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Los Angeles was a Lie, Pana Isn’t

I grew up in Los Angeles California. Everyone, including my parents who had moved there from the East coast, said that LA was the greatest place to live. Well, either they were disillusioned or they lied. On the other hand, Pana is just downright amazing. Not perfect, but amazing.

I don’t want this to turn into too much of a sales pitch — there are enough Gringos here already — but I do want to help you understand the difference between Los Angeles and Panajachel. That is, besides about a 1000 times population difference.

  • Traffic: Practically everyone knows about Los Angeles traffic. Here in Pana there are no traffic lights but there is a traffic cop posted at the four main intersections. A traffic jam means waiting one minute.
  • Weather: It’s nice a lot of the time in LA but it still gets both hotter and colder there than here.
  • Pollution: Word of advice for LA is don’t breathe the air.
  • Crime: Crime in Pana seems to be pretty close to zero. Nuff said.
  • Transportation: You don’t need a car in Pana. Period. A TukTuk costs about $.60 and are everywhere but you can walk almost everywhere.
  • Fresh food: Read the In The Market posts. The other places I lived in Central America tended to offer just tropical crops. Here you find locally produced (meaning in Guatemala) apples, pears, blackberries, … as well as the typical tropical choices.
  • Language: Most people speak Spanish in Pana, just like in LA. šŸ™‚ That said, Pana is pretty international. You hear people speaking lots of different languages here.
  • Pana is more integrated. That requires a longer explanation which appears below.
  • People tend to be very open. I like to contrast this with Costa Rica where I always felt like I needed to be properly introduced before I could talk to someone but there are worse options. For example, I friend said she needed to arrange play dates for her kids a week in advance in Boulder Colorado.
  • Possibly the most interesting is that most people here seem to want to do things, learn new things and such. More so with the kids but lots more open to new ideas than other places I have lived.

What did I mean by integrated?

In every place I have lived there seemed to be areas for specific social groups. I said social groups because I am not specifically talking about traditional dividing lines such as race, religion and income level. I am talking about the whole range of things that divide people. Here I see virtually none of that.

If you are not a local, you will walk down Calle Santander and see all the various hotels, restaurants and shops that cater to mostly the tourist trade. While there are certainly are restaurants and hotels for different budgets, Santander is like a mall focused primarily on one type of client. But, a bit more searching shows you that this is only a skin deep perception. Here is the reality.

There are callejones (alleys) that run off Santander. Some are wide enough for a car, others only for a TukTuk and still others only for pedestrians. Within a minute you can be where the low-budget hotels are, where lot and house are on a piece of land that might be only 10 square meters or in another with a big house on a 600 square meter lot. The result is that rather than the rich (or the poor) needing to commute to work, the owner of a hotel and the maid or dishwasher may walk to work in less than five minutes.

But, it goes beyond location. It is not uncommon to see someone on the restaurant staff to buy more eggs, napkins or cooking oil at the tienda next door. Or see someone with a sack full of carrots, avocados or lemons come into the restaurant to sell them. If the restaurant doesn’t make their own tortillas, they probably come from someone less than a block away.

The end result is you really don’t have ghettos. You don’t have areas where it feels unsafe. And, most important, all social groups seem to know each other. Community is the word that comes to mind. An example of this sense of community just happened as I was writing this paragraph. There was a knock at our porton. The person is a guy I see regularly selling plants on Calle Santander. He was looking for my wife, explaining that she had bought a plant from him yesterday and told him where we lived so he could bring other plants by the house.

But, not pretentious

As I said, Los Angeles came with this sales pitch. You were regularly told how wonderful it was and encouraged to pass it on. If you go to Antigua,

Like any community, you can choose to ignore it. That is, you can drive your car to places where only the rich or the English-speaking hang out. I am sure some people do. But, that’s an option. Clearly, in Panajachel, you are both allowed to and encourage to be part of the community.



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