Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reflections on One Month in Guatemala

The time has come for me to leave my cozy abode in Linda Vista. It has been a good, productive month and I am thankful I had this opportunity to focus on my writing, Spanish studies, trip research, and overall well-being prior to continuing my onward travels.
entrance to colorful cinder block home in Guatemala
Entrance to Casa Perez, my home in Guatemala for the month of October.
If you have read all of my blog posts this past month, then you already have a good idea of how I spent my time here. In case you haven't, here's a quick recap with embedded links to my previously published posts:

It took me a few days to settle into my new home and reflect on my upcoming adventures. As always, I love getting to know the local way of life and taking public transit to shop for groceries is the perfect way to assimilate. Midway through my stay here, I had the opportunity to help my friends launch their new business and I spent a weekend working at Coffee Fest. Later in the month, I was invited to go on a day trip to Antigua, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also managed to go 31 days without drinking any alcohol!
woman looking at view of mountains in Guatemala
Enjoying the beautiful surroundings at Hobbitenango near Antigua.
In terms of other accomplishments, I published at total of seven blog posts here on Alethea's Excellent Adventures not including this one, and wrote one article for Coast to Prost. I drafted several more posts and did some exploratory writing for my novel. I also read a lot, which is how I like to wind down in the evening just before I go to sleep. I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use my Multnomah County Library account and my Nashville Public Library account to check out e-books for free. Besides multiple guidebooks and language learning books, here are the novels I completed this month:
The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and A Life-Changing Journey Around the World by Kim Dinan
At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
Walking the Americas: 1,800 Miles, Eight Countries, and One Incredible Journey from Mexico to Colombia by Levison Wood
Living in Guatemala, 2017 Edition: Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Other Expat Hot Spots by David Anicetti
Latin America Traveler: Travel Essays From Around the Region ed. Nicholas Crowder
Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen
The Tattooed Soldier: A Novel by Héctor Tobar

During the month of October, I studied Spanish for a total of 100 hours using a variety of methods like apps (e.g. Duolingo), YouTube lessons, language learning e-books, vocabulary builders, streaming movies or TV shows in Spanish, and conversing with native speakers. My total vocabulary is now over 1,000 words. My biggest weakness is verbs, particularly using the correct tenses and conjugations. I will continue to study independently as I travel and hopefully, by interacting more with locals, I will gradually improve. But when I make errors I need to be corrected immediately so I can learn the proper way to say things; unfortunately strangers are not inclined to intervene in this regard.
screenshot of Spanish verb lesson on YouTube
I will eventually memorize all of these verbs and conjugations.
I am making plans to go to language school in Copan, Honduras for one week in December, and possibly study in Granada, Nicaragua for one week in January. I am also finding ways of "forcing" myself to use the language; for example, a few days ago I switched my phone's operating system setting to default to Spanish. This means that all of my apps and search engines are now in Spanish, so if I accidentally unfriend you on social media or send you an unintelligible message, then I apologize in advance! For now I am still doing all of my writing, commenting, etc. in English as my immediate goal is just to be able to hear, correctly comprehend, and speak a bit of Spanish. Eventually I hope to be more confident in writing as well.
screenshot of Samsung phone settings menu in Spanish
A screenshot of my phone settings menu.
For the past week I have been focused on trip research since I had very little time to do much before I left the U.S. in early September. I have now created a rough itinerary for the three and a half months that remain until I meet up with my mom, stepdad, and Greg in Buenos Aires on February 20, 2019. I am including it here in case anyone has any suggestions or feedback. Note that nothing is set in stone other than my travels with my friend Corey for the next two weeks and my flight from Bogota, Colombia to Buenos Aires on February 19. I plan to travel overland and occasionally by boat or ferry when necessary; my only other flight should be from Panama City, Panama to Medellin, Colombia in early February. Note also that, especially in Honduras and El Salvador, the destinations are not necessarily in the order I will end up visiting them.

