan mask in sight and got suckered into buying a few scarves and shawls to boot - he's a sucker for a granny! It was a fun experience although a little disappointing as the standard of wood carving was nowhere near that of which we saw in El Remante but I'd held out figuring I'd get more of a bargain - damn you Lonely Planet for not telling me this!!!!! I have to say that I had been restrained on the shopping front (i know don't faint people) and Joel certainly out did me in Chichi too.
Chicks colour with food colouring ready for Semana Santa

 Day three we took a boat tour to see a few of the other villages, San Pedro, Santiago Atitlan and San Antonio. San Pedro is known as a bit of a hippy hangout as its really relaxed but its also really pretty with lots of winding streets and people in local dress. This was the first time we managed to see a local man wearing traditional Mayan dress as previously we'd only seen the women dressed this way. We visited a local artist who I'd read about and I treated myself to a water colour of his, hopefully he'll get famous and my grand kids can thank me later, other than that I helped a fellow struggling artist and also the local economy.
The tour was a little whistle stop as we only had a hour in each place so next it was onto Santiago Atitlan, after hearing lots of good things about the place I think it has become a lot more built up since my LP was written and my friend had visited as it was almost the same as Pana, we did how ever have a blast going to visit the rum swigging, cigar smoking saint of Maximon, a hybrid of Pedro de Alvarado (the Spanish conquistador of Guatemala), various Mayan Gods and Judas, who moves from house to house each year who the locals come to pray to and make offerings asking for things such as good luck, the health of a loved one etc.
The queue for the cash machine!
Maximon is then transported to his altar next to the church where is bound for 3 days until he is sorry for sins, Maximon actually translates as "bound one". I forgot to mention our guide was a 9 year old boy called Joel, an all round scamp who was the toughest barterer I have met to date!
He then took us to see the church where the local Mayan women were cleaning the floor ready for Santa Semana and also to the Cultural centre for a whistle stop talk by a local women who explained the names and meanings of the Mayan dress and what the colours stand for, Orange signifies Wednesday for example.
After that dose of culture we were off to our final destination of San Antonio Palopo, a much smaller but none-the-less pretty village. Joel once more got accosted by the local women trying to sell him their wares.
He fell for a little cutie of a girl called Rosita and ended up buying a few pieces that she and her mother had made, this encounter also had a fun element for me as well, Rosita offered to dress me up in traditional clothing and let me have my photograph taken. I duly obliged and in what seemed like 5 minutes was dressed top to toe in Mayan dress. I expected it to be really warm in the afternoon sun given that the material is so heavy but it was surprisingly cool - the photos are pretty funny so I'll send a few out when I get home and also add them to Facebook. We've managed to have some fantastic and rewarding encounters with the local people on this trip, mostly down to Joel's Spanish skills I'd like to add.

We decided to spend our final day checking out one of the villages that wasn't covered on the previous days tour, San Marcos, which we'd read was the prettiest of all of the villages on Lago Atitlan.
Joel finds a hotel of his namesake on San Pedro
It didn't disappoint, as we walked from the dock to the village centre we walked through banana, coffee and avocado tree lined paths. We decided to check out a local restaurant that was advertising Jerbe Mate, Che Guevara's drink of choice, being some what a fan of the late man I wanted to try the stuff.
The restaurant was run by a Mayan family who had been running the place for 18 years and the benches were made of clay and shaped like a Condor and an Eagle, of which the heads became wood burning stoves.
The Jerbe Mate was pretty strong stuff and tastes like really powerfully strong stewed tea (and for anyone I work with who has made me a tea - this is even a little strong for me), the jury is still out on the Mate for me but Joel loved the stuff and said he was going to order some on-line when he got back to New York.
An amusingly titled bread van

As we were getting peckish we asked the lady who worked their to make us a pizza on the wood fired oven which was pretty tasty given that Mayans are hardly renowned for their Italian food! All this time a young girl, Marianna, who was a friend of the family was doing chores there and got inquisitive about our presence, particularly when she was watching me do a sketch of the Eagle stove, so I gave her a pen and some paper so she could join in. Its amazing how such little things we take for granted when we are growing up and so precious to kids who have very little. I also let her take some pictures of Joel on my camera much to her delight and she also let me take one of her in return - for once one of my skills brought us some local interaction.
Apparently the Guatemalans consider mobile phones as hazardous as hand guns!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing there down by the water front and taking some great shots as the mist on the lake finally cleared and boy was the view amazing.
After exhausting all of the LP suggestions for places to eat dinner in Pana we had see a few interesting places by the dock where we caught our boat, I ordered a "small" fish stew which turned out to have quite an amazing collection in it - mussels, prawns (shrimp), a whole crab and a whole fish caught from the lake, good job I didn't order a main course!

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All aboard the chicken bus
All aboard the chicken bus
The church near our guest house
The church near our guest house
My new kitty friend
My new kitty friend
At the market at Chi Chi admiring …
At the market at Chi Chi admiring…
Chicks colour with food colouring …
Chicks colour with food colouring…
The queue for the cash machine!
The queue for the cash machine!
Joel finds a hotel of his namesake…
Joel finds a hotel of his namesak…
An amusingly titled bread van
An amusingly titled bread van
Apparently the Guatemalans conside…
Apparently the Guatemalans consid…
One of the few gents we saw in tra…
One of the few gents we saw in tr…
Our visit to Maximon on Santiago A…
Our visit to Maximon on Santiago …
The ladies cleaning the church at …
The ladies cleaning the church at…
Our young entrepreneur
Our young entrepreneur
Me in traditional garb in San Anto…
Me in traditional garb in San Ant…
The church in San Antonio
The church in San Antonio
Me and the lovely Rosita
Me and the lovely Rosita
View back towards San Antonio
View back towards San Antonio
View across the lake from Pana
View across the lake from Pana
Joel with his Mate next to the Eag…
Joel with his Mate next to the Ea…
Our new friend Marianna
Our new friend Marianna
View across Lago Antitlan from San…
View across Lago Antitlan from Sa…
Panajachel
photo by: Biedjee