Coming Down the Mountain in Guatemala: Balcony at Casa Colonial hotel, Panajachel. (Photo by Jessica Gowen)

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it." ~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Quetzal

The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, so colorful and beautiful! They are found in forests and woodlands, especially in humid highlands. I've not yet seen one, but then I haven't been looking either. But aren't they beautiful??
The quetzal bird is so important to the country, they also named their national currency after it. One quetzal is worth 100 centavos. In American dollars, the ratio is about 7.50 to one, or one American dollar gets you 7 - 8 quetzales.

Bottom line, our dollars go pretty far if we are careful, and Americans can live fairly well in Guatemala for a whole lot less. I'm still not over the thrill of taking $350 out of the ATM for my U.S. bank account and seeing it come out in well over Q2000.

So even though the Quetzal bird is pretty, I'm more excited about the Quetzales I carry around in my bag for shopping. Call me shallow but after years of living frugally and trying to make ends meet in the States, it's rather nice to have a little extra cash in Guatemala.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Panajachel

Panajachel, called Pana for short, is about 90 miles, or a three hour drive from Guatemala City. It is one of several towns on Guatemala's fabulous Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala's high country at an elevation of over 5000 ft. Population is about 15,000 and growing. The weather is gorgeous, never too hot or too cold, because of the elevation and the lake.

 People like to take off at the harbor and do a boat tour of Lake Atitlan, visiting other villages along the shore.
On the hills around Pana, you can see how the farmers grow their crops in terraced fields.

Pana is where we are now living, with no plans to move any time soon, God willing. Our family's hotel Casa Colonial is right off the main street, called Calle Santander, where tourists wander up and down to shop at the stalls selling traditional Guatemalan items and to eat at the local restaurants.

Casa Colonial Hotel, now open for guests. Come and enjoy Pana!

My husband taking a break from all the walking we do up and down the streets of Pana.

Not all streets of Pana are as busy as Calle Santander. Behind these walls are quiet gardens, homes and apartment dwellings. There's always somewhere interesting to walk along the cobblestone streets. I've walked all over and always felt safe.

It is especially nice to see a branch of our church just down the street from the hotel. It makes us feel right at home each Sunday when we attend services.

Panajachel is a wonderful place to visit, and to live!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Organizing a New Routine in a Foreign Land

At first the idea of organizing our routine didn't seem so hard. It was pretty much like moving anywhere new, something we'd done quite a few times before. You find housing, you explore your neighborhood, you set up your work routine based on the job requirements. You get a few things for functioning in everyday life.

Setting up the household has been the most difficult, because Panajachel is a tourist/ resort area without shopping centers or large, familiar stores (WalMart, PriceMart, malls) like there are in Guatemala City.

When I wanted towels, I found a few overpriced, thin ones at the Dispensa. The Dispensa is actually owned and operated by WalMart, only a whole lot smaller. Not that I'm in love with WalMart-- give me Costco or Target any day-- but I'd have sure taken to a Super WalMart if I saw one in Panajachel.

You just don't run out and get things, like sheet sets or cutting boards or a shower curtain. You do without or you find a substitute until you can get to Guatemala City (3 hours away.) Or to Xela, which is closer but did I mention we don't have a car? So figure in the price of the transportation-- a taxi, or a private shuttle, or you can always take the chicken bus, or catch a ride on the next pick-up truck.

So far transportation has stopped me from venturing beyond Pana for shopping. I keep my routine pretty basic and centrally located within walking distance.And a lot of what I need is found in the corner tienda. The one shown is actually the size of two, or even three, tiendas. Most of them aren't this big.

So I get up and ready for the day, spend time at work writing and/or editing, plan the meals and walk to the market, study Spanish, back to writing and/or editing with too-frequent breaks for social media.

We enjoy family time in the evenings when we can.

If it's just my husband and me, we watch something on Netflix then go to bed.

So far we like it!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Nature Preserve

Just outside the city of Panajachel is a nature preserve, within walking distance if you don't mind a good hike. It's where you can see the spider monkeys showing off for visitors.

And where you can cross those scary jungle bridges like you see in movies, and pretend you're Indiana Jones

Thankfully these bridges are modernized with railings!
And you can get your photo taken in front of the most amazing waterfall ever. 

And then there's the butterfly preserve, where thousands of butterflies are captured in a net building. So lovely and peaceful and picturesque.

When you visit Panachel, be sure to tour the Nature Preserve. It's well worth the small entry fee. Spend the day, bring a lunch or eat at the very comfortable visitor's center. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Mayans

The Mayan people are the best part about living in Guatemala. 

Their enterprising and artistic spirits...

their colorful handiwork and tapestries...

the devotion to their religion...

their celebrations and festivals...

and most of all, their beautiful, friendly smiling faces....

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Learning Spanish

It's amazing how quickly one can pick up a language when immersed in it, especially when the natives stick to their own tongue and don't speak English. Unlike resort areas in Mexico, where people will quickly revert to English when they see it's your language, in Pana it's pretty much all Spanish. Stores, restaurants, tourist spots-- places where you'd figure the workers would know a little English-- nope. It's Spanish or nothing.

This has been fun for me because I took quite a bit of Spanish in school and appreciate the opportunity to be forced into using it. Not so for my husband. He says, "I could never figure out how to conjugate English verbs, how can I hope to remember the Spanish ones?"

But he keeps at it, we both do. Ever heard of It's a free site that takes you through a series of lessons, from beginner to proficiency. You just choose the language and get started. Of course, you can't be afraid to open your mouth and practice, even when something comes out to make the store clerk grin.

Have you ever visited a country without knowing the language? How did you manage?