Saturday, October 12, 2013

Boot Town -- A Trip to Pastores

At an embassy party the other night I was chatting with a woman about day trips from Guatemala City and she pointed to her husbands feet saying they had just picked up his handmade boots in a little town outside of Antigua. Whaaaaaaaat??? Handmade boooooooots??? Yep, but not just boots. This little town makes a living crafting all things leather from wallets, to belts, to shoes and of course all the horsey stuff that real vaqueros need like saddles, whips and bridles.

So the little town of Pastores immediately got added to my GT List. I think I need me some handmade Guatemalan leather boots. Off the shelf or made to order. For around $50.

Not even 3 days later I got an invite from another lovely lady to tag along with her and her Spanish teacher on a trip to Boot Town, as we've taken to calling it.

So off we went, meeting up with her teacher in Antigua who pointed the way along bumpy cobblestone streets past chuchos (stray dogs), brightly painted churches and through black clouds of exhaust from the chicken buses.

About 10 minutes outside of Antigua is Pastores. Nothing was open at 8:30am so we chilled out in a grubby little comedor with some plates of eggs, beans, platanos and tortillas. Side note: A comedor is a tiny cafe/restaurant that doubles as the lone bar in town, someone's living room and a sparsely-stocked convenience store. Other side note: next time I order coffee in Guate I will ask for it "sin azucar", I couldn't even taste the coffee it was so sweet, I'm talking at least 4 spoonfuls of sugar...

At 9am the town opened up for business and we strolled the main drag ducking in a few of the boot stores, trying on a few classic styles and finally haggling over a final price on a sweet pair of brown leather boots at a one-room shop named Botas Maria Jose. All in Spanish might I add. This was my first "regatear" experience and I'm proud to say I got him down from Q575 to Q500. Which I was super happy with because at the end of this deal I paid $63 for handmade leather boots and the kid working the shop seemed happy.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Big Plate of Breakfast at Casa Serena

Yep. The breakfast buffet at Casa Serena makes me sooooooooooo happy!

Bonus: we are learning how to order many different kinds of eggs from the sweetest Guatemalteca ever.

Scrambled: un juevito revuelto
Over-medium: un juevito estrallado con una vuleta

As people come and go through the Hotel we have new breakfast companions. And it's true I think that we'll count our fellow "Classmates" here as some of our favorite people at post. It's kind of like our summer at The Embassy Oakwood at Falls Church, for the next few weeks we'll cherish our time at La Embajada de Casa Serena.

Our UAB Arrived! We Have Stuff!!!

Just as I was settling into living a minimalist existence (if you count living out of 6 suitcases as minimalist), and just as H-dawg was beginning to complain about wearing the same dress shirts to work for the 5th time in a row... our UAB showed up!!!

UAB: Unaccompanied Air Baggage

A big box of UAB

In layman's terms, this is the 450 pounds of stuff from our apartment in DC that got shipped "ultra-fast" to us in Guate to keep us going until we move into our permanent apartment and get our HHE shipment (House Hold Effects) which is on a slow boat steaming across the Caribbean. The UAB gets packed in humongous heavy-duty cardboard boxes, wrapped in brown paper, reinforced with metal bands, and stamped with "Embajada De Estados Unido Or De Americas Guatemala City Guatemala."

It took 4 weeks for UAB to get here once we arrived in country. Not what I'd define as ultra-fast, but maybe that's quick in gov-speak. Apparently shipments move slowly in the 3rd world because the US Government does not pay bribes.

This afternoon Hubby sent me a text saying our UAB would be delivered at 4pm. Perfect, I just so happen to have a hole in my schedule at 4pm today! A little blue van with 4 Guatemaltecos in matching blue jumpsuits pulls up to the front of the hotel and wrestles the 200-pound boxes out onto the sidewalk. They move them one at a time upstairs in the tiny elevator, then into our suite where they remove the wire bands and cut open the tops. Inside is our stuff, gracias a Dios, all clean, glowing and smelling like it's been shut in a box for 4 weeks. The head mover guy has me sign his paperwork in 5 different places, and with a weak handshake, leaves me in peace with our stuff.

I unpacked the 2 humongous boxes in about 10 minutes, saving all the wrapping paper and pushing the boxes to the corner of the room for our next move since people say good cardboard here is hard to find.

Hubby went a little crazy with his work clothes and shoes and there isn't enough room in the closet for all of it. I apparently packed just a few additional clothes and shoes but did not pack any books or Spanish materials, bummer.

But hands-down the best things I unwrapped were my most favorite Murray Carter kitchen knife and my lovely wooden cutting board that we got as a wedding present 9 years ago. Finally I don't have to saw my veggies into shreds with crappy steak knives!!!

Other smart things we packed: yoga mats, vitamins and knife-sharpening supplies.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Asha Shala - A Yoga Oasis in Guatemala City

Yoga in the middle of the most dangerous city in Guatemala? Priceless.

Hidden behind a solid black metal gate and guarded by a very happy and seemingly well-centered private security guard is Asha Shala, a sweet little breath of fresh air in a hazy metropolis. Not only does the Shala have a small, peaceful yoga studio with skylights, a bamboo floor, and a big sliding glass door looking out into a green backyard, there is a juice bar and veggie/vegan cafe, a yoga supplies store, and a wellness center with health practitioners offering "acupuntura, medicina china, chiropráctico, Reiki, y Flores de Bach."

