Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sushi & A Movie in Panajachel

There is really nice restaurant in Panajachel called Restaurante Hana. I went there for the first time the other night with my good friend, JL. It's a very interesting place with lots to enjoy besides just the amazing Japanese food!

First of all, the restaurant is located inside Casa Cakchiquel, one of the first hotels built on Lake Atitlan way back in 1948. On the walls of hotel are TONS of photos showing the hotel back in the old days, plus scenes from around Panajachel and the lake. So fascinating! They also have gallery areas showing local art, plus there is a radio station in the building. Cool.
The dining area showing some of the many historical pictures.
This area is open to the garden on the left with lots of flowers, birds, and greenery.
Besides the lovely ambiance, Restaurante Hana also serves awesome Japanese food, including my fave... sushi!!
Such a pretty teapot. 

Origami crane for a chopstick holder.

Mmmmm. Tempura shrimp sushi.
We were given menus in Spanish and Japanese, but were offered English ones if we wanted. We ordered the two-for-one special of tempura shrimp sushi, plus my friend ordered miso soup, salad, cucumber sushi, and some tea.
Chef Mihoko Azumi knows her stuff! I'm no sushi expert but I know when I put that sushi in my mouth, I was in heaven! Sometimes you eat sushi and your mouth is like, "hmm, I don't know if I should swallow this." Usually that's cuz of really fishy-tasting nori. I was happy to find that I loved every single bite of my meal. In fact, later on some people were eating next to me and my mouth was watering for more! (Even after the big 8-piece serving I ate.)

The second reason I went out on a Sunday night? A free movie!
Yup, we got to go into the fireplace room and watch a movie for free, and got free popcorn served halfway through as well. It was pretty good, although my butt hurt from sitting in a plastic chair. Also, I found the Spanish subtitles to be distracting. I thought it was super nice that they did that for the Spanish speakers but I found myself glancing down to read them and missing parts of the movie! However, I did learn some new Spanish words too. (Like La Fuerza! Now can you guess which movie I got to watch?)
The movie screen in the fireplace room. You can see more old photos on the walls.
Right next to where I was sitting, there was a black-and-white photo of the exact spot I was sitting in, but taken like way back in the 50s. It was pretty cool! I would have liked to have walked around and looked at more of the photos but it was pretty late and I had to work in the morning.
Their sign at night showing all the stuff found in the hotel.
Plus there's a spa with manicures and pedicures too.
A really weird feeling came over me when I stepped out onto the street after the movie. I felt like I should be walking out into a big parking lot in some city in Canada somewhere! It was trippy. Kinda like when you go to a matinee and you walk out of the theatre into daylight. Unexpected!

I will definitely go back for more sushi at Restaurante Hana in the future, Perhaps I'll see you there!

P.S. Mister Jon's Breakfasts (and lunches and dinners) are awesome as well. He really knows American food and when you're in his diner on Santander, you feel like you're back in the States enjoying a big juicy burger and fries.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Semana Santa 2016

Semana Santa seemed to go by so quickly this year! I went for walks out on the busy streets almost every single day, but still somehow managed to miss most of the big processions. Bummer!
Many companies went around town before Semana Santa and gave free posters and signs and other things to the business, often personalized. That big blue sign, sponsored by a popular bottled water company, ended up blowing down that night.
I also saw plenty of Modelo (beer) signs done in a nice dark wood, plus Brahva was giving out free beer dispensers to the bars, plastered with their logo, of course!

Our lovely church in Panajachel. The makeshift arches hung with fruit are something I've only seen done for big religious events.

Royal colours of purple and gold.
So many visitors come to the lake during Semana Santa, both local Guatemaltecos and foreigners.
This is at the end of Santander. You can't even see the volcanoes cuz it's so hazy or humid or foggy or something!

Swimming in Lake Atitlan on a hazy afternoon.

The municipality put out extra garbages on the streets, thank goodness. Bert said the streets still looked like a war zone in the morning when he goes to walk dogs. They have big crews to clean up all the trash, broken glass, and puke. 

