Isn’t he cute? That’s Oso. He’s my aunt and uncle’s dog. And one of about 7 dogs we got to know well in Guatemala…
The Hunters met Gord and I in Antigua a few days before Christmas. It was so nice to have company again! We rented a beautiful villa just outside the center of Antigua. It was equipped with everything we needed to spend Christmas in Guatemala: an outdoor pool, steam room, fireplace, 6 dogs, and oven (for the turkey of course). The dogs you see below are owned by the lady we rented from. She was staying in her loft next door and left them locked up in the other yard. When we were home we’d usually let them run around our lawn because they were very entertaining.
So how do you keep the Hunters busy on vacation? Well you do things like make chocolate, hike volcanoes, take a cooking class on the local cuisine, visit a coffee farm, and go the market. There idea of a vacation is to stay as busy as possible (except on Christmas). We were busy, but had a fabulous time!
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Chocolate:
1. The word chocolate comes from the Aztec word xocolatl, meaning, bitter water. Roasted cocao beans were originally consumed ground up with spices and chilies (which we sampled).
2. The Aztecs prized their cocoa beans so highly it was used as their currency. You could buy a rabbit for 30 beans.
3. When you buy a chocolate bar with a cocao percentage, the remaining percentage is the sugar that’s added. So a 70% chocolate bar bar is 30% sugar.
4. White chocolate isn’t really chocolate. It doesn’t contain any cocoa solids! It’s made up of cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and salt.
5. Chocolate that has a grey film on it (bloom) hasn’t necessarily gone bad. It just means it wasn’t stored properly or it experienced a rapid temperature change.
We spent a day in Chichicastenango (“Chichi”) to visit the local market. As it was just a couple days before Christmas it was chaos. Everyone was out picking up flowers, fresh tortillas, and a turkey for Christmas. We would have liked a fresh Guatemalan turkey for our Christmas dinner, but no one was brave enough to do the you know what deed once we brought it home. So we ended up stopping off at a grocery store on our way back to pick up a good ol’ USA bird.
If you ask Val what the highlight of the trip was, she will probably tell you it was the drive to Chichi with all the waving children. Hundreds of children and their mothers flock to the sides of the PanAmerican Highway (CA-1) at this time of year, waving at passing cars. They’re waving for treats, presents, and food. We didn’t have anything to give them so Val kindly picked up a 5kg bag of sweets. There were literally dozens of groups waving so we opted for the ‘drive-by distribution’ method. The children screamed in excitement as they scrambled for the “dulces” we threw out the window. We felt a little off about the whole thing so next time we’ll come better prepared with actual presents…and maybe some toothbrushes.
We hiked up one of the active volcanoes in the area, Pacaya. It was a dusty hike up until we reached the lava rock flows. Although we couldn’t go all the way up to the top (toxic gases) the views from our summit were impressive.
Gord and I wanted to give his family a local experience for their Christmas present so we enrolled them in a cooking class at El Frijol Feliz (which translates to “happy beans”). The traditional menu we chose for them included jacon (a green chicken stew), refried beans, guacamole, corn tortillas, and mole de plátanos for dessert. If you’re interested in cooking a Guatemalan meal you can find recipes here.
I’ve always wanted to know how you go from the coffee berry to a cup of coffee so we learned from the professionals at Finca Filadelfia. Starting from seedlings in the vast nursery, they took us through each stage of the process. We learned why they prefer and grow arabica coffee over rustica coffee. And why shade grown plants produce the highest yields. We also learned that there’s a tiny coffee borer beetle that infests coffee crops worldwide. Don’t worry, the larvae invested beans still get used – enjoy your instant coffee!
We spent the remaining 4 days of our trip in San Marcos La Laguna, a small laid back hippy town on the shores of Lake Atitlan, about 3 hours outside of Antigua. My aunt and uncle have a house in San Marcos (see pictures above) and are lucky enough to spend about 2 months of the year there. They showed us their outdoor bathtub, which you are encouraged to jump into from above. Highlights in San Marcos included the fabulous dinners that we enjoyed at Yuka and Morten’s (my aunt and uncle) beautiful house, and the intense hike through the valley they led us on.
Guatemala was the perfect country to end our 4 month trip. And we enjoyed it in fine company. We left Guatemala feeling completely content with the adventures we have had throughout South America, although endings like this are always bittersweet. Soon enough Gord would be back at school, and I would be making make the move to Toronto.
Dear Guatemala, your country and your people are absolutely stunning. We’ll be back soon.