Thursday, August 27, 2015

Licha -- The Fruit That Looks Like a Muppet

It's very interesting to see the different fruits come in and out of season at the market in Panajachel. When we arrived in April, the stalls were overflowing with avocados and mangos. After a month or so, they disappeared and were replaced with baskets of plums. This month it has been an abundance of peaches, the surprising arrival of apples, and now lichas! (lee-CHAS)
Truck full of lichas near the market in Panajachel

So wild looking!
Outside of Guatemala, lichas are properly called rambutans. They originated from southeast Asia. "Rambut" actually means "hairy" in the Malay language.
I bought a bag of them from that truck for only Q6, or about a dollar. The guy even let me taste one first!
Only Q6 for this bag of lichas or rambutans.
They hairs on the licha are actually soft, not spiky or prickly.
The skin comes off really easily, and the fruit inside is like a peeled grape but a bit bigger.
The seed in the middle. I was told you can eat them but often they are bitter. I didn't try it.
It's very easy to eat a licha and I can see why they are so popular as a snacking fruit. The skin splits open really easily, and then you just pop the white center part in your mouth. It's very juicy, slightly sweet, a very mild flavour. I liked it! 

Most people just chuck the red skin on the ground. You see them littering the streets these days. I didn't see anybody else spitting out the seeds but I didn't really want to eat it, so I dropped it in the gutter. 

The other nice thing about this fruit is that you don't have to worry about disinfecting it with bleach before you eat it, like you should do with most fruits without peelable skins. We disinfect apples, peaches, mangos, etc. We eat bananas and oranges right off the cart without disinfecting because we can peel them and get to the fruit that hasn't been contaminated by dirty hands, dirty carts, dirty flies, and just plain ol' dirt! 
Have to warn you too: I have seen dogs peeing on lower baskets of fruits and veggies at the market, so there's that to think about if you're ever in Guatemala and wanna eat a tomato without washing it.  :D

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Guatemalan Birthday Party

Bert and I felt very privileged to be invited to our friend Victor's son's birthday party last night. His name is Ederasiel and he turned a whole two years old! :D
You may remember Victor as our tuk-tuk driver (#88) through many adventures, and the friend who took us to Santiago Atitlan for a day where we met Victor's mother and sister. Victor, his wife, and his son live with his wife's parents in Panajachel. We had visited their home when my sisters were here from Canada and met some of his wife's family.
Victor invited us on Thursday night for the party on Friday night. He said to us, "I tell you the party is at 7, but I know the people of Pana are always late so really it is 7:30."

So on Friday, Bert took on the task of finding an appropriate gift and we filled a gift bag with goodies for the birthday boy. We arrived at the house at 7:30 and were grateful that Victor's wife was ushering people in from the alley because we had forgotten which door it was! We weren't the first to arrive but definitely not the last either. Victor greeted us with a huge grin and escorted us to seats near the front. We sat on plastic stools under a lime tree, right near the speakers and the DJ. Yes, DJ!

To make a long story short, it was not really what I expected from a birthday party. It was basically an hour-and-a-half of church -- the family is Evangelical -- then came the more expected birthday stuff -- gift-giving, singing Happy Birthday, then food. I smiled like an idiot the whole time! It was awesome. :D

Not surprisingly, we were the only gringos there. We got some curious stares from the children! Whenever I smiled and waved, they just ducked their heads... or stared harder. Ha!

I took some pictures and video but the place was dimly lit, so they didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. I'm posting them anyway!

This is the entry hall leading from the front door along the side of the house towards the garden on the left.
The house was decorated with an abundance of balloons and streamers. So festive! There were probably 100 plastic stools placed all over the walkway and garden.
I thought it was amusing that this man was reading his Bible at a birthday party.
Little did I know what was to come!
This was the main speaker of the night.
At the front of the long cement entranceway, there was this table pictured above. Behind it was another table with the cake and the immediate family sitting together. The speakers all went up and took the microphone to address the crowd. And I mean, crowd! I think there was at least 50 people there. Most of them were seated along the walkway shown in the first picture.
Singing religious songs.
After a lengthy sermon or prayer or something from the first guy, this lovely woman came up to the table and led us in some songs. Many people had brought guitars and they played them from their seats. A man in front of us had an accordion. Very cool! Almost everyone sang along and knew the words. A few people clapped too, so I joined them!
The accordion player was a great speaker.
After singing, the main guy spoke some more, then a woman came up and spoke for a LONG time, and led us in one song. Then ANOTHER guy went up, who actually was the accordion player, and he spoke for a while. He was actually quite rousing. People enjoyed him.

