Pana is Guatemala’s #2 tourist destination, and probably its #1 expat destination.  There is a street, Calle Santander, that runs for about a half mile and every available inch of store frontage is devoted to tourism – gift shops, craft shops, travel agents, restaurants, hotels.  Plus street stands and food carts. It’s kind of like the main tourist drag in Tijuana, overwhelming.  Other than that one street, Pana looks pretty much like a standard Guatemalan town.  It’s ethnically very Mayan.

The other day a young Mayan woman with a baby on her back, maybe still in her teens, asked me for money to feed her baby.  I handed her some coins and she said she needed 20 quetzales to feed her baby.  She was quite insistent, in Spanish, a second language to both of us.  I feel now like giving her the 20 would have been the right thing to do, but in the moment I felt like if I let her demand such a large amount and gave it to her, I would be a mark for everyone in the street.  So I gave her 5 and told her that was all I was giving her, and walked off feeling guilty.  

So far my two main hangouts are a coffee shop and an Asian restaurant, in both of which English is the spoken language.  I’m speaking English more than Spanish.  Is this where I should be, to escape the Imperium?  I don’t know, but at least I am not isolated here.  I played the accordion this morning in the coffee shop for expats, and Steve is playing tonight in the Asian restaurant for expats. I’ll go with the flow, and go elsewhere if something or someone draws me away. I may volunteer in Elisabeth’s school, or Steve’s music school.

The expats are not all North Americans, they’re from all over, and even the North Americans have lived all over.  One woman I talked to was born in Curacao, which was a Dutch Colony, and she’s a citizen of Holland.  She designs jewelry and is about to leave for Paris to show her stuff at a jewelry show, and then go visit her mother in Holland.

The thing that’s most depressing here is the newspaper.  Everything is bad and getting worse.  Corruption is rampant, the government is dysfunctional, the environment is degrading, crime is increasing, the poor are getting poorer, the death rate is increasing. The press is chronically depressed.

This morning I was finally up to full strength after that long cold and bronchitis.  Carrying my accordion to the coffee shop, I sensed that I was walking at full speed, not slower.   I played for about an hour in the coffee shop, quiet background music, and people enjoyed it.  The place is called “Crossroads” (in English), and is run by a N. American named Mike.  He roasts the coffee there and it’s excellent.

Advertisements