During my chaotic first week in Guatemala, 3 different friends recommended this little jewel so it was only a matter of time before I tried out a yoga class -- in Spanish. I was able to follow along pretty well, peeking at the instructor and other students to make sure I was on the correct foot while delighting in the Spanish translations of the poses:

Down Dog: Perro Boca Abajo
Mountain Pose: La Monta├▒a
Cobra: La Cobra
Crow Pose: El Pavo Real  (the royal turkey? the real turkey? okay then...)

At the beginning of my second class my very lovely instructor asked me something in rapid-fire Spanish before my brain was warmed up. Her eyes were peaceful and expectant as I tilted my head and asked her to repeat it. A bit more slowly she asked me to select an intention and speak it so the class could repeat it. Deer in the headlights: "aaaaaahhhhhh, luz!" (which means "light", wow, how deep) Nice work me, I guess it sounded zen enough that she seemed happy to repeat it.

Looking to soak up some more good energy, I like to lounge in the juice bar after class sipping on a smoothie. The Asha Green Cafe has 15 jugos and smoothies on their menu with adorable names like, "I Am Cleansed" and "I Am Bliss" for Q25-Q30 ($3-$4). I'll let you know my favorite smoothie in a few weeks.

Friday, October 4, 2013

First Annual International Kale Day Party in Guatemala

K is for Kale

For those of you who love their greens, last night's potluck dinner was one for the history books.

The Feast:
Dehydrated Kale Chips with Parmesan
Kale and Artichoke Dip
Kale Deviled Eggs
Baked Kale Chips with Sea Salt and Sesame Oil
Asian Kale Sitr Fry with Tofu on White Rice
Guicoyitos Stuffed with Kale, Black Beans and Queso Fresco in Tomato Sauce
Imitation Kale (aka spinach) and Mushroom Fritata
drum role....
Kale and Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The leafy green that we were celebrating, in case you haven't guessed, was Kale.

We gathered at the apartment of a friend, dressed in our finest green shirts, belts and hair ties with a Kale-inspired playlist and some fine Argentine and Chilean wines (since those are the cheaper bottles down here in the GT, awesome!).

There was much laughter at the stories told of hilarious conversations in the local grocery stores.
"Tiene col rizada?"   col rizada = kale
"Si, tenemos coliflor."   coliflor = cauliflower
"No no, col riz-a-da.... es verde, como lechuga?"

"My favorite corner green grocer Super Verduras had 3 varieties!" I bragged disbelievingly.

There were toasts of love and reverence, and prayers that someday everyone in the world would know the joys of a kale-rich diet. We guessed that we were all witnessing the one and only Kale Party in the entire country that night, and agreed that there were probably Kale Parties in every neighborhood up in Portland...

As the clock struck 10 and everyone was glowing with a happy Kale high, our friend who was also our ride home began nervously checking her phone. Her Kale-Dealer, Juan Carlos, was trying to deliver her weekly order to her apartment but she wasn't there.

"No frigin' way! You have a guy who delivers Kale to your door at 10 o'clock at night?!"

"Yes! He is so awesome! He has all this other organic produce too and he is a total Moringa-freak and last week he gave me a sandwich so I could try the Moringa bread he makes!" **

With an important Kale mission to attend to, we said our goodbyes and dispersed into the night with smiles and hugs and extremely full tummies.

You really can find kindred spirits anywhere in the world...

And in case you want to celebrate this mighty green next year, Kale Day is the first Wednesday in October.

**Goji... acai... chia... nope. Moringa is the new miracle plant, it's a tree whose leaves have 7x the vitamin C of oranges, 4x the vitamin A of carrots, plus a ton of calcium and potassium.

It's the little things...

Last night while lounging on my fake suede couch, listening to Wednesday night rush hour traffic outside my window, and snickering at a super cheesy Guatemalan magazine called "Amiga" I found a rather awkward free sample. Stuck to an advertisement among the magazine pages was a free maxi pad.

"Check it out! in Spanish it's called a feminine towel..." I giggled as I held it up to show Hubby, expecting him to say something predictably male.

His response?

"Ooooooo! Save it for the first aid kit!"

He's so good at this s***.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Guicoyitos Rellenos: Una Receta

Stuffed Guicoyitos: A Recipe

Guicoyitos are little round summer squashes that taste like zucchini and look like mini green pumpkins. They are absolutely adorable! And they seem to be a favorite of the guatemaltecos because they're everywhere, and pretty cheap. I bought a dozen of them for Q16.80 ($2.11).

This is my vegetarian version of a dish that we enjoyed over at a friend's apartment. Their nanny/cook made it as a special dish for us when she heard they were having company for dinner but stuffed the little guys with ground chicken. I broke my vegetarian vows to try one and they were dee-lish!


For the stuffed guicoyitos:
12 guicoyitos
1/2 white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 big bunch of kale
a couple ounces queso fresco
1 can black beans
olive oil

For the tomato sauce:
1/2 white onion
2 cloves garlic
3 roma tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
any kind of fresh herbs you want to add are good, I used fresh thyme
salt and sugar to taste
olive oil


Boil the 12 guicoyitos in salted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Let them cool then slice off the tops and scoop out the centers with a spoon, saving the tops for later and keeping matching tops and bottoms together.

Fry up the onion, garlic and kale in the olive oil then stir in the black beans and cheese.

Stuff the little squashes with the kale mixture and place the tops back on. Bake at 320F for about 20 minutes.

For the tomato sauce, fry up the onions, garlic and chopped romas in the olive oil, then add the tomato sauce, salt and sugar to taste, and let simmer until it tastes done.

To serve, pour the tomato sauce into the serving dish and gently place the stuffed guicoyitos on top.

¡Buen provecho!