10/31-11/12 Traveling in Guatemala with Corey (Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan, Monterrico)
11/12-11/14 Visiting with the Perez family (Hilda's parents) at their home in Linda Vista
11/15-11/17 Flores, Guatemala (to visit Mayan ruins at Tikal)
11/18-11/20 San Ignacio, Belize (to visit Actun Tunichil Muknal cave and Xunantunich or Caracol ruins)
11/21 Dangriga, Belize
11/22-11/24 Placencia, Belize
11/25-11/26 Punta Gorda, Belize
11/27-11/28 Livingston, Guatemala
~11/29~12/15 Honduras: Lake Yojoa; Copan (Mayan ruins and one week of Spanish language school); Celaque National Park; Comayagua; Tegucigalpa
~12/16~1/1 El Salvador: San Salvador; Suchitoto; Joya de Ceren (like Pompeii); Lake Coatepeque + Santa Ana Volcano; Ruta de las Flores scenic road; Concepción de Ataco
~1/2~1/18 Nicaragua: Matagalpa; Masaya Volcano National Park; Granada (second location for one-week Spanish school); Ometepe Island; Playa La Flor
~1/19~1/28 Costa Rica: Tortuguero National Park; Osa Peninsula (Corcovado National Park)
~1/29~2/7 Panama: Boquete (Baru Volcano); Portobelo; Panama City
~2/8~2/19 Colombia: Medellin; Guatape; Jerico; Jardin; Salento; Bogota
screenshot of Google Map of Central America
A screenshot of a Google Map where I pinned some of the
places I'd like to go in the next three months.
As I wrap up this final post from Linda Vista, I want to mention a couple more things that I'm sure a few of you will enjoy reading based on your responses to my previous posts.

The weather this month has been in the mid-70's during the day and low 60's at night. I was very thankful for the mild temperatures considering there is no air conditioning here. A few days of sunshine after my arrival were followed by two weeks of heavy rain, which mostly occurred in the afternoon and evening, but occasionally lasted all day. I noticed that the ceiling in the rear bedroom where I had been sleeping was leaking, but upon further inspection of the roof above it, I discovered that the drain was clogged by debris from a neighbor's tree which caused the water to pool and slowly seep through the cement. Clearing out the drain solved the problem immediately and there have been no further maintenance issues to deal with.
view of volcano from roof in Guatemala
The view of Agua volcano from the roof of Casa Perez.
There were also some nasty thunderstorms and strong winds. One afternoon, after intermittent rain showers throughout the morning, lightning struck out of nowhere, hitting a nearby house. It was so close that I could feel the electrical charge in the air and it gave me an instant headache. Surprisingly, the power did not go out immediately, but the next morning it was out for several hours while workers repaired whatever damage was caused. Now the rainy season seems to be wrapping up and it has only sprinkled a couple of times in the past week. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes have gotten worse and, in spite of my best efforts, a few manage to invade the house during the day and then wake me at night with their buzzing near my ears.
view from rooftop in Guatemala laundry underwear hanging clothes line
I call this weather "hazy with a chance of underwear."
Speaking of sleep, I did change bedrooms for the last 10 days of my stay at the house. I was still struggling with getting a good night's sleep due to the constant noises: fireworks at all hours; large airplanes flying almost directly over the house during final approach to Guatemala City's airport; dogs barking; the rooster crowing; neighbors slamming their metal gates and doors; all of which I could still hear even while wearing earplugs. So I moved to an interior bedroom which, although it doesn't get as much airflow, is better insulated. I did sleep a bit better overall; even though I could still hear all of the sounds, they were more muffled. The one exception was the resident gecko, which makes a chirp-chirp-chirp sound at night as it moves around the house.
lizard gecko on house wall in Guatemala
The resident house gecko.
Finally, today is Halloween in the U.S. The holiday is not widely observed here, as the focus is more on All Saints Day tomorrow and Day of the Dead on November 2. Besides, I have already realized that, at least in the town of Villa Nueva, I would have no need for a Halloween costume. I look different enough from everyone else here that I can just be myself, "the gringa world traveler."
Halloween cupcakes in display case
Halloween cupcakes for sale at the ChocoMuseo in Antigua.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

One Month Without Alcohol

As of today October 30, 2018, it has been 31 days since I have consumed any alcohol.

I decided to conduct this month-long "experiment" for a number of reasons, but particularly to find out if not drinking alcohol would have a positive, noticeable effect on my health. I also wanted to give my liver a break since, when I had lab work done in August 2018, my doctor told me that it was inflamed, specifically that my aspartate transaminase (AST) level was high. It was 65 U/L on a scale where 10 - 40 U/L is considered normal; in 2013 and 2015 it was 16 U/L and 21 U/L, respectively.
bowls of food and glass of wine on table
I love liver but apparently my liver doesn't love me!
Enjoying a meal with wine in Bucharest, Romania in July, 2017.
I can recall several times in previous years that I have abstained for anywhere from a few days to about one week, either because I was sick or because I was making a conscious effort to cut back, but I really have no idea when I went so long without alcohol. And, while I have been paid to write about or otherwise work in the beer industry for the past five years, alcoholic beverages have not always played such a large role in my daily life although they have certainly always been a part of it.
plate of meats and bread, glass of wine and beer
Enjoying a Parisian charcuterie plate with wine and beer in August, 2001.
Here is an excerpt from something I originally wrote in 2010:

