I won’t sin of sugarcoating anything! So here it is, a brief commentary of a two day trip to Northern Guatemala. I arrived at noon at Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a small town on the northern-most area of Alta Verapaz. I have been to this town a few times before, just as a transit point. I get here with a big appetite and started looking for a decent place to eat regional food. I asked a couple of people and I was suggested to try a fried chicken place (chain restaurant headquartered in Guatemala City), very regional right! Another of the suggestions was a Cevicheria, a place where ceviches are their specialty. Ceviche at a town very far from a coastal area, any ocean, lake or mayor river, I think that’s a sin. I ended up ordering some of that fried chicken. Personally I find nothing interesting here to photograph, after walking the town streets, I put away my camera and in fact, did not take one single photo here. After lunch, I headed to Playa Grande, a town known by many because it was heavily contested by warring sides during our civil war. The town was and still is the headquarters of the regional Guatemalan Army and the guerrilla forces never got to control the town. Ironically: after the signing of the peace accords, Guatemalan guerrilla forces became a political party, and now they have their regional headquarters based in Playa Grande, not more than 5 blocks from the imposing Guatemalan Army military base. I don’t have much positive to say about these two towns. Their food offering is mediocre, messy streets are the norm, no dominant architectural style, no parks (decent ones) or leisure areas, nothing impressive or appealing at plain view. They are merely disorganized supply and commerce centers for locals. People are great tough! Very friendly and welcoming and they make the best of what they got. I just hope they never read what I have to say about their towns! Food here is an aberration (I’m referring to what’s available to the traveler) ! Unless, unless you get invited to a local’s house to eat some of what they eat at home! Under an scorching heat, I get invited to a local’s house. They offered me a pitcher of freshly made lemonade. Delicious! I’m presented with a plate with a serving of cheese and cream, a separate bowl of black beans and another bowl of hot sauce and some tortillas. Wow! I exclaim to my self! I am a cheese lover, on my last trip to Europe, I brought back at least 5 pounds of cheeses from Northern France and the Netherlands. Since I move back to Guatemala, I’ve failed to find any cheese that would make me sigh. I had a small bite of this cheese and I immediately fell in love! ”Lo acabamos de hacer”, we just made it, they tell me and out of the porch they point at the cows the milk came from. Soft, not salted like all regional cheese you find in Guatemala, fresh, with a some character, simply delicious. The cream was exquisite as-well, made fresh everyday at the house. I put some of those black beans on my plate and added some of that spicy sauce to them. Wow! I tell myself once again. It is a spicy sauce made with onions, chiltepes, and loroco and some other herbs, a combination I had never seen. Very impressed once again! Is it a regional style sauce I asked them. No, from here no. It happens that this family migrated from the Eastern region of the country, and that’s the way they make hot sauce where they come from. If it wasn’t for that meal I would have not survived! Kite Season. It is kite season here in Guatemala and I found these children flying their kites at a park in Playa Grande. Laguna Lachuá The entrance to Laguna Lachuá is on the road we had to travel back from Playa Grande to Coban. it was around 5pm when we reached the entrance. We stopped and asked if we can go in. No, you can’t, the park closes at 2 and people have to be out by 4, a park ranger tells us. We talked our way in! You have to go fast he tells us, because it is getting dark. Well, I had flashlights, so darkness wasn’t an issue for us, but we decided to go to the lagoon fast. The lagoon is 4 kilometers from the entrance; we ran top speed to the lagoon. The area is beautiful, clean and it is one of the few wild life sanctuaries in the country. In fact, we heard howler monkeys across the lagoon and when we ran back to the entrance we heard a small troop close to the road. While talking to a local attending a small tienda, he tells me they have even seen jaguars in the area. Cobán, Alta Verapaz Cobán is a city you can easily fall in love with. One advice tough: Make sure you book a hotel room early or you might spend two hours driving around finding no vacancy and of course running out of fuel in your vehicle. El Calvario is a Christian church ontop of a hill in the City of Cobán. Well, the site is sacred to mayan people too. I spend no more than ten minutes on the summit and while I was there, there were four Mayan ceremonies under way. The prayers were spoken in a Mayan language, I could not understand much, except for a few words “cardamomo pantiosh” thanks for the cardamon. I assume they were blessing their crops, “ajau ajpu” Hunter God/Lord. I guess I have to work on my Mayan language skills. To end the trip, we stopped at a restaurant on the side of the road. I always try different foods, so I ordered something from the menu I had not seen before: Salchichon Ahumado, smoked salchichon. Oh man, no better way to leave the region than eating that salchichon with fresh tortillas and black beans. If you ever travel to Cobán, you have to try that, trust me, you’ll love it.
