Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Location of Zarahemla and the Waters of Mormon

For my Z post last year I wrote about Zarahemla, a key city and land written about in the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ and companion to the Holy Bible.

People often question the location of this ancient city in the American continent, and wonder where Zarahemla could be.

I'm borrowing my Z post from last year's Challenge,  Where is Zarahemla and Does it Matter, and changing it up a bit to connect it with another interesting Book of Mormon geographical location--the Waters of Mormon.

The Waters of Mormon were a short distance from the City of Lehi-Nephi. The prophet Alma and his people left Lehi-Nephi under duress and persecution from King Noah.

Escaping to the forest in the borders of the land, the people gathered at a body of water called the Waters of Mormon. Here Alma taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ and baptized them in His name.

The group then traveled from this location for eight days, and stayed for a time in a valley they named Helam. Another twelve days journey from Helam took them to the City of Zarahemla.

For a group of people to walk or ride in wagons pulled by animals-- (we don't know what their transportation was so this is an assumption, using the way large groups of people traveled across the Western plains in the U.S. before gasoline-fueled vehicles)-- it would take about 20 days to travel from the Waters of Mormon to the City of Zarahemla. This is geographical background that can be helpful if one is wondering about the location of these two Book of Mormon places.

Now, where might the Waters of Mormon be located?

To the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints native to Central America, it is not a question. They are convinced the Waters of Mormon are one and the same with Lake Atitlan. At the time of Alma, the Waters of Mormon are described as containing "a beautiful fountain of pure water” (Mosiah 18:4-6) where the people entered and were baptized by immersion. For this reason, it became a sacred place to the people and the church of Jesus Christ at the time.

Currently Lake Atitlan is a huge land-locked body of water much larger than how the original Waters of Mormon are described. However, the lake has a life-giving spring that bubbles up from the center, and because there's no drainage, the rains fill it up each year as the level continues to rise, rise, rise.

In addition to the spring, there is the legend of the Xocomil, the wind that blows across Lake Atitlan and carries away sins. These two elements would seem to validate the idea that Lake Atitlan is indeed the original location of the Waters of Mormon. And if so, it isn't too difficult to ascertain the approximate location of our Z letter, Zarahemla.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Young and Old

I think I'm most fascinated by the very young and the very old people of the Mayans, although seriously they all are beautiful to me...

The school kids with their fresh happy faces, looking so healthy and energetic

The fathers who watch over everyone in their family
The mothers who quietly go about their work, usually with a child close to them

The farmers in the fields, or out selling their wares

The older brother or sister walking with a youngster, holding a cloth over the little one's head to protect him from the sun.

I have images of all these in my mind if not on my camera. Most likely not on my camera since I respect the people too much to be sticking a camera in their faces without permission, as tempted as I am to do so.

But the very young, the babies held close to their mothers, peeking out at the world with their round beautiful faces and bright clear eyes...oh how I love to see them!

And the very old, bent over, often barefoot, trudging up the hill carrying a load of some kind or pushing a cart.

Once there was a tiny, wrinkled old woman who must have been 80, with a strap around her forehead that held a huge bag of firewood, all of which had to weigh much more than she did.

The very young and the very old of the Mayans are among the most beautiful people I have ever seen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


There's a wind that blows across Lake Atitlan and it has a name, Xocomil, pronounced "Sho-ko-meel". Like many traditions and legends in this area, the Xocomil has sacred origins. I'm going to talk about those further in my "Z" post, as they are connected.

The indigenous people have a belief that when the wind blows across Lake Atitlan, it takes away their sins. This is part of the fascinating story I'll discuss in my last post of the A to Z Challenge.

We are almost done!!! Only 2 more letters to go....

I'll leave you with a picture of Lake Atitlan, with the clouds gathering to bring Xocomil across the water in the late afternoon to carry away our sins.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What's the Weather Like in Guatemala?