I was exposed to beer fairly early in life. On a weekend night, sitting on my dad's lap in a big easy chair, he took a swig of a mysterious beverage in a brown bottle. I always wanted to do whatever my dad was doing so I begged for a sip. I was lucky; my dad wasn't a typical beer drinker even though options were very limited in Tennessee at the time. He liked "the good stuff," the darker the better. We didn't have much money to spare back then, so it was a real treat to go to the store and buy a 6-pack of Heineken Dark or some other "exotic" beer.

As I got older, I experimented with other forms of alcohol. Yes, there was the shameful wine cooler era, as well as a brief flirtation with peach schnapps during my first years of college. Many other cocktails with dubious names (Blue Bazooka, anyone?) passed my lips over the years. I even have a long-standing affair with the pure pleasure that is a Grey Goose martini (straight up with olives, please). I've visited the famous wine regions around the world and have tasted the finest whiskies in their native land. In fact, everywhere I travel, I make a point to consume the local spirits whenever possible.

But, the one beverage I always default to, with pleasure, is beer. I wish I had kept track of all the wonderful brews I've tried over the years, something I only started doing in 2009. If I looked at all of my old photos, I'd find many pictures of me sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, on the Grand Place in Brussels, or at a biergarten in Germany, almost always drinking whatever was on draft. As I traveled all over the U.S. and the world as a flight attendant, I could often be found in the local watering hole, drinking a pint of ale during my layover.
woman holding glass of champagne
Me at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin in Reims, France in September, 2004.
It is obvious that I enjoy drinking when I travel, primarily as a way of experiencing the local culture. The same goes for eating traditional or regional foods, learning languages, visiting places of worship, and riding public transportation. I also drink socially, as the majority of my friends have no aversion to alcohol and also like to try the latest beer releases, so we spend a lot of time at local brewpubs. And I drink at home, in which case it is a means to relax after a long day, or it is a reward for accomplishing something, like publishing a blog post.
group of friends at a bar holding pints of beer
Me and a few beer-loving friends in Portland, OR in February, 2017.
You may be wondering if it was hard to go for an entire month without alcohol. The short answer is no. I think that is mostly because I am living in a small town in Guatemala where there is no temptation to hang out at the local bar, because that's not what women do here and there isn't one within walking distance anyway. Also there is very limited availability of good beer, although the nearest Walmart sells a couple of Rogue beers among other imports like Brooklyn Lager. Sure, there is easy access to alcohol in general, including the large bottles of rum, whiskey, and a few Guatemalan liquors that are sitting on top of the refrigerator. Not to mention the two cans of Gallo beer that were in the fridge when I arrived on October 1, and the unopened bottle of an exclusive tequila that I purchased in Mexico.
glasses and bottles of tequila
Sampling the local spirits in Tequila, Mexico in September, 2018.
Was I ever tempted? To be truly honest, there were a couple of times when I really wanted a drink. Once or twice, after a long day of writing I thought, "I deserve a beer!" At Coffee Fest on October 13-14, one vendor was offering free samples of their coffee liqueur. I politely declined even though I would have loved to taste it. When I visited Antigua on October 22 and spotted the tap handles for the local brewery, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't try it. And seeing all of my friends' Facebook and Instagram photos of seasonal brews like fresh hop and pumpkin beers also made me feel like I was missing out somehow. But, in general, it wasn't hard to abstain given my relative seclusion here.
beer tap handles Antigua Guatemala
Temptation is never far away: tap handles for Antigua beer.
What was the overall impact of 31 days without alcohol? As for the physical effects, the only noticeable change was that I felt less bloated (an unfortunate effect of drinking beer in particular) and I had less facial redness (something I have anyway because of rosacea but that is exacerbated by consuming alcohol). I also didn't have a single headache or migraine, which I occasionally get after drinking too much. Unfortunately I cannot measure the effect on my liver without lab tests so there is no way to know if one month of abstinence is enough to lower my AST levels or if alcohol is even the cause of my liver inflammation.
three women at Hobbitenango Guatemala
Feeling healthy and happy at Hobbitenango on October 22, 2018.
I have to say I was disappointed that I did not sleep better or that my overall body aches did not diminish. I had thought that perhaps alcohol was contributing to one or both of these things, but that does not appear to be the case. I also did not lose more than a couple of pounds, but I wasn't as physically active this past month so I couldn't expect much in that regard.