Posts Tagged ‘Guatemalan children’
Rock Culture is dying down here in Guatemala.
In fact, there is no single good Rock radio station anymore, the last one they tell me changed its style more than three years ago; now they play pop music. But there still some loyal young people out here.
By chance I ended up at this autograph signing by Alan Boguslavsky, former guitar player of one of the most renown Latin America rock bands. The Dream of the Dead, by Alan Boguslavsky.
I was just able to rescue my waterproof camera’s photos and these are worth sharing. This is so far my favorite snorkeling trip here in Guatemala. I spent a few days in El Remate, a small town en route to Tikal National Park. This town is lovely, there are some good restaurants in the area, souvenir shops, and my favorite: the town is on the shores of Lago Peten Itza. The Water is clear blue, in fact; the water is so clean, so pure, you might crave drinking it. I grabbed my snorkeling gear and went for a dive. I was trying to find Mayan Artifacts on the bottom and indeed I did! I found couple of pieces of ceramics. There are some interesting rock formation there too, I’ll go back to them soon. While I was snorkeling, a group of local children arrived at the pier and starting jumping off. Chances favor the prepared mind! I had not planned for this, I point my camera at the right moment when a child dove in front of me and I captured the moment perfectly.
While snorkeling, these schools of tiny and curious fish would follow me every where. Lucky them I was not craving sushi.
This dialog was held in Spanish. A lot of the feeling, the pain and sorrow is lost in my translation.
The first time I saw my distant cousin was more than 16 years ago. They lived on a remote, poor farmers community in the province of Huehuetenango, their settlement was very near the Mexican border.
When I met them, we were looking for my aunt. She, at the moment, was not living with them. She was living in Sayaxche Peten. After a couple of days at this humble community, one of my distant cousins volunteers to take us to my aunt’s place in Sayaxche. Getting there on the Guatemala side was very difficult. My cousin tells us is better to cross to the Mexican side (illegally of course) and move faster by bus there. And then, cross back to the Guatemalan side.
16 years later I get to see my cousin once again. Now he lives in Sayaxche, Peten.
After a couple of days of staying at his house, I took him for some beers at a local Tienda (small convenience store).
He did not drink much. I remember him having a glass or two.
Eli of course will have this classic Guatemalan pairing: Cerveza, Limon, Chicharrones (beer, lime and fried porkskins).
We spend the entire evening talking and talking. He tells me about his time living in Huehuetenango. Some of that misery I did witness when we visited them there.
My cousins were children when the war reached their community. We used to crawl under the tables when we were bombed by the army, he tells me. His eyes are watering.
We were not guerrillas, we had nothing to do with the war, but they were just bombing all the time.
One day we could see smoke coming from a neighboring village. The next day another village was up in flames. Some had survived the slaughter and came to our village seeking refuge. He told us the army was burning everything. “Hicieron matazones” They killed many he tells them.
People at my cousin’s village were not afraid. We had nothing to do with the war, so nothing should happen to us they believed.
A couple of days later another village close by was massacred and burnt to the ground, erase from this Earth.
We are next we were thinking. Horrible accounts were coming from these scorched villages.
A military vanguard arrives and the elders of the village are quick to go meet them and talk to them.
My cousin goes with the group and listens to the conversation. My cousin almost chokes when he telling me this: “They told us: we should not worry because we are not Indians.” People at this poor community were mestizos, a mix of European and Natives descent. The neighboring communities were mostly Mayan and being Mayan sealed their fate.
After the destruction around, patrols of guerrillas would come to our village and ask if we needed anything. They constantly asked us to join them.
I remember a beautiful guerrilla girl. She always came to me, she really wanted me to join them. She told me: come with us and I’ll be your wife. I was considering doing it but my mother would not let me.
The Pacs were a paramilitary force created by the army to “protect” villages against guerrilla incursions.
My cousins relatives were forced into joining them Pacs.
One day my cousin’s brother –just a child- was playing with another child. He takes (steals) a toy from that child and the child goes complaining to his older brother; a member of the PACS. He takes his riffle and shoots my cousin’s brother.
The entire family could not do anything because saying something about the PACS would render you a guerrilla, a communist. For many years this painful memories were kept locked down. Only told after the war, after things were safe and they had moved out of Huehuetenango.
