Yolkobsens spent five blissful months last year on Lake Atitlan. A good deal of the time was taken up with simply looking at a view that never ceased to amaze. But then, we still had to get groceries.
There we were living in a idyllic house set about 5,000 feet above sea level. It was perfect with a balcony that hugged two sides of the house, offering a lake and triple volcano vista that, well, goes beyond my feeble powers of description. To get there, though we had to travel by boat from Panajachel, only a ten-minute ride away from the main town, but a universe apart. Then we had to climb 500 feet to get to the house.
Now, for someone used to 20 feet above sea level, the first climb was an education. The air is thinner at that height of course so the amount of effort your heart has to make to bring oxygen to your system is exaggerated to say the least. But after about a week we were okay, but always aware of the extra physical effort it takes to get uphill, or more aptly put, up highland.
So back to the grocery shopping. Everything has to be brought in by boat so our weekly shopping expeditions to Pana had to be carefully orchestrated. Shopping for food and other essentials, such as wine and rum (Yolkobsen staples) required careful planning and expert execution of the task.
Gringos shopping in Pana have a number of choices. Our purchases were made at three main stops. The first and favourite is the local food market where fruit vegetables and meat could be had for very good prices, about 1/3 of what you would pay anywhere in North America. To a first time gringa, the unrefriderated meat hanging in the butcher stalls, visited intermittently by local flies, seemed a bit daunting. But then I figured everyone here eats it without difficulty and so the same held for Yolkobsens.
It’s interesting to note the food a gringo will miss. Hamburgers or Montreal smoked meat were not on my list as they are for many other gringos. I never thought lemons would be on my list. Lemons simply won’t grow in this part of the world, though limes grow in abundance. Occasionally, some runty lemons show up in the markets but they go in a New York minute. This absence of lemons, I should add, was not what I would call a true hardship, considering the bountiful compensations, such as the sweetest mangoes you’ll find anywhere.
The next stop on our shopping excursion was a local market where we would pick up sundries like washing detergent and, yes, rum and wine. It always amazes me that Guatemala super markets carry about ten different varieties of powdered milk.
But, being gringos there were things that we wanted. Like Worsteshire Sauce and Sleepy Time Tea. These can be had at Pana Super, a gringo-owned establishment that carries a lot of the wares that we outsiders favour and at prices we are used to paying from our North American wallets.
Thus stocked up we headed home by boat with our backpacks straining from our purchases. Thinking through the whole boat ride that we had once again broken our vow not to buy 80 pounds (wine and run bottles are heavy) of supplies, which we had to carry up the oxygen thin and steep passage to our house.
Worries were unfounded, as we usually managed to hit the Santa Cruz dock when school had let out and to our joy found some sturdy boys, who for a few Q, would carry our provisions up the hill for us while we dragged our shopping weary bones up to the balcony to see the lake view from our sweet perch. Cocktail time.