One final positive result is that I didn't spend as much money (on beverages) as I normally would in a given month. I track all of my expenses whether I'm at home or traveling, and my total personal alcohol expenditure averages about $200 per month. For October, it was $0 and the only other beverages I purchased were four 5-gallon bottles of water, one bottle of carbonated water, a carton of mango juice, a carton of milk, a bag of coffee, and a box of tea bags. My total beverage expense was only $18.
five gallon plastic bottles of water in a shopping cart
Buying 5-gallon bottles of water at Walmart on October 1, 2018.
So what's next? Tomorrow I hit the road again and, consequently, will break my alcohol fast. My friend Corey arrives from New York City late in the evening and we will be traveling around Guatemala together for almost two weeks. Since we'll be staying in the city center for a couple of days, I plan to visit a local craft brewery El Príncipe Gris as this is probably the only chance I will have to try their beer. Over the next two weeks we also have to drink that bottle of tequila I bought in Mexico because it's too heavy to carry in my suitcase while I'm traveling.
bottle of tequila on outdoor table with flowers in background
I am really looking forward to trying this exclusive tequila!
Will anything change as a result of this experience? I think so. Whereas before this month I wouldn't hesitate to drink a beer or a glass of wine as I was winding down for the evening, now I will make a more conscious effort to not drink alcohol just because it is available. Instead, I will focus on only consuming alcohol when I have a chance to try a new-to-me beverage; for example, while visiting a local brewery; or when I feel that it is part of a cultural experience.
street mural on wall in Mexico skeletons drinking at tables
A mural in Guadalajara. Drinking with locals definitely counts as a cultural experience!
In the end the past month has forced me to be completely present and fully aware of all my senses all of the time. I have had an unencumbered chance to assess my day-to-day feelings, both physically and mentally. I have been clear-headed and very productive in terms of reading, writing, studying and researching. It was, overall, a successful experiment and one I hope to repeat on at least an annual basis.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Revolution Day

Revolution Day in Guatemala is celebrated every year on the twentieth of October, which in 2018 fell on a Saturday. However, due to a recently modified law, this year's holiday was extended to the following Monday to encourage national tourism. That is how I found myself traveling to Antigua on October 22 with my adopted Guatemalan family.
Panorama of Lago de Amatitlán and Volcán Pacaya in Guatemala
Panorama of Lago de Amatitlán and Volcán Pacaya taken from Linda Vista.
I woke up early on Monday to a beautiful, sunny day. It was the first day in several weeks that there wasn't a layer of clouds obscuring the view of Pacaya, so I went up on the roof to take photos but then decided to go for a short walk to make a panorama of Lake Amatitlán and the volcano. Around 10:30 a.m. I received a message from Beatriz, one of my friend Hilda's cousins whom I had met at Coffee Fest the previous weekend. She asked if I had any plans for the day and I replied no, other than possibly walking to the grocery store. Beatriz said that she and her mother, who is also named Beatriz, were going to Antigua and invited me to join them.