A young man from Costa Rica said Panajachel was too cold. If you are wanting a very hot, tropical climate when you come, you may be disappointed. Be sure to throw in a sweater to go with your shorts and flip flops.

Guatemala has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season--December to May-- is sunny and warm during the day but can get cool in the evenings. The Lake Atitlan region is at an elevation of up to 5000 ft, and the higher up areas can get quite cool. Also, there's no central heating in hotels, homes and restaurants, nor air conditioning either. I suggest bringing something warm for sleeping, in case the bedding at your hotel isn't sufficient.

During the day, it can get hot as you walk around town, and that's when layering works best. A jacket or sweater for cool mornings can be shed during the day and put in your backpack, ready for sunset. I like to put in my flip flops too, in case my feet get too hot in shoes.

If your eyes are sensitive to the sun, bring a couple pairs of sunglasses. I'm never without mine. Buying them locally can be pricey, as it's one of those "the tourists will pay for them" items.

In the rainy season-- May through November-- the time to go out is in the mornings when the sun is shining. Take an umbrella in case you get caught in the rain which nearly always starts by 1 or 2 pm.

That's when I like to be home next to my fireplace, with plenty of dry wood nearby.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Guatemala is a country the size of Ohio, and it has close to 100 active volcanoes. It's not like they're going off all the time. I'm not afraid of them either. It's like the earthquakes in California or the tornadoes in Illinois-- it's a part of life that may or may not affect you, and it's pointless to worry over it.

The volcanoes make beautiful settings for pictures, whether clouded in mist or silhouetted by the sunset.

One did erupt near Antigua, which is just south of Guatemala City. But it wasn't like the City of Pompeii or anything. There were evacuations due to ash in the air and a lot of heavy cleaning after. Definitely some excitement when a volcano erupts, and of course danger too.

But anywhere you live will have its natural disaster waiting to happen, whether its earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, drought or the eruption of the nearest volcano. We have our 3 day emergency kit ready, just in case.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Unique place to visit

There are so many reasons I'd recommend people come and visit Guatemala. I remember when our son in law first told us about it, I thought "I'll never go there." I was afraid to travel out of the country, and especially afraid of anywhere in Central America. The horror stories one hears, you on TV and in the movies. Once we'd arrived I couldn't believe how comfortable and safe I felt.

When one decides to visit another country it's usually for something specific, like food or scenery or shopping or perhaps family who lives there. Guatemala has all of these things, and if you're related to me, there's even family!

To me, the most unique element and what you hear visitors mention over and over, is the people. The people of Guatemala are what make this place beloved to me. They are generally hard-working, spiritual, family-oriented, happy and exceedingly friendly.

I truly enjoy living among them. If for no other reason, come visit Guatemala, and especially the Lake Atitlan region, for the people.

When my little granddaughter lived here with her parents for six months, she too felt comfortable and safe among the people of Guatemala. Here she is photo bombing a group picture. She jumped right in and when her mom tried to get her out of the shot, they said, "Oh, no, let her stay and be in the picture." How can you not love people like this???

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Transportation once you're here

There are several ways to get from Guatemala City to Panajachel, most common for tourists being the shuttle vans. Usually your hotel will line this up for you. Once you're here, shuttle vans can take you to other areas of Central America as well. Along the street are many places listing times and places and prices.

Within Panajachel the easiest way to get around is on foot, but if you are carrying a load or just tired of walking you can flag down a taxi, or tuk tuk. They're everywhere and cost only 5 quetzales, or about 75 cents U.S., to get anywhere inside town. This is per person, so if there are 2 or 3 of you together, you can add up the cost. It's good to know in advance since if you're obvious tourists, the tuk tuk driver may double the price.

Our hotel provides free bicycles to guests, and although I'm nervous about riding a bike on these crowded streets, this is the main form of transportation for local families. As in the US, a husband and wife will each have their own car, in Pana they'll each have their own bike, some equipped with extra seats for carrying a child or two.

