Sunday, July 22, 2018

Guatemala Is Not All Dirt Roads and Tin-Roofed Shacks

Before I came to Guatemala, I was only slightly less naive about the country than most people. I had done my research and focused my attention on the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, population 17,000. I wanted a rural setting and wasn't bothered by stories of power outages and muddy roads and electric showers. I've never been a city girl. I'm a country mouse! 🐭

Recently, a friend posted a picture of the movie theater in Xela (Quetzaltenango) and a friend of hers commented, "That can't be Guatemala." But it is! I think a lot of people believe Guatemala is all dirt roads and tin-roofed shacks. And while that is actually true for the most part, I can tell you that Guatemala also has fancy malls and wide paved highways and 5-star hotels and even TGI Friday's.

The population of the capital, Guatemala City, is 2.9 million. The second-largest city is Xela with 225,000 people. A big drop! Doing some quick math, that means 17% of Guatemala's population lives in the city. Yikes.

aerial view Guatemala City
Aerial view of Guatemala City. Sooooo big!
Guatemala City is quite sprawling, actually. I think that's probably due to a combination of earthquakes and poverty. There are not many multi-story buildings, and the city keeps growing outward as more people move closer to the opportunities that a big city provides. Seen from the air as you arrive on a plane to Aurora Airport, the city looks pretty dirty and grey. That's because almost all buildings here are built from concrete block. The owners will paint the front of their house or store, but not the sides or back. They save money by only painting the part of their house that facing the street. Very frugal.

I haven't spent any significant time in Guate City. I get in and get out. I'm usually only there to go to the airport. I have friends, however, who do regular shopping trips to the city and really enjoy it. Guatemala City is as modern as any large city can be! There are malls, museums, modern art, ballet, movie theatres, and music concerts. There is even La Aurora Zoo, which I've heard is actually quite nice.

For me, if I really need to do a shopping trip to buy something that isn't readily available in Panajachel, I'll go to Xela (Quetzaltenango is its official name but everyone calls it "shay-lah"). It's about 2.5 hours by chicken bus and the trip only costs between Q25 and Q30. The mall in Xela that I go to is called Pradera and it is located two blocks from the main bus terminal. I've written about it several times before. I go there a lot when I'm on my visa runs to have lunch, use a clean bathroom, and stretch my legs.
Centros Comerciales Pradera Xela mall
Centros Comerciales Pradera Xela. Look how shiny!
Pradera Mall's website is here and you can check out the list of stores. There is a Walmart, Ashley Homestore, Benetton, Levi's, GNC, and more shoe stores than you can count. They even have a Sears and a RadioShack, strangely enough. And, yes, there is a movie theatre here with real theatre popcorn! There is also a food court just like any mall "back home" with Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald's, Pollo Campero, and more.

(EDIT: I just found out there's another modern mall in Xela called Utz Ulew. I'm gonna check it out next time I go there!)

Whenever I go to the mall in Xela, I always feel like a country bumpkin! Yes, there are still people wearing traditional clothing, but there are a lot more people wearing "regular" clothes...and they all seem to be wearing much nicer clothes than I have, and sporting new shoes and glasses and jewelry and iPhones.

Another weird thing that I've noticed when visiting Xela is women with short hair. I'm so used to the long, straight, pulled back hair of the women in Pana that it was actually a shock to me to see a girl with a stylish short 'do. 😄

Antigua Guatemala arch
Beautiful, iconic La Antigua, Guatemala
Another upscale, modern city in Guatemala is Antigua, population 46,000. It is a totally different city than Xela. It is known for its gorgeous Spanish Colonial architecture, historic ruined churches, and jaw-dropping Easter celebrations. There are no malls here, but there is no shortage of fancy restaurants and stores to visit. The town caters more to the tourist crowd rather than those looking for first-world delights, so you'll find lots of stores selling jade, silver, chocolate, and traditional textiles.

And the restaurants! Oh my! There are so many tempting places to eat. You will never run out of options for food, from traditional Guatemalan dishes (done right) to sushi, Indian, Korean, tapas -- you name it! And of course the beloved Londoner Pub! Just go to TripAdvisor and see for yourself. It lists 330 restaurants in Antigua. Buen provecho!

If you absolutely must have a taste of home when in Guatemala, I have to recommend the world's prettiest McDonald's in Antigua on 4th Street W., not far from the central park. An unassuming sign marks the entrance. Inside you can sit in the lovely garden next to the fountain and admire the volcano while you chow down on your McNífica. 😄 I take all my friends there just so they can be amazed!


I hope you've enjoyed this blog post about the modern side of Guatemala. Personally, I prefer the rustic side: the cobbled streets, jungle-clad hills, and beautiful indigenous people. But it's good to have options to soothe my first-world soul every now and then. 

Why don't you come to Guatemala? Book a flight now with Cheapflights.com.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dusty Days and a Pregnant Cat

Here's something you may not know about Guatemala: sandstorms in the Sahara Desert -- yes, in Africa -- blow all the way across the ocean and dump sand on us here! Wild, eh?
It is technically rainy season here, but we've had an early canicula, which is the term for a hot, dry stretch in the middle of rainy season. It's been super nice, but it also came with some high winds and the polvo del Sahara.
Lake Atitlan Guatemala volcanoes dust Sahara polvo
Saharan dust making the volcanoes at Lake Atitlan all hazy.
The local newspapers and news stations put out warnings when the dust gets bad. It can be hazardous to asthmas sufferers. Here is an article (in Spanish, of course) from Prensa Libra about the Saharan Dust in Guatemala. (Hint: if you're using Chrome as your browsers, you can right-click the text and choose "translate to English".)