Less than 30 minutes later they picked me up and we drove to Karin and Andrés' condo. With all five of us squeezed into the car and traditional marimba music playing on the stereo, we set off towards Antigua. The city, which served as the seat of the Spanish government for the kingdom of Guatemala for over 200 years, is known for its Spanish baroque-influenced architecture and 16th-century colonial churches for which it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It is only 25 km on the Pan-American Highway from the condo in San Cristóbal, Mixco, or 38 km from the historic center of Guatemala City.
Spanish Baroque church in Guatemala
Iglesia de la Merced in Antigua (2016)
I actually have been to Antigua before, during the Panama Canal cruise I took with Greg and our families in late November 2016. We booked a private excursion from the Pez Vela cruise terminal in Puerto San Jose (Puerto Quetzal) with Go With Gus Tours. Our five-hour tour included stops at the highlights of Antigua like Cerro de la Cruz, Santo Domingo Church and Monastery, La Merced Church, and Santa Catalina Arch; a delicious lunch at La Posada de Don Rodrigo; shopping for local handicrafts; and a tour of Vivero Gilgal (an ornamental plant and poinsettia grower) and Valhalla Macadamia Farm in San Miguel Duenas.
fog-enshrouded view of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz
The fog-enshrouded view of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz on November 29, 2016.
Thus I was eager to revisit the city with my friends, to experience its charms from a more local perspective and to enjoy the perfect weather. We did not go directly into Antigua but instead took a more scenic route that had us climbing higher into the surrounding mountains with amazing views of 12,340 ft Volcán de Agua and partially obscured Fuego and Acatenango. After driving for about 45 minutes, we pulled into a dirt parking lot marked Hobbitenango, which by chance I had read about the previous day while researching places to visit in Guatemala.
A view of the Panchoy Valley on the hike up to Hobbitenango.
A view of the Panchoy Valley on the hike up to Hobbitenango.
Hobbitenango is a Middle-earth themed eco-friendly hotel and restaurant development perched high above Antigua overlooking the Panchoy Valley. It currently consists of two hobbit-style casitas and a few camping spots. From Monday through Saturday there is no admission charge to visit the property but on Sundays and holidays it costs 35 GTQ (about $4.50) per person which includes round-trip transportation from the parking lot.
people riding in the back of a pickup truck in Guatemala
The easy way to get to Hobbitenango.
We decided it would be more fun to walk the last 800 meters (1/2 mile) instead of riding in the back of a pickup truck. Little did I realize that it was almost a vertical climb on a rough dirt and stone road that is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles! Still, in spite of having to stop a few times to catch our breath and to perch precariously on narrow patches of grass to allow the trucks to squeeze by, it was definitely worth the effort to better enjoy the views.
local women walking near Hobbitenango with Agua Volcano in the background
Local women walking near Hobbitenango with Agua Volcano in the background.
We spent more than an hour exploring the property and taking photos, although we opted not to pay the admission fee as it still didn't allow us to enter the casitas. Then we carefully made our way back down to the parking lot and stopped at a food stand to have a few snacks like enchiladas (not the Mexican version; this is a handheld tostada topped with a variety of ingredients) and rellenitos de plátano (fried sweet mashed plantains stuffed with a mixture of refried black beans, chocolate, and cinnamon).
four friends at Hobbitenango in Guatemala
Myself, Andrés, Karin and Beatriz at Hobbitenango with the two casitas.
It was after 3:00 p.m., so we drove down into Antigua to find a place to relax and eat a late lunch. We parked by the Church of San Felipe de Jesús and looked at several menus from restaurants around the plaza before settling on Restaurante Fonda Don Simon which serves traditional Guatemalan specialties. We particularly enjoyed reading their simple menu because it uses words like "delicioso," "sabroso," and "exquisito" to describe the dishes. I chose the "Insuperable Pepián de Gallina" which is a rich stew made with pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, guisquil (a type of gourd), and chiles. Gallina is hen whereas pollo refers to younger, whiter chicken meat. At Fonda Don Simon, the lunch entrees came with a small bowl of vegetable soup, side dishes of rice and pasta salad, a tamalito, fresh blue corn tortillas, and dessert (plátanos en mole). I also ordered a glass of the refresco del día, which was a choice of rosa de jamaica (hibiscus flower tea) or tamarindo. I have tried both before and like them equally well, but opted for the tamarind this time. My total bill including tip was only 57 GTQ (just over $7).
Pepián de Gallina
Plátanos en Mole
By the time we finished eating it was already 5:00 p.m. The sun sets around 5:30 now with last light at 6:00 so I thought we might start driving home to avoid being on the road at night when it is completely dark and more dangerous because there are no street lights. Instead we headed the opposite direction and I quickly recognized the road and landmarks from my previous visit in 2016. We passed a coffee plantation and then a giant cowboy boot which marks the road to Pastores, a town famous for handmade leather boots. There we turned toward San Miguel Dueñas.
We parked in front of the Iglesia Católica San Miguel Arcángel which sits on one side of the main plaza or town square. The other sides are comprised of a few small shops and a sports court; the city hall; and the fire department. But the main reason we came here was to watch Volcán de Fuego erupting. The volcano is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. On June 3, 2018 it produced its most powerful eruption since 1974, killing over 100 people. It continues to spew smoke and ash every few minutes, which was easily visible from where we were standing in San Miguel Dueñas only 10 km to the northeast. However the direction of the pyroclastic flow is toward Esquintla to the south. Still, it was pretty awesome to watch.
Fuego volcano erupts with smoke and ash in Guatemala
Volcán de Fuego erupts just after sunset on October 22, 2018.
We returned to Antigua around 6:30 p.m. and parked near the Santa Catalina Arch. After browsing around some shops including the ChocoMuseo and Nimpot, a handicraft and textiles market, we walked to La Merced where food vendors had set up in the plaza and many Guatemalan families were hanging out eating, talking, and enjoying the nice evening. 
traditional Guatemalan handicrafts and textiles
Traditional handicrafts and textiles on display at Nimpot.
We sat outside on the church steps sampling some more traditional snacks like atol de elote, a thick, sweet drink made from corn, sugar and cinnamon. The time passed quickly as we talked and laughed. Everyone had to return to work on Tuesday so we eventually said our goodbyes (Karin and Andrés had run into some friends from their church and got a ride home with them) and headed home. Thankfully there was very little traffic and Beatriz dropped me off in Linda Vista around 10:00 p.m.
Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua, Guatemala at night
Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua.
It was a wonderful and unexpected way to spend such a beautiful day and I am truly thankful for my new friends here (and to my friend Hilda Stevens and the Perez family back in Houston for making this month in Guatemala possible).