The cobbled walkway down at the lakeshore gets filled up with pizza shops and BBQ places. Smells so divine!
For those of you who have 14 minutes to spare, check out a video I made of walking the entire length of Santander in Panajachel, from the top all the way to the lake!
A smart lady on Facebook took a picture of the schedule and posted it for everyone. Very helpful!
The schedule says:
Palm Sunday,-- procession of palms, solemn mass, holy mass
Holy Tuesday -- children's procession and more holy mass and anointing of the lord (Señor with a capital S) 
Holy Wednesday -- more masses
Triduo Pascual means something like the Three Days of Easter
Holy Thursday -- solemn mass washing of the feet, transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to the monument (no idea what that is), procession of Jesus' capture
Good Friday -- Via Crucis is the Stations of the Cross, celebration of the passion of Christ, the crucifixion ceremony at noon, descending from the cross and the burial procession
Holy Saturday -- Easter vigil, benediction of fire, Easter candles, Easter proclamation, solemn mass
Sunday of Resurrection -- Resurrection procession

As you can see, there is lots going on during Easter Week! We didn't even see half of it. Next year, I will go and find this poster right away so I can schedule better.
Bert did get to see the Children's Procession, which he said was cute. The little kids were carrying a miniature version of the big religious floats they carry during the other processions. I wish I had seen that! (Or I wish Bert had had the camera that day.)

I went out on Thursday night to see the Procession of the Capture of Jesus, but ended up not staying out to watch. I caught them bringing the float (called an anda) out of the church.
Putting a float on the back of a pickup truck. They took it somewhere else and walked it back later in a procession.
It was a very distraught Jesus in black robes with a Roman guard behind him.

The church in Pana lit up and decorated on a Thursday night.

Neat columns with fake fire on top. 

Fake Roman guards at the church in Panajachel.
I wanted to go into the church and see the beautiful adornments -- there were long swathes of white silks draped from the ceiling -- but I had Gimpy with me and he refused to stay outside.

Some more pictures from walking around town during Semana Santa.
Arches are constructed over the roadways where the processions are going to pass. 

The arches are hung with fruits and plants. So pretty!

You can see three arches in a row along this street (Calle de los Arboles). The big church is just up around the corner to the right.

Church of Saint Francis in Panajachel.
When I read the Semana Santa schedule, I had no idea what Stations of the Cross were, so I decided to go out on Good Friday morning and see it for myself. Turns out they really are stations, like waystations, where a procession goes along the road and then stops to do a prayer at every little altar. Pretty neat. I'm not religious so I had no idea what it was about until I researched it. You can read about Stations of the Cross on Wikipedia if you don't know either. :)
The stations were set up on the sides of the road and consisted of a little alfombra (carpet of sawdust and other things), plus pictures of what the station was for, and various adornments.

A different station using grass, leaves, and pine needles on the ground instead of sawdust.

A very traditional alfombra using only natural plants and flowers, no fancy stencils or crazy fruits!
(You'll see those carpets later on in this post.)

I came upon the procession for the Stations of the Cross at the market.

Two older Mayan women holding candles in their hands. It was neat to see the mix of modern Guatemaltecos wearing fancy Sunday clothes and the Mayan celebrants wearing traje. Everyone was welcome to participate.
(You may notice the floats have banners on them that say INRI. It's the organization that coordinates and tracks Semana Santa celebrations.)
There was a ridiculous amount of smelly smoke!!
The station that the priest was giving his speech at. Check out the little dolls!
The procession of the Stations of the Cross was very somber, as it should be since it is a depiction of the walk that Jesus took on his way to be crucified. The priest in white, pictured above, gave very stern sounding speeches at the stations while boys swung censers of incense. As they moved to the next station, the float was followed by a small band that played a dolorous march. I took a short video of it all. I always feel embarrassed to be videotaping religious ceremonies but I wasn't the only one. Definitely give this one a watch to hear the sound of the band. And notice the women carrying the floats of Mary, etc.

