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Panajachel: a big but small town

A big small town or a small big town?

A big small town or a small big town?

Panajachel is an interesting mix as far as a town goes. If you tell someone it has about 12,000 people they immediately see it as a small town. But, if you take them to the public market it feels a lot bigger. If you say it only has one gas station it clearly qualifies as really small but with six banks, it’s pretty big. How to you explain this to someone who hasn’t been here?

I like to define Panajachel as functional. That is, it has what it needs but it still is like a small community. Let’s look at a few data points

  • There is only one gas station because there is not that much local driving going on. Yes, lots of Tuk Tuks but, for example, buses fuel up in other places on their runs. The most popular mode of transport is walking — because the weather is great and the distances are short.
  • There are lots of hardware and building supply stores because that’s the sort of stuff you don’t want to shlep into town on a bus or whatever.
  • As a tourist destination, there are lots of restaurants, hotels and touristy shops.
  • As a transport hub for other communities on the lake there is frequent transport both across the lake and to land destinations including Guatemala City.

To single out one item, there are six banks because people go to the bank. You don’t need to drive or even own a car to need to go to the bank. What’s here tends to be what needs to be here.

But, the small community sense is still here as well. For example, my wife was walking near the market (which is far away from our house) and the guy who delivers bottles of water for Los Volcanes (your 5 gallon jug picked up, filled and returned for Q9) was passing by. She called out to him “can you come by in an hour?” and he responded “yes”. No directions and this was maybe the fourth time we had bought water from them.

Yup, functional. I like that word.

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