Saturday, September 28, 2013

New World Crafts Trade Show in Antigua - I Love Pillows

Today I got my first glimpse of Antigua. My friend with a car who's been in Guatemala for a few months already joined me for an early breakfast of "platanitos and frijolitos" at our hotel. Then we hit the road in her darkly-tinted Subaru and drove over the mountain and into thickening jungle on a steep and winding but shockingly well maintained road. It's only about 45 minutes to an hour to get there with no traffic but it's a WORLD away from the gritty capital of Guatemala City.

The colonial town of Antigua feels quiet and safe, old and artsy, authentic and touristy all at once. A perfect mix. I had no idea but this town has some gorgeous ruin on every block, literally! There are days and days worth of ruins to see, which is good because I plan to spend every weekend there now that I've seen it.

My friend's husband works for USAID and had an invite to an annual artisan trade show called New World Crafts. After an hour-long inauguration ceremony where around 6 different VIPs gave speeches in Spanish we felt like we were witnessing something really special. Here were Guatemala's most talented artisans reaching out for world-wide support, ready to network with anyone and everyone with stacks of business cards, shiny new brochures, and hip little catalogs. This USAID-sponsored event has a goal of supporting artisans, families and villages, creating pride for local goods, bringing money into the country, creating a future for Guatemalan youth, and connecting Guatemalans with the international marketplace. With 80 tables of beautiful textiles, furniture, ceramics, glass, metal works, wood, jewelry, handbags, and clothing we thought we'd be there all day. But unfortunately we misinterpreted that the event was a trade show for networking and showcasing goods rather than buying and selling stuff. Even though we came with our pockets full of Quetzales, we left with only business cards and photos of precious treasures we would LOVE to bring home someday. We were there as lookers rather than buyers but all the artisans had their game faces on and talked to us with pride, passion and hope in their eyes. It was incredibly inspiring and I've been daydreaming all day about starting an export business.

We saw seas and seas of bracelets, textiles, worry dolls, and handbags, but what really impressed us were the younger designers who put a modern twist on the traditional patterns. There were benches, chairs and ottomans covered in bright fabrics, there were sun shades and floor mats made of woven palm fronds cut in geometric shapes, we loved the fun, sunny-colored handbags and the cutting boards made from sustainable coffee and teak wood. Most of all I think we were both in pillow ecstasy with all the adorable colors, fabrics, embroidery and tassels. New discovery: tassels make me so happy! And of course we learned how to say all of this in Spanish.

We stopped into an Indian joint for a lunch of mild curries, rice and
naan in a cute little interior courtyard. And we wandered into a few little shops but hit the road around 3 to make it back home before rush hour hit, or what we imagined could possibly be a horrible rush hour. Turns out there's just always traffic in the city.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sushi -- Guate Style

You know you're in Guatemala when your sushi roll is wrapped in fried plantains...

Big-H and I got a taxi over to our friends' apartment to join them for lunch at the roof top pool. Yeah, there's a sushi bar at the pool. There's also an amazing chef there named Antonio who makes some of the best food in the city. It's pricey for Guatemala, but well worth it for the quality.

With an amazing view of the city and the sky from the 15th floor, we dined on white wine, sushi and tempura veggies.
Tempura was Q50 ($6.30), sushi roll was Q70 ($8.80).

This was the Tropical Roll: El Rollo Tropical: tuna, avocado, some kind of crispy ginger sweetness, fried plantain and a drizzle of sweet soy sauce. The creamy rich texture of the plantains complimented the velvety tuna and avo, and the crispy ginger added a fresh little pop. My new favorite roll ever.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Panaderia San Martin

Around the corner from our place is a cute little bakery named Panaderia San Martin.

They churn out sandwich loaves, baguettes, rolls and pan dulce just like you'd see in a Mexican bakery. Not a lot of complexity but pretty good as long as you eat it the same day it's made.

I was lured in by a woman at a little push cart out front frying crispy pin wheel-shaped puff pastry and rolling the little grease-bombs in cinnamon sugar. I asked for one but got a whole bag of them; I didn't complain. I also got a mini-loaf filled with re-fried beans, a cheese twist, a roll and a little pan dulce with sesame seeds.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

House Hunting By Day, Beer Tasting By Night

So far so good, it's nearing the end of our first week at post and we feel like we're gonna love living here for the next 2 years. Hubby went to work all week and came home with lots of grins and stories he couldn't tell me and I went house hunting and spent HOURS on the phone trying to get our mailing address changed with all the call centers we do business with back in the states.

Some companies I called changed our address nice and easy, other companies required answers to secret questions or wouldn't even take an address change over the phone so I had to figure out how to do it online... and don't even get me started on the confusion over our new "DPO AA" city and state part of our mailing address. But that's mostly done now. On to the fun stuff: house hunting!!!