As I was walking back past the church towards home, I noticed that the old stone building across from the church had its doors open. Usually it is just a little alcove filled with junk, like old boards and stones. But on Good Friday, someone else was in there!  :D

I thought this was Maximón but Facebook friends told me it is Judas. (Wearing a fedora? Okaaaaay.)
Later that afternoon, at around 4pm on Good Friday, I walked down Santander to see the carpets. They weren't quite done but I got some good pictures. I love them! They're so creative and beautiful. Reading more about them on the Internet, it is said the carpets represent an offering to Christ, all that work and art and food that just gets stomped underfoot. Some cities in Guatemala do multiple days of carpets around town, but Pana only does a few and they are very fleeting.
alfombra Panajachel Guatemala Semana Santa
The carpets are made mostly with coloured sawdust and sand.

alfombra Panajachel Guatemala Semana Santa
Very intricate work done with stencils.
alfombra Panajachel Guatemala Semana Santa
Showing how the stencils are used with the coloured sawdust to make patterns.

An interesting addition this year. This is an alfombra done in front of Cafe Loco with their logo on it. 
I was interested in the fact that Cafe Loco made a carpet with the business on it. I thought briefly that this might be sacrilegious, that maybe someone would find offense in a commercial addition to a religious event. But no one seemed to be bothered. I think this kinda sets a bad precedent and perhaps could lead to companies making alfombras for things like Pepsi or Brahva beer or Pollo Campero.  Ugh. I hope that never happens.

alfombra Panajachel Guatemala Semana Santa
A very modern carpet using fruits, vegetables, buns, and pictures printed on paper.
Yup, that's the Pope wearing a tomato cloak. :)

alfombra Panajachel Guatemala Semana Santa
Jesus done in tomatoes, red peppers, and beets! 
The next two pictures are from my good friend, Iva, over at Amazing Me Movement. This is the second procession of Good Friday, the afternoon one depicting the burial of Christ. I missed it so I borrowed Iva's pictures. This procession stomps through all the carefully made carpets on the street and wrecks them all. It's very fascinating to watch. 
Good Friday procession, the burial procession

Smart girl went up to Cafe Moka on the second floor to take more pics above the crowds
Check out the number of men it takes to carry the big float (anda). It's very impressive.

For an amazing blog about Semana Santa in Antigua, read this article on TrekWorld by Shara Johnson. Very eloquently written.

Besides the religious aspect of Semana Santa, there are quite a bit of decidedly un-religious activities that go during the biggest holiday in Guatemala! This year both Brahva and Gallo had big concerts, including a concert by Julian Marley, Bob Marley's son. Music pounded through the streets until late at night. Glad I had my earplugs!

The entrance to the Gallo Evolution concert venue.

Entrance and exit into Panajachel from Solola. This is the most popular road and they collect a toll from all cars coming in.
Many don't like Semana Santa because of all the drunken partying. You see quite a few people who simply can't handle their booze and end up puking, pissing, and/or passing out on the streets. It's a bit irritating but no worse (I think) than any other big festival or concert you would find back home. One difference, though, is that the whole town is a party zone! And drinking on the streets is allowed tolerated. (They tried to ban open alcohol this year but with ZERO success.)

After all is said, eaten, drunk, and done... this is what remains.
Leftover colors from an alfombra.

I hope you all had a joyous Easter!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

More Weird Fruits & Veggies of Guatemala

Another weird food report from sunny Panajachel!

The market is full of extra vendors this week due to Semana Santa. The little road is now closed every day, like they do on Sundays. There is a guy selling straw hats that's not usually there, several ladies with cookies and meringues, and two big long tables with loads and loads of dried fish! Super smelly.
Makeshift tables of dried salted fish for Lent.
The dried fish, I learned, is to make a special meal for when you give up red meat for Lent. They call the style of dish Vizcaína, which I think refers to the Biscay region in Spain, or Basque maybe? You can see a quick cooking video here.

Mangos are starting to come back into season. They're laying blankets on the cobblestones to pile them up. Yummy! Saw a few jocotes too, which have been out of season for a while now.

