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For many, the small town of Panajachel is the gateway to Lago Atitlán. It lies on the shores of Lago Atitlán, carelessly arranged like a pile of laundry strewn across a floor. Constructed piecemeal with large, modern villas on the lakeshore, small primitive houses on dirt paths, upscale restaurants and tiendas in dirt-floored shacks, it has a pulse of activity that seems to ebb and flow, at times, on inspiration alone.
Ex-patriots from all over the world live in "Pana," as it is locally called. Some are retired and enjoy living comfortably and inexpensively in houses they have built around the lake. Others own businesses, which are usually associated with the tourist trade. Then there are those ex-pats who live in Pana, simply living the relaxed life for extended periods of time. Many of the sojourners rent houses in a residential area called Jucanyá. Much of Jucanyá is laid out along dirt paths in dense foliage, like a huge garden. This area is across a river, the Rio Panajachel, which empties into Lago Atitlán, away from the clatter and commotion of the main part of town.
Within the transplanted community, individuals are often referred to with an addition to their names. These added handles usually indicate their place of origin, such as "Idaho Jim," "Carol from New York," "Susan from London," or "Young English David." Others acquire their names through stories or events. "Lovely Linda" was christened after an experience she had with some local Guatemaltecos. She told me that one day she met a few men who asked for her name. She replied "Linda," which in Spanish means "lovely." (She's an attractive, tall, slim, blue-eyed blond.) The men smiled broadly and said, "Yes, yes, yes-- but what is your name?" At first she didn't catch on, and this exchange escalated for a few minutes until she did and all were reeling in uncontrollable laughter. The story eventually spread among those in the non-local circles, and the name stuck.
Extremely friendly as it is, Pana is not a pretty town and has no cohesiveness of architecture or personality. It is a stimulating conglomeration of foreign influence and local life, indigenous commerce and western night life. And through it all runs a continuing river of faces and personalities which only adds to the wonderful spectrum of color that surrounds a most magical lake.