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Caffeinated Weekend in Guatemala

Last weekend on October 13 -14, 2018, I had the pleasure of working at Coffee Fest, which took place at Anacafé in Guatemala City. I wrote about my experience learning more about Guatemalan coffee and my friends' new business, Cafeto Mío, in an article for Coast to Prost: An Introduction to Guatemalan Coffee and Cafeto Mío. We were even featured in the national newspaper, Prensa Libre!
I thought it would be fun to give you a more personal behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into this event, at least from my perspective, even though I know that Karin and Andrés put in many, many more hours than I did in the weeks leading up to Coffee Fest. Note that this was Cafeto Mío's first big event of this nature which means they also had to design and build the booth; rent or borrow equipment like an espresso maker, industrial-size coffee grinder and a mini fridge; decide on a menu and pricing structure for the food and beverages; and much more.

Friday, October 12, 2018

I used Indriver to get a ride about 20 km north from where I'm living in Linda Vista to Karin and Andrés' condominium in Mixco Zone 8 on Friday afternoon. Karin had already spent several hours in the kitchen preparing coffee-infused desserts like flan, gelatina and helado (ice cream) while Andrés was at Anacafé setting up the booth. I arrived around 3:00 p.m. and my first task was to come up with a recipe for crepe batter and then test out my skills on their 13" round electric griddle. I quickly realized that we did not have a couple of the ingredients I would need, so Karin and I walked to the grocery store to pick up some supplies. When we returned, I made a test batch of crepes and then practiced spreading the batter (harder than you would think) until I could do it at the right quantity, temperature and speed.
My first attempt at making crepes; I should have
melted the butter more but otherwise they were delicious!
Next I washed and sliced pounds of strawberries, red peppers, and eggplant.
We took a break to eat dinner around 10:00 p.m. Karin had made a delicious cow's stomach (tripe) soup earlier in the day and a neighbor had brought over some homemade tamales.
Then I attempted to cut out the sticker labels for the coffee bags but found it a bit tedious, so I delegated that task to Andrés and sauteed the eggplant slices and helped Karin make another batch of pickled peppers instead.

I continued to work until after midnight, when I made a quadruple batch of crepe batter. Note to whomever might attempt something like this: When scaling up this particular recipe, do not use the same ratio of eggs to milk and flour. It will be too thick, so reduce to approximately 2 eggs per 1 cup flour and 1 1/2 cups milk). Finally I took a shower and went to bed around 1:00 a.m.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

We all got up at 5:00 a.m. to finish preparing the food and to load everything into the car. I also weighed and filled a couple dozen coffee bags with one pound each of fresh roasted coffee beans and applied the labels.
It took two trips to haul everything to the event site at Anacafé, which is only 15 km from the house to the city center (Zone 14) but easily can take one hour or more each way due to traffic. Once there, we set up the booth and prepared for our first customers. My job was primarily to be the cook, so I made display samples of a crepe with Nutella and fresh strawberries, and a panini with sliced deli meat, mozzarella cheese, and homemade pickled peppers and onions. When it wasn't too busy I had a chance to walk around the venue, check out the other booths and vendors, and watch some of the barista competition.
cafeto mio coffee fest guatemala
Me and Andrés working at the booth on Saturday. Photo credit: Coffee Fest
The event ran from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. both days, but on Saturday night we stayed later to hang up some lights, secure the booth, and pack up the food to keep refrigerated at home overnight. We finally got back to the house around 10:00 p.m. and I took a shower and went straight to bed.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Since everything was already at the venue, we didn't have to get up so early on Sunday morning. I slept until 7:00 a.m. and then got ready and cooked an omelette for the three of us for breakfast. Thankfully there was very little traffic so we were at Anacafé well before 10:00 a.m. and had plenty of time to set up again without rushing. I was a bit surprised to discover that we had new booth neighbors on Sunday who were not there on Saturday. Check it out:
More family members and friends of Karin and Andrés stopped by the festival on Sunday so, besides practicing speaking Spanish with them, I was busier making food as well. I did get to watch part of the barista competition semifinals and then got to see the judging and awards given out after the final. This was even more exciting because Andrés' barista instructor, Oscar Obando, won second place overall in the AeroPress competition and he came to our booth afterward to make a live video of his award-winning technique.
We did not start breaking down the booth until after 6:00 p.m. and it took almost two hours to get everything packed up. Then it took two carloads to haul everything back home. I stayed at the condo after the first trip because there really wasn't room in the car for three people plus all of the booth materials. So I ate dinner, washed all the dishes, and was in bed by 10:00 p.m.
Tasting one last cup of specialty coffee at the end of the festival.
Monday, October 15, 2018