I also saw this monster of a vegetable/fruit, pictured below (not my photo). The vendor told me it was a melocotón. I was a bit befuddled cuz I thought that meant peach but then I remembered that durazno is peach in Latin America while melocotón is peach in Spain. It's some sort of squash or something, but sweet tasting. I didn't buy one but it certainly was impressive to look at. Very big and very burgundy, much more reddish than the one pictured below. I see them using these in the Semana Santa decorations. Hopefully I can get a picture next time!
Not my photo. It's from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Now to our most recent bizarre fruit taste test -- the pataxte. The what?? Pah-TASH-tay.
I saw a few of these in a pile in the market, asked what they were, completely couldn't understand the word, went on Facebook, got clarification that it's a pataxte, then Googled it before I bought one. All that for a fruit! Whew!
A pataxte.
It is a close relative of the cocoa bean. Yes, chocolate! Unfortunately, we discovered it doesn't taste like that, although one link below talks about some people trying to use it as a cocoa substitute.
The outer casing is quite hard, like a shell. Bert had to hack it with a big kitchen knife to get it open.
Inside the pataxte.
Inside was this soft flesh with big white beans/seeds. We used a spoon to scoop some out. The orangey flesh was quite sweet, tasting like a combination of mango-banana-pear. But the seeds, whoa, they were bitter!!
I went and Googled some more and discovered that we shouldn't be eating the seeds. Normally, you take them out, dry them, and eat them later. Also, after conversing with some helpful folks on Facebook, we figured our pataxte was underripe and that's why the seeds weren't separating easily from the flesh. Sorry, new fruit. Into the compost with you! Good thing it only cost Q5.

For info on the pataxte, check out these links:

For more info on some of the neat fruits here in Guatemala, this is a good site:

It's gotten really hot here recently, and the town is filling with visitors for Semana Santa. There are processions every day and lots of folks busily building displays. Plenty of booze vendors all over town too, and happy dancey music playing. It's exciting! Stay tuned for my pictures of this year's Semana Santa. Adios!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The First Xela Shopping Shuttle

Finally got a group organized to book a private shuttle to Xela. For those who don't speak Spanish, Xela is pronounced SHAY-la. So Xela Shopping Shuttle is quite the alliteration! Xela is the local name for the city of  Quetzaltenango, which is the second largest city in Guatemala with a population of around 225,000.

Our group consisted of Bert and me, Amazing Iva, Texas Jan, Australian Ian, and new friends B and Lila. Our driver was Gustavo, who was awesome! He was so friendly, full of information, and accommodating of our wishes. He even stopped by the side of the road to give us a chance to take pictures. And most importantly, we was a safe and attentive driver. If you are in Pana and would like to book his services, he has a Facebook page called GR Travel & Services.

We left Panajachel at a bit after 9 am and zig-zagged up out of the valley. Bert was feeling a bit sick at first, most likely due to birthday partying the evening before, so he sat with a plastic bag -- double-checked for holes! Luckily, he didn't throw up and soon felt better once we hit the straighter and flatter roads out of the valley.
View from the back seat of our lovely clean shuttle bus. 
The trip went by very quickly, less than two hours, and we spent most of it chatting and sharing stories. Once we got into Xela, I gawked out the window at the modern stores and cars and - gasp! - a street light!!
OMG McDonald's! Thought it was cute they called the drive-thru "Auto-Mac".
Texas Jan had some errands to run, so we dropped her off near the Central Park. We got to drive right past the market and saw an astounding array of fruits and veggies, plus all the gorgeous Mayan women (and some men) in their traje -- traditional clothing. I noticed that in addition to the straight skirts we see in Pana all the time, some women were wearing very full pleated skirts. Also, many more women were wearing pretty aprons over their skirts. It was neat to see the different styles represented.

After that brief detour through the center of town, our driver took us all the way to the far side of Xela to the Pradera Mall and Walmart. We arrived there at 11:30 am and planned to meet back at 3 pm. Australian Ian thought that would be too long, but I assured him we ladies would need that much time. :)

At the Pradera Mall, no guns, no cameras (?), no dogs, no roller blades, no beggars?