by Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press, February 16, 2016
SANTA CATARINA PALOPO, Guatemala (AP) — The man grinned a wide smile at me and simply asked, "Pana?"
He was referring to Panajachel, one of several towns and villages surrounding Guatemala's magnificent Lake Atitlan. Panajachel is the lake's economic hub and jumping-off point for many tourists visiting the area. It's located about 2 miles from Santa Catarina Palopo, the village I was in as I encountered the man.
He, like many others, was waiting for a flete, a pickup truck that transports villagers to and from Panajachel several times each day.
I smiled and responded in Spanish that I preferred to walk.
During a six-week stay in Guatemala, I traversed the path between the main town and the tiny village numerous times. In fact, it was often the highlight of my day. During my walks, I was able to take in spectacular views of the lake and watch as the sun slipped behind volcanoes. Joining me along the way were other fitness enthusiasts — young and old — running alone or in pairs; young lovers holding hands and stopping to kiss at various lookout points; and men and women walking home after a day of work chopping trees in the verdant countryside or selling handmade crafts to tourists in Panajachel.
My favorite part of the walk was encountering women dressed in the traditional Mayan huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt) and expertly balancing bundles atop their heads. Occasionally I encountered young children in traditional dress skipping down the road or kicking rocks.
The walk between villages includes several steep inclines, and a decent level of fitness is required.
Although the U.S. State Department warns American travelers that crime and violence in Guatemala are serious problems, I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe in the Lake Atitlan region. I made sure, however, to always complete the journey before darkness fell.
If You Go...
LAKE ATITLAN: The Lake Atitlan region is located about 70 miles from Guatemala City, home to the nearest major airport. Visitors can rent cars or take a bus from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan. Note that Guatemala is listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of countries where mosquitoes carry the Zika virus.
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This article was written by Kristi Eaton from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.