I slept in until 7:30 a.m. while Andrés cooked a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, black beans, fried plantains, toast, and, of course, coffee. While we were eating, Karin and Andrés asked me to spend one more night with them, as they wanted to invite Karin's parents over for dinner. They gave me the option to stay home and relax all day, or to go out with them to run errands. I decided to go with them, as it would give me the opportunity to see more of the city.
I took this picture from the back seat of the car while stuck in traffic. It is
common for workers to ride in the back of trucks and other vehicles like this.
One of our errands was to deposit the proceeds from the weekend's food and beverage sales. I've noticed there is always a line at every bank no matter what type of transaction you're conducting, and the branch at Centro Comercial Los Próceres was no exception. While we waited for Karin to make the deposit, which took more than 30 minutes, Andrés and I walked through the mall which boasts four levels and 250 stores. However, we quickly discovered that most of the stores sell what appears to be almost the exact same items of clothing and shoes. Even though there was nothing particularly interesting to look at, I had fun learning/practicing the Spanish words for every article of clothing, body part (on mannequins) and color that we could find.
Andrés treated me to some soft serve ice cream
while Karin was in a business meeting.
With the traffic and multiple meetings and other errands, we ended up being out all day, from around 9:00 a.m. until after 7:00 p.m. By then we were too hungry and it was too late to cook anything, so we grabbed all of the leftover panini supplies from the condo and took them to Karin's parents house nearby and ate dinner there. We got home around 10:00 p.m. and everyone went straight to bed.
L to R: Karin with her mom Judith and her dad Cesar next to Andrés

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We all got up pretty early on Tuesday as Karin had a lot of work to catch up on for her graphic design business and Andrés had plans to go to TOP Barista to practice his coffee-making techniques in preparation for a barista competition in a few months. Karin and I also had an appointment to get our hair cut by her friend, Anyelo, who did a great job!
Afterward, Karin drove me out to a shopping center in Zone 11 where I picked up a few groceries and then caught another Indriver back to Linda Vista.


Overall, I really enjoyed spending time with Karin and Andrés and helping them launch their new business at Coffee Fest. Even though I was thoroughly exhausted after four days of being on my feet for hours, attempting to understand and converse in Spanish, and sitting in traffic, I am very thankful for the opportunity to get to know them and some of their friends and family members better, as well as learn more about Guatemalan coffee.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Life in Linda Vista