I couldn't understand what anyone was really saying, other than catching a few words here and there. God is Dios, but they also said Padre with a capital P, meaning Father,and Señor. I recognized alma (soul), hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters), and of course Hallelujah!

At first I tried to follow along, but it got tiresome real quick. The churchy stuff went on for 90 minutes! Wow. Bert had been to an Evangelical church service before, so he was prepared for it, but still had to bail after a bit to go outside and get some air. When he left, more people arrived and he lost his seat. So there I was, the only gringo at a Guatemalan birthday party. I just smiled and tried to look like I was paying attention.

I was actually enjoying more looking around at the people and taking it all in. So different! When the speaker said something especially awesome, people would say "Gracias, Dios" or something. And when he led the prayers, people would mumble their own prayer along with him. A few people cried and many people raised their hands to the sky, or stood up at weird times. Some people buried their faces in their hands. It was... odd. My mother is a Christian and I've been to my share of churches, but this was truly different and fascinating.

During a prayer.
One part of the service was very much like my old church days -- the children! Little kids were gazing around and fidgeting in their seats, babies were crying, and girls were giggling at the back of the room. 

Eder, the birthday boy, threw his pink balloon at the preacher during an especially emotional prayer. My face hurt from smiling so much. :D

The adorable center of attention, Ederasiel.
Another strange thing that happened was a man went around twice with a hat to collect donations. I didn't put anything in, which Victor said was okay because it was for the church. They also did a gift draw, where you bought a ticket and then drew numbers for prizes, with money going to the church.

Finally, after seemingly endless preaching and such, just as my butt was truly getting numb and I was considering having a religious epiphany and standing up to shout "Gracias, Dios!", it was announced that we would sing Happy Birthday. And we did... in English! I participated whole-heartedly, happy to be able to contribute to the joy in the room.
Then the DJ played some weird Spanish happy birthday songs on the speakers while everyone lined up to present their gifts to Eder and his parents. I lined up near the end and wished shy Eder "Feliz cumpleaños". He was more interested in the Avengers gift bag I handed over! But all the gifts went into a separate room. No gifts were opened at the party, at least not while I was there.
Victor didn't stop smiling the whole night, I think! It was so wonderful to see him so happy, and his family too!
I believe that is the mother of Victor's wife, so Eder's grandma. She gave a lovely speech and somewhere in there referenced that she didn't speak English. I need to ask Victor about that!
Victor also gave a speech to thank the guests, and embarrassed me a bit by looking right at me and saying Thank You in English. He was very composed and well-spoken. I smiled wider!  :D
I believe this is Victor's family who came across the lake from Santiago.
After speeches and thank yous and gift-giving, out came the food! Victor had told us they spent all day preparing tamales. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be like mashed potatoes and masa (corn dough) with some chicken and spices on a big green leaf, served with a bun. And everyone also got a sliver of delicious, moist cake. Plus, we got the most amazing hot drink in styrofoam cups. It tasted like apple cider and peaches. Victor said it is called caliente (meaning hot) or ponche (meaning punch). It was delicious!
There were no tables, so I balanced my meal on my knees. The lovely Mayan grandma sitting next to me pulled up an extra stool so we could put our plates and cups on it. Good thing I knew the word for cake -- pastel
It was very quiet while everyone ate.  :D
I am so glad that I went to the party, and felt so privileged to be invited. I don't think I could have smiled more! My cheeks hurt from smiling, and they're hurting now again as I smile to recall such a joyous and loving night. Family is so important to the Guatemalans, and their church is their family too. I hope I can go to Eder's third birthday party next year, and perhaps have enough Spanish to understand the speeches and be able to converse more with the guests. What a great night!