I watched the two-minute video below from NASA and it says the Saharan dust is important because it brings phosphorus to the rainforest. Pretty cool!


Revue Magazine has a neat article about the canicula here if you'd like to learn more about that. (In English.) 
I have to restate though that the weather is 99.9% super nice here all the time. I think I may have said this before, but being a Canadian, weather is such an important thing in my life. It still baffles me that I can wear shorts and t-shirts and sandals YEAR ROUND. Time stands still because there are not winters to mark the years. It's always summer! 

Speaking of summer, here's a picture of my newest foster cat, who I named Summer! She is such a sweet girl. And she's pregnant! She is due is maybe two weeks or so. The poor thing has to stay cooped up in my bedroom because she's not vaccinated and can't get vaccinated until after her kittens are born and weaned. So she can't interact with my other cats. I will for sure update when she has her babies! I've had a lot of cats in my life but never a pregnant one because they've all been sterilized. Summer will have her kitty-babies and then get fixed after that and be adopted out to a loving family. 
Summer, my foster kitty, who is gonna have kitty-babies! Yes, she has something wrong with her left eye as well, but we can't do anything about it until after the kittens are weaned.
To those who are enjoying my webcam, sorry that it keeps falling over! Like I said, the winds have been high and they keep knocking the camera pole askew. I have made a wooden brace for the cam but have yet to get up there and attach it. Stay tuned! 😊

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Adventures in La Torre

Back in Canada when I got restless in the middle of the night or if it was freezing cold winter outside but I wanted to stretch my legs, I'd go to the 24-hour Walmart and just wander around. Tonight, I kinda revisited that experience by strolling around the new-ish La Torre supermarket for over an hour. It's not nearly as big as Walmart but it was fun to just take my time and explore the weird and wonderful things on the shelves. I wasn't even planning on blogging about it but I thought, what the heck. Some people like this weird "day in the life" stuff. 😊

Tuna. Lots of it.
So these multitudinous shelves of canned tuna are what got me started thinking that my rambling trip to the local grocery store in Guatemala would be interesting to other people. There were more cans, even. I couldn't fit them all in one picture. I don't think I've ever seen so many different types of tuna!
And now you're like, "Big deal." Nope. It is a big deal. Buying tuna in Guatemala is HARD. Back home, the choices are basically tuna in water or in oil, am I right? Oh wait, there's like...I'm trying to remember. Flakes or chunks? Skipjack or...? Anyway, when I moved to Panajachel, I learned very quickly to check the ingredients on the tuna cans. Yes, ingredients! A lot of canned tuna in Guate has pieces of soy protein in it. It's not just tuna. So you gotta check or else you end up with some weird fishy protein substitute. (Unless you like that stuff, then go for it.)
The other strange thing is that some cans of tuna down here have vegetables in them. Peas and carrots and onions. That's actually the type I bought tonight, just to try it out! And they have barbecue tuna and tomato tuna as well. I guess Guatemalans like their tuna! I do too, but just plain old tuna in water, no fancy stuff, please and thank you.

Patrón tequial Guatemala
Oooh, fancy tequila.
I love tequila. The good stuff is smooth and fiery and makes me wanna dance. 😊 Patrón bills itself as "ultra-premium" tequila. I wonder if it will make me an ultra-premium dancer? Well, I can't afford to try. Those bottles cost about $78 U.S. or $102 Canadian. Eeks. I'll take the Q5 shots at La Palapa! Ha ha!

price tag shelf la torre
Precio Super 4! 
You can't help but notice the highlighted yellow price on the sticker. Except that's not the price. It's only the price if you buy FOUR of the item. They have this Super Price 4 thing. It's on all the shelf tags. It was irritating at first cuz I kept thinking that the yellow price was the sale price, and then would get unpleasantly surprised at the cash register. Shoppers beware!

A jigsaw puzzle for kids.
My Spanish is improving but this one made me pause. The word rompecabezas translates into English as "Break Heads". I was so confused! I'm looking at the thing and figuring it must be a jigsaw puzzle but what a strange word to use for it!

Packages of toilet covers.

I think I should have bought some of the above toilet seat covers to stash in my purse. Not for around here but for when I'm doing chicken bus runs to the border. Some of those public bathrooms are NASTY. And that's if they have a toilet seat at all. I guess these covers would work just as well on the bowl rim itself. ICKY.

Mmmm chocolate.
So what did I end up buying on my shopping trip?

A 430-gram jar of peanut butter Q23.40
That big chocolate bar Q15.90
4.4 lbs of dog food (on sale) Q19.70
12 English muffins Q17.50
162-gram bag of pretzels Q5.90
Can of tuna with vegetables Q12.80

I've put the XE currency converter widget below so you can change Quetzales into whatever your currency is. Handy dandy!


Thanks for reading. Just so ya know, I have 19 blog posts in draft that I have yet to finish and publish, so we're nowhere near done here! Remember that you can use the Search bar on the top right or the topic cloud also on the right to find topics. And head over to my YouTube channel to see videos of puppies and kitties and weather and other fun stuff. TTYL!