Cultural Festival of Mayan Languages at San Carlos University (USAC)
Lovely time at the University. The only thing that saddens me is a number I hear while holding a casual conversation with one of the Mayan Languages teachers. It turns out that there are less than 200 people taking Mayan Languages classes at the University. Not big deal right? Well, This University holds more than 50% of the entire University Students in the country, and there are more than 150 thousand students here. Less than 0.2% of students find it rewarding learning Mayan languages or culture. Sad..
A short play of Dia de los Santos (Day of the dead?)
Signing of Mayan folk songs in Kaqchikel
El Pabank, grupo de proyeccion folklorica Soel Valdez, Son Ritual de Coban.
I really love this!
Mayan Play Ratz’um K’iche
Forgive me if I get this wrong, but the play’s dialog was narrated in Q’eqchi’. Let’s see if I got the plot right: Two warriors from different Mayan kingdoms get their kingdoms to fight for a young Mayan princess.
Guatemalan Society is very divided. This diverging can be witness everywhere; a birthday!
I’ve been to several birthday parties during my stay here in Guatemala. What I’ve seen is this: In every birthday party held by middle class Guatemalans, the birthday song is sang in English. I’ve been to a couple lower class birthday parties too; here they sing it in Spanish.
I might be naive, might give it much importance to something so insignificant; but what would you think if within you country (U.S.A.) some social classes sung celebratory songs in other language, French perhaps, or listening the birthday song sung in German?
I don’t know much about this Guatemalan Tradition, what I know is: It is not in Jocotenango! Jocotenango is a municipality in the department of Sacatepequez, neighboring La Antigua Guatemala. The image of Virgin Mary, Patron Saint of Guatemala City was brought to Guatemala from Jocotenango, and, well, they celebrate the Assumption of Virgin Mary with this fair. Please, correct me because I know I’m wrong…
Oh, adjacent to the festivities there is a Relief-Miniature map of the entire country. Here is a photograph showing Tajumulco Volcano, the place with the most spectacular view in Central America, 13,845 ft above sea level at the summit.
At the Fair’s entrance; I found this duet playing Guatemalan folk songs. Their music was exquisite.
Sexta Avenida or Sixth Avenue has change a lot since I used to frequent the area more than 16 years ago.
When I was young, we used to come here because the cheapest (and one of the few available) cinema was located here. Pizza was cheap here too, you could get two slices for Q2 or $.25 cents and they were very tasty.
The Avenue was a mess; there were street vendors all over, improvised street shops were the only thing you could see. In fact, one was not able to see the buildings, street shops and shacks blocked the view.
Now the street has been rebuilt, the buildings remodel, Cine Lux, the oldest in Guatemala (I think) has been turned into a theater -a fancy one- and classy business have become establish here.
When I used to walked these streets, no one from the upper social classes would dare stepping here. Now they are the ones frequenting this location. Fancy dinning, international brands stores, chain restaurants among other amenities. One can easily mistake this street with Newbury Street, Boston or an European Street.
Sixth Avenue is becoming a cultural magnet (excluding somewhat the lower classes of society); musicians playing at restaurants, playing on the streets too, street artists are abundant.
I stopped to watch this group of kids break-dancing. The choreography became exiting and entertaining; I had to produce my camera and start shooting.
The kids call themselves: The Sixth Avenue Crew.
A thought: Good or Bad? The old Sixth Avenue was a mess, but the lower classes identified with it. Now the architecture is impressive and inviting in the sense that a charming Expensive Store would be. How can we modernize, without loosing the essence of what the entire society encompasses? Example: How would one feel if traveling to India and finding its streets empty of traditional foods restaurants, no tuc tucs, not thousands of people bumping into you, no bicyclepacks, etc. It wouldn’t be India: Right? Well, I think that’s what is happening here. We are changing our architectural style, or foods or clothing, everything that define us as what we are. How can we go into Globalization and Modernization without loosing our cultural identity?
This is a personal project I’ve been carrying out every time the opportunity presents its self. Most indigenous Guatemalans are unaware of their ancestor’s (The Maya) achievements in Architecture, Cosmology, Astrology, Math, among many of the triumphs of the Mayan Civilization.
On my trips to the country side, I always bring a portable projector and I show them documentaries (in Spanish) about these themes.
The first time I showed them was in Melchor de Mencos, a bordering town with Belize. At the end of the night, more than 25 children had shown up and they all wanted to see more; I had to show them two documentaries.