Here is a short video compilation of a few scenes from the party. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What I Carry in My Travel Purse

Today I thought I'd do a practical post about my daily companion -- my "purse".
The word is in quotes because I don't really consider this a purse. In fact, I call it my "lady bag". Ha!
I've never really liked purses and always kept everything I needed in my pockets. However, when I decided to move to Guatemala, I felt I might need a bit more space for items, plus the ability to split up my money into more than one location in case of pickpocketing or mugging. And man, this bag is a lifesaver!
My awesome travel bag!
It's a Samsonite digital camera bag that was a gift originally intended to hold my GPS handheld unit and other stuff while hiking. It has been excellently repurposed as my daily go-to-town bag. 
It has a nice long strap that I wear across my body to deter purse snatching. It also has a sturdy handle, plus a thick plastic bottom for putting down on dubious floors. And of course the best feature, a multitude of pockets!
Here is a glimpse inside. You can see the relative size of the bag compared to my hand.
The inside has a small cloth pocket insert where I keep my cards and money. (You can see it on the top right of the inside of the bag.) Other than that, the main pocket is free of obstructions, so I can stuff it with tons of goodies like...

  • my change purse -- Guatemala has "dollar coins" (Q1 coins) plus change all the way down to the teeniest tiniest 5 centavo coins
  • a notepad and a pen -- sometimes I can't understand what someone is saying but if they can write it down, it helps. Works great for numbers especially.
  • a jackknife -- I'm a good Girl Scout :)
  • a ziploc with baby wipes -- I pet dogs therefore I need these
  • some Tums -- I love spicy food but it doesn't love me
  • an emergency whistle -- never used it but handy just in case I get lost, or participate in an impromptu parade
  • a photocopy of my passport -- never carry your real passport unless absolutely necessary
  • my frijolito -- my little Tigo cell phone
  • my camera -- a point-and-shoot that has taken some hard bumps and keeps on shooting
  • my Spanish phrase book -- too often forgotten at home, especially when I need it the most!
The outer pockets are very useful. In the two side pouches (by the strap clasps) I put a small bottle of sanitizer and some plastic grocery bags. In the front zippered pocket (you can see it in the top photo), I put a small pack of tissues, some mints, a plastic spoon, a few Band-aids, my keys, and sometimes my cell phone if the main compartment gets too full. In the very front zippered pocket I slip a Q20 bill for emergency tuk-tuk rides, plus a note that has my name and phone number on it in case my bag gets lost.
Showing the "hidden" Velcro pocket that I never use.
One feature that I don't use is this outer flap/pocket that is attached by Velcro to the front of the bag. You can see there are two elasticized ribbons to hold maybe film canisters, plus a "secret" zippered pocket inside. It clips shut using the plastic clip, which has unfortunately lost its compass insert. I don't use this pocket because I find it just makes the bag bulky. Plus the inner pocket is too small to hold anything worthwhile. I suppose you could put money in there, but if your purse is snatched, they'd find it anyway.

Sturdy -- I've had this bag for many years and it's held up extremely well
Roomy -- surprising amount of space for a small bag
Shoulder strap -- adjustable strap, very sturdy, fits across my body so it can't be snatched
Zippers -- tough zippers, have never come loose or lost teeth, can lock them with luggage locks
Inexpensive -- As the date of this blog post, they're for sale on Amazon for $25
Electronics hole -- not sure how to describe this... it's a hole in the top of the bag so you can put your MP3 player or something inside the bag and run the cord out through the top. I've never used it.
Cushioned -- the inside of the bag is soft and padded, so you can feel comfortable carrying cameras, cell phones, and other semi-fragile equipment inside

Compass -- kind of a useless little thing so I wasn't too upset when it fell out
Looks too nice -- I feel a bit like a robbery target because it looks fancy
Rusted -- the zippers got a bit rusty after some extensive rain exposure

Overall, it's a great bag and I would recommend it (or one similar) to anyone looking for a versatile and roomy over-the-shoulder purse that's not too girly and stands up to rough travel.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Love Sundays

Sundays are my favourite day of the week because they're the only day I don't work. It's wonderful to sleep in, enjoy a coffee while playing some Farmville 2, and go for a slow stroll around town.
Yesterday, I walked into town with Pachi to visit Bert while he was working at NJP's place, then left the pooch there so I could meander around town and down to the waterfront.
Sleepy doggies on a Sunday morning.
Hardworking Bert!
NJP's yard is a bit of a mess right now! But much progress is being made.
NJP painting the trim. 
Amazing barbecue down by the party boats dock.
Q15 for a plate that includes meat, guac, rice, salad, and tortillas. That's about $2.50.
There were three BBQs in a row. They all smelled divine!
Popeye? This party boat was BLASTING music.
I would love to go for a tour of the lake but I think I would have to wear earplugs. (Gosh, I'm old. Ha!)
Grenadine pop! Blueberry pop! (And it really did taste like blueberries!)
A short and loud video I took by the waterfront in Panajachel showing the BBQ ladies and the party boats. You may notice the younger ladies washing the dishes on the stone ledge. Plus, I love the sparkly ribbons the Mayan women wear in their hair!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Value Village of Panajachel