I LOVE looking at other people's houses. And the last few days have felt like an "International House Hunters" marathon. After seeing 10 apartment buildings I think I have it narrowed down to my top 3 choices and we'll take Hubster to see them next week and hopefully make a decision. I'm working with a realtor here who drives me around in her little car with tinted windows and shows me the units in a very nice non-sales-person kind of way. No pressure, no schmoozey "this is the nicest apartment in the city" spiel. But seriously, these are some REALLY nice apartments and the breakfast discussion every morning always starts with apartment talk:
"Have you seen the infinity pool at Tadeus?"
"Oh yeah, it's incredible, then I saw the huge gym with floor-to-ceiling windows at Casa Margaritas"
"We were all set to move into a 4-bedroom at Margaritas, but then we remembered we had kids and had to reconsider because we liked the green space and the play area at Tadeus and it had bigger maid's quarters, it's really a better spot for families"
"And will the landlord do the security upgrades?"
"He said he would, but we're still waiting for the embassy to measure the apartment to make sure it's not too big for us"
"I loved the big balcony at Marques del Valle, we saw one there that had a view all the way out to Lake Amatitlan"
and on and on and on, but we all love it...

In the meantime, here's the view out our hotel room window where we're staying until we can move into our permanent place. It's great! Lots of action right out the window. Tuesday-Saturday we have the discoteca across the street blasting a wide variety of latino remixes, 80s hair metal and cheesy 90s music from the US (it's been a while since I've heard Achey Breaky Heart...). We haven't been brave enough yet to go join the party, but perhaps soon after we baby-step our way out into the neighborhood, trying not to get mugged...

As you can see, we have palms and pine trees growing right next to each other here. Not a lot of interesting wildlife in the city, but a few pretty hummingbirds and butterflies.

And here's a little still life I like to call "Thursday Night Cookin' in Guatemala".
We sampled a local cerveza called Cabro Extra which means Goat and I don't know what the Extra means because it's extra light. The other local beer is called Gallo which means rooster and they're both like cheap Budweiser: drinkable when ice cold with lots of lime. Also for dinner are some tamales I bought at a tiny tamale shop around the corner named "Gourmet", I paid 15 Qs for both of them which is about $2. They're tamales de chipilin, a local green herb that's green like spinach and tastes like a cross between basil, epazote and chard. Interestingly enough, it's considered an invasive species in the US and is banned in Australia.

Our little kitchen... pretty cozy and feels just like home with the Bend NPR station streaming through the wifi.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Escape from FSI

We did it! We escaped from FSI and made it to Guatemala!

While we had an excellent time at "Hogwarts", we didn't join the FOREIGN Service to stay in DC forever. The last seven months have been jammed with learning Spanish, gently introducing Hubby to this new world of government bureaucracy, living it up like long-term tourists in DC, and meeting some amazing friends who we hope to serve with again soon in a faraway land...

So here we are, after about 6 hours of airplane travel with a quick stopover in Miami, we landed in Guatemala City under a thick cover of clouds, a few rain drops, and some dramatic heat lightning overhead.

The air feels clean, moist but not muggy and amazingly nice. I won't say cool, and it's definitely not hot. The outside temps are just a little bit below human body temperature so you feel absolutely perfect with pants and a sweater. It's humid according to the numbers but I think the air is thin enough up at this higher elevation that it doesn't FEEL humid. They call it the "Land of Eternal Spring" and it is! I hear it's hot on the coast, but at 5,000 feet in the capital city it is heavenly. Weather right now: 70F degrees with 78% humidity and a chance on thunderstorms throughout the day. Aaaaaaaaand, that's pretty much the weather forecast every day. We've arrived in the rainy season, but in the next couple months it will get cooler and sunnier as we move into the dry season.

Our home for the next 1-2 months is a lovely little hotel in Zona 10, "Zona Viva" the Guatemaltecos call it, with a few other Foreign Service folks and some short-term tourists as guests too, we even met a few ladies from Eugene, OR. The incredibly friendly staff lays out a big buffet breakfast every morning from 6:30-9:30 during the week and 7-10 on the weekends. Always on the buffet: sweet fried plantains, re-fried beans, and crema (runny sour cream) --  this is a meal I could eat every day and probably never get tired of (of course I'll see how I feel after 2 years, but for now my dreams have come true!). Also in the spread are fruit, yogurt, cereal, bread, pancakes or waffles, eggs made to order, fresh thick corn tortillas, queso fresco (a mild acid cheese like a less-salty feta), a red and a green mild salsa, and some daily special like potato casserole, pupusas or tamales. Of course we also get juices, milk, real coffee, and an espresso machine that squirts out hot chocolate and coffee drinks at the push of a button.

Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy! I can't even begin to describe how happy we are to be here....