As I have mentioned in my recent blog posts, I am currently living in Villa Nueva, the second-largest municipality in the department of Guatemala in the country of Guatemala. Confused? For the sake of comparison, Guatemala (the country) is divided into 22 departments like the United States is divided into 50 states. There is a department named Guatemala which is the largest of the twenty-two in terms of population, and it is comprised of 17 municipalities. Villa Neuva is the second-largest city i.e. municipality in the department of Guatemala after Guatemala City. Within the municipalities, the smaller towns are often referred to as pueblas or colonias. I live in Colonia Linda Vista, which is essentially a village within the sprawling municipality of Villa Neuva. Within the colonia, I am in a small neighborhood which is comprised of two streets (13 Avenida and 14 Avenida) that form a U-shape with a gated entrance at either end.
lake and volcano in guatemala
view of Lago Amatitlan and Volcan Pacaya from the curve
in the U-shaped road in my gated neighborhood
Linda Vista has a few blocks that are lined with fruit and vegetable vendors; tiny bakeries and butcher shops; cage-enclosed convenience stores (meaning you can't walk through the store and browse; you walk up to a small window-like opening in the gate and tell the shopkeeper what you want); second-hand clothing stores; a few churches and mechanic shops; and even an Alcoholics Anonymous. There are a couple of schools wedged in among the residences and shops. There is also a small supermarket named Super del Barrio where you can buy some basic groceries.
small town in central guatemala
There are no restaurants except a couple of tiny counter-service places in the Pradera Express, a small shopping strip adjacent to the next closest supermarket, Despensa Familiar, which is a one-mile walk each way from the house. The nearest restaurants are almost all fast food e.g. Pollo Campero (Guatemala's answer to KFC), Burger King, McDonald's; and they are a 15-minute chicken bus ride away at the larger shopping complex "Centro Comercial Santa Clara" that is also home to a Walmart and a movie theater.
small grocery store in guatemala
walking through the parking lot of the Despensa Familiar
Once a week I walk 20+ minutes each way to the Despensa Familiar, which has a limited selection but is sufficient for purchasing most basic supplies. Alternately, I take the bus, which costs the equivalent of $0.26 each way, to Walmart if I want a better selection. But my favorite excursion is to the Mercado Concepción, the traditional local market. It is farther away in the city center of Villa Neuva, only 3.5 km as the crow flies but it is not walkable, so I have to take the bus which follows a more indirect route over 10 km. It still only costs $0.26 per ride, but takes an hour each way due to traffic and making multiple stops.
chicken bus and produce stand in guatemala
catching the chicken bus to go to the Mercado Concepcion
The Mercado Concepción is a typical Latin American market housed in a large corrugated metal warehouse which is generally divided into sections according to the category of item sold: frutas y verduras (fresh fruits and vegetables), carnicerias (butchers for meat, but in this area you will also find pescaderia or fish and seafood vendors), ropa (clothing), miscelaneas (everything else). You can truly buy almost anything here from baby formula to pirated DVDs; paintings or pots and pans; pets, like a chihuahua puppy for only 450 GTQ or $58, or a handmade leather belt. You can even get a haircut in a 5' x 5' stall with no running water. There are also dozens of comedores (literally, a dining hall; in this case a large seating area lined with food vendors) selling everything from ceviche to pupusas, jugos (fresh juices) to hot dogs.
fruits and vegetables from the market in guatemala
the haul from my first trip to the market
My neighbor Miriam took me to the market for the first time last Thursday so she could show me how to get around by local bus. She also pointed out areas in the city center of Villa Neuva that she cautioned are frequented by pickpockets and purse snatchers. I was a little surprised when she didn't try to bargain on any of the quoted prices for fruits and vegetables, especially at stalls where I bought multiple items, but then I realized the asking price was pretty reasonable to begin with. It was fun to wander through the multiple aisles of stalls which were packed to the gills with whatever range of products they were offering. We had some good laughs, too, particularly in the "alternative meats" section when we were eyeing a glass display case filled with the internal organs of various animals along with hooves and other body parts. I pointed to a pile of large ruddy globes that would each more than cover the palm of my hand and said "corazón" the Spanish word for heart. But Miriam immediately burst out laughing and said "no, no, testículos!" I think you can figure that one out for yourself. I did not take photos at the market that day because Miriam did not seem comfortable with me having my phone out, even though it was securely leashed to my purse. So here's one from the Mercado La Merced in Mexico City to whet your appetite:
sheep's head and other organs at the market in Mexico City
at least items like this are inside at the Mercado Concepcion
but they are still not refrigerated while on display
It gets completely dark by 6:00 p.m. and it is generally unsafe to be out at night alone or otherwise. In this area it is not necessarily because of crime but mostly because it is dangerous to be anywhere near a road (there are no sidewalks) which are in horrible condition for the most part: there are no marked lanes so people drive all over the place, weaving in and out of traffic; there are tons of motorcycles, pedestrians, stray animals, trash, and large potholes to dodge; there are few street lights so you can't really see where you're going; and people drive without headlights even when it's dark! Walking during the day is not exactly pleasant for those same reasons and also because the chicken buses and other large transport vehicles continuously belch out black clouds of diesel fumes which burn the eyes and lungs.
my favorite chicken bus is blinged out with pink accents
In general life is pretty quiet here in Linda Vista minus the random fireworks, dogs barking, cats fighting and rooster crowing, which I wrote about in my last post. It is the perfect place to hole up at home and read, write and study. The only other welcome distraction is every Friday morning when Miriam comes over to clean the house. I'm very organized and keep things neat and tidy anyway, but she cleans the bathrooms, dusts, mops the floors, changes the sheets, etc. It is always nice to end the week with a spotless, fresh-smelling home plus it's a good opportunity to chat with a native Spanish speaker and catch up on the latest news and neighborhood gossip.