Back home in Canada, we have a wonderful, smelly, fluorescent-lit heaven called Value Village. It's a second-hand paradise, stuffed full with clothes, toys, shoes, and more knick-knacks that you can shake a knick-knack-a-paddy-whack stick at. :)
Not to long after we arrived in Panajachel, we discovered that the town is in love with second-hand stores, called pacas, and the king of the pacas is this one!
Sorry, the yellow arrow doesn't exist in real life. :)
The front entrance of the store seems a bit dim and unimpressive, but when you venture inside, it opens up into a huge room of other people's junk, a.k.a. treasures.
The view from the back corner of the store.
Most of the second-hand stores in Pana focus on clothes, with just a few other items. This store is the opposite, and makes good use of its floor space to showcase larger items. There is a center section that seems to be their feature area. They'll get bulk shipments of certain items and display them there on the floor, such as bikes, chairs, couches, and this week, big ol' TVs.
In the back corner where the above picture was taken are all the second hand toys. If I knew anything about toy values, I think I might make a fortune buying stuff and reselling it to collectors. I'm always entertained by the interesting things I find in the piles of plastic, fur, and moldy boxes.
What the heck is that?
 I remember loving Richard Scarry's books as a child.
So if you're in Panajachel and looking for some china cups, Christmas ornaments, or baseball caps with strange company names on them, look no further than Variedades Salem! I'll see you in there. :D

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hardworking Men!

NJP's new apartment building is in the neighbourhood of Jucanya (who-can-YA), which is what they call the part of Panajachel that is across the river. Access to his building is a bit rustic, to say the least. The local landowners got together to find a solution to the small dirt path, and to appease the landowner whose property was getting the worst of the traffic. They asked the municipality to help, but they basically said it was up to the residents to do something.
So today, everyone got together and started making a new street. It was quite organized, with a sign-up sheet so that every landowner would work an appropriate number of man-hours relative to the amount of frontage they would have to the new access.
I was very proud to see Bert right in the muck with the rest of them. He had gone voluntarily to help just because his friend asked him to, and then NJP rewarded him with a surprise Q100 at the end of the day. Great guys, both of them!
A picture from the original road, looking down the stream. The new street will go straight through this mess.
There were guys in the stream using pickaxes to dig up the mud. Then NJP would shovel, and Bert would take it away.
The plan is to dig out the stream bed so that it's deep enough to build a sluiceway of concrete and put the cobbled street on top of it. Pretty clever! I just hope that the stream cooperates. Who knows what sort of runoff is going to happen when we get a big storm.
Looking further down the stream. Lots of digging!
There were a few ladies hauling mud in wheelbarrows but mostly they were responsible for providing water and encouragement. :)
My awesome gringo boys! So proud of them for working so hard.
The mud was super heavy cuz it was so wet.
I forgot to bring Pachi's water bowl so we improvised with a coconut shell. 
It was a really neat area that we were working in. It was basically in the spaces between houses, so there chicken coops, and tons of dogs running around, plus two curious rabbits in a cage... and PIGS! I hadn't seen any pigs in Guatemala yet, but I figured it must be because they need to be kept out of the sun or they will get sunburnt.
After a break, Bert and NJP switched tasks. Bert said shoveling was harder!
NJP dumping mud in the designated area. Not sure what's going to happen to all that muck. Maybe they will use it to build up the road?
Work stopped at 1pm. This was the meeting to talk about progress. answer questions, and to sign off on the sheet.
The organizer of the crew estimated that it will take four or five more Sundays of work to get the street done. Everyone is doing this on their day off. Quite a cooperative spirit in this neighborhood!
Bert resting after his hard labour.
The ever-generous NJP invited us back to his place for a delicious pasta lunch. As soon as that food hit their bellies, the boys lost all energy! It was nothing but relaxing for the rest of the day.
¡Buen trabajo! (Good work!)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

August Already? Wow!