And there is the ever present chicken bus, the best way to get to Solola or other places inland. It's only 3 quetzales to go one way to Solola, a larger town than Panajachel. Many residents go on Friday when Solola has their big market day.

 For all the villages around the lake, there's the extensive water taxi system. This is more expensive than a chicken bus, costing 25 quetzales per person to cross the lake.

The middle class residents will have a car or motorcycles. Personally, I'm happy just to walk, with the occasional tuk tuk or bus ride.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Shoe Shine Boys

Kids in Panajachel go to school half days, either in the morning or afternoon, with many of them working when they aren't in school. They'll help their parents at home or with their businesses, or they might even have their own little enterprise.

One of these is shining shoes. I've never seen girls with shoe shine kits, only boys, around the ages of 7 to 14. They do an amazing job of it, too. Sometimes several work together, one doing the shining while the others seek out customers.

My husband has always shined his shoes every week for Sunday and taught our boys how to do it as well, but now he's happy to pay a little kid to do it for him. The charge is about five quetzales, or 75 cents U.S, but they do such a good job cleaning and polishing, most people will give them more. Bruce usually pays 10 or 20 quetzales for a shine.

One afternoon when we were relaxing at an outdoor table eating lunch, this shoe shine boy came and asked Bruce if he needed a shine. He didn't, but the kid looked so forlorn and hungry, I offered him a sandwich and the rest of our big bag of Cheetos. He ate the Cheetos and half the sandwich, wrapping up the rest for later, or maybe for a little brother at home, then he just sat there quietly on his little shoeshine box keeping us company.

He showed us his shoes, how they were coming apart at the soles, and I saw they were too large for him besides. But you can see how nicely shined they are! I gave him 20 quetzales for a photo, figuring this could take care of my S post. He's putting his shoe on his kit to demonstrate how he gives a shine to a customer.

Many of the children who work in town don't get a lot to eat. This little boy is 14 but looks a lot younger. I was glad he came around while we were eating so I could share our lunch with him. There are many hungry people in this area, and although we can't feed everyone, I decided early on that when I had an opportunity I'd share what I could.

If you come to Panajachel, you'll be approached numerous times by shoe shine boys. They'll polish and shine a leather purse for the ladies, too. It can be a nuisance how they always come up to you on the street, but just remember, they're working for a living, not begging, and the little they ask for the job they do goes a long way in helping out them and their families.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Restaurants in Panajachel

I love food and especially trying new dishes, flavors, ways of preparing. The truth is I've been a little disappointed in the restaurants in Panajachel. It's a tourist area, thousands flock to the community every year for Semana Santa (Easter week, Spring break), so one would think the restaurants would be the best of the best.

You've got to really pay attention, ask around and seek out the best places. Fancy environment doesn't necessarily mean great food. More like overpriced and mediocre menu, unfortunately. Traditional fare is chicken, black beans, rice, tortillas and a little vegetable. I posted about that earlier under C for Chicken, and I can't resist posting another delicious plate from The Last Resort, our personal favorite.

What's so charming about this family-owned restaurant, is despite having amazing food at exceptionally reasonable prices, and a clean tidy environment, it's all prepared fresh. You'll see one of the little boys, a son of the chef and proprietor, run out to the corner tienda to get something specifically for the dish you've just ordered.

There is other traditional fare like pupusas, gringas, tostadas, tamales, empanadas, arroz con leche. The street vendors often have the best items, like the ladies grilling corn on the cob over hot coals, then serving it rubbed with lime and salt.

And for a snack, you won't want to miss frequent stops at the fruit carts for fresh papaya, pineapple, mango, watermelon or whatever is in season.

The larger restaurants will serve fish and shrimp and fancy drinks. Be sure to specify if you want your fish with head on or off.

When you visit Panajachel, ask at your hotel for restaurant recommendations. Or you can pop into Hotel Casa Colonial and talk to Bruce Gowen, who will be happy to tell you where to find the best food in town.

Besides traditional Guatemalan restaurants, he can direct you to a wonderful cafe that serves authentic Spanish seafood paella, a huge bowl for the table accompanied with fresh rolls and herb butter. One of my favorite places right near the hotel is the Tuscany, with bruschetta as good as any in Italy (according to my well-traveled sister who's been to Italy many times). Or if you just like basic American food, there's the best hot dogs ever at a stand that sets up on Santander after 8 p.m.

Bruce and I have been exploring and experimenting with the restaurants and street vendors for over a year now, and we have our own code for the ones we like:

Taco Kid
Tostada Lady
Chicken Soup at the Mercado
Pana Rock Nachos
2 for 1 Pizza at Pollo Campero
Fried Chicken at That Place We Like
Pie Lady
Hot Dogs on Santander
Grilled Chicken Guy
Pupusa Ladies
Gringa Place
Smokin' Joes

Buen provecho!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gorgeous Quilts

If you don't purchase anything else to take home with you from Guatemala, like art or jewelry or a handcrafted bag, (which seriously I don't know how tourists can resist any of these items), you will want to select a beautiful quilt.

Whether it's for a gift or to put on your bed at home, or to hang on a wall for display, these quilts are a work of art. (I would suggest washing by hand or having them dry cleaned, not to toss in the washer and dryer.)

This is a colorful but fairly simple design my daughter chose for the wall of the hotel entryway. It features the sun design which is very common in Mayan culture.

Friday, April 17, 2015

OUTDOORS in Panajachel

It seems like everything happens outdoors in my town, even during the rainy season. It's odd because we came from the suburbs of Salt Lake City where people basically live in their cars or their houses, only going outside to exercise or do yard work.

But here, the whole population seems to be living outdoors.

At first seeing so many people outside all the time was exciting to me. I wanted to be part of the crowd, eating outside, walking to buy my supplies at "WalMart" or rather a small version of it called "Dispensa." And of course shopping for fruit and vegetables at the mercado, or open market.

Women making their corn tortillas outdoors for sale to passersby.

Even washing our clothes outside....

And of course drying them too!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Natural Wonders of Guatemala

If you love the outdoors and being in nature, appreciating the variety and beauty of God's creations, then you'll enjoy a trip to the Guatemalan highland country. The views are stunning, especially from up high in this mountainous region.

Picturesque Lake Atitlan is a natural resource that's a part of life in this region, just as the volcanoes are surrounding it and elsewhere. There are over one hundred volcanoes in Guatemala, a country the size of Ohio.

Besides the large views of mountains and water and trees, there are the small parts of nature: birds singing and calling to one another every morning at dawn; hummingbirds of so many sizes and colors; butterflies, especially at the Nature Preserve in Panajachel where you can visit an enclosed butterfly sanctuary that feels to me like one of the most peaceful outdoor areas I've ever been to.

As far as nature one would rather avoid, there's scorpions and spiders (not seen any snakes, I don't think they hang out where there's people), and the ever-present termite.

It's wonderfully refreshing to enjoy the beauties of nature, whether in its wild state or tamed and cultured in one's own backyard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Music everywhere

There is music in the streets of Panajachel, especially during holidays like Christmas and Easter. Marching bands from the local schools will perform several times a week. Leading up to Christmas there were ma parties for the public with music on loud speakers.

There is always music on the chicken buses, broadcast over the radio

One can enjoy live music at night in the restaurants, or random groups that set up right in the street. Most of the music though is coming out of giant loudspeakers set up outside of stores or stalls, to attract customers or celebrate holidays.

We just finished Semana Santa, or Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, and the town was filled with people and music. These beautiful designs were made on the main street, followed later by the processional on Good Friday.

We heard so much music during Semana Santa my husband and I had to move to a different bedroom without as many windows just so we could sleep. There was all kinds of music everywhere: North American pop hits in English, Central and South American pop hits in Spanish, Christian music and hymns in Spanish, instrumental groups, band music.

Music, music everywhere! Do you hear the beat?