I haven't blogged in a while -- sorry! I've been super busy with working lots and making up for all the money I spent during the whirlwind double-backed adventures in June/July of our visa run to Mexico and my sisters visiting from Canada.

Both Bert and I have been working lots: me typing up a storm, and him painting and fixing up our friend NJP's new apartment building.

I went into town the other day and picked up another parcel from Banggood in China. Super excited to see that it was my ocarina!
What's that? An ocarina!
Click the picture to go to Banggood and buy one. 
An ocarina is an ancient wind instrument. It sounds like a cross between a recorder and a pan flute. I was interested in learning to play it as I used to enjoy playing flute back in high school. They are small, inexpensive (at least the beginner's ones), and portable. This one came with a padded carrying bag and also a necklace that goes through a hole on the ocarina so you can hang it around your neck. It's super easy to play, although the tone isn't quite perfect. I imagine it's because it's a cheap one.

Have I talked about Banggood yet? It's an online discount retailer with warehouses in China and the U.S. I've shopped from there before in Canada, and was surprised to see that they would ship to Guatemala. And the shipping costs were dirt cheap!
So back in April I ordered a few items to test it out. It took two months, but they did arrive! I had to provide a street address in Panajachel, so I asked my friend, Cassidy, owner of Gringos Locos bar, if I could use his street address. When the packages came in to the post office in Pana, they sent a letter to Gringos Locos, which Cas gave to me. To pick them up, I simply brought the notice and my passport to the post office. It's a neat way to buy things, as long as you don't mind waiting two months or more to get your items.

Anyway, after picking up my ocarina, I ran into NJP on his bike at the hardware store. He was picking up supplies and then grabbing tacos for lunch. I got to ride on the back of his bike! Of course, I had to hop off and walk the last bit as NJP's apartment building is down a super narrow trail. I'm surprised he gets his bike down there.
NJP riding his bike to his building.
We all had a nice lunch of tacos and NJP showed me all the work he and Bert had done, plus all the work they need to do! It is shaping up nicely. We had a good chuckle at the paint choices in Pana. NJP had gone online to choose a nice shade of yellow-orange that he liked. But when he got to the hardware store to ask for it, he found there were only three yellows to choose from. Three. No fancy paint mixers here. You get the same yellow as everybody else!  :)

Back at our own apartment, we got some irritating news the other day. We are no longer allowed to go down to the nice park and beach near our house. Our landlady had previously made an agreement with the owners of the park so that we all could go down there. But something must have happened because the guardian, Carlos, came up to tell us no one is allowed down there anymore except the owners. Sad!

We do have another way to get to the water but it's a bit treacherous! There is a steep concrete path that leads down to the lake, but the end of the path has been worn away by tree roots and waves so that it's a mess of rubble and sticks. Doesn't stop the dogs... or me!
The doggies playing on Gimpy's beach!
Gimpy very graciously allowed all the doggies onto his land to play on his beach, while he stood next to me for pets. It's a rather nice little beach, and I don't think our neighbours, Gimpy's owners, use it very much. I stayed off to the side and cooled off my feet in the water.
The view looking back towards where the "old" beach is. 
Our other neighbour's waterfront.
To the right side of our little path is this very cool looking lake access owned by our other neighbours across the road. You can tell the lake level is rising, eh? It's all mossy and awesome! I really really REALLY want to go in there but it's blocked by a wire fence. I'm debating swimming around just to hang out on those underwater stairs! Maybe another day. :)

While we were down at the lake, a snorkeler went by. Gimpy barked like crazy when he dove underwater! Totally funny. And he was down there for a while too. Our friend, Victor, says he used to dive for crabs. Maybe that's what this guy was doing.

After we got back up the STEEP hill to home, the doggies all hung out doing their doggie things.

Greta sat in the sun to dry off. That's her favourite toy rooster behind her... or what's left of it!
Jack, being the elderly gentleman that he is, delicately licked the water off his paws.

And Pachi? She tried to jump on me for pets!! Whadda goof.
I'll close this post with this notice I saw painted on a big wooden gate in Pana. Made me smile.
Caution! Brave dogs.
(Not really... I found out bravo means fierce.)
Nos vemos, mis amigos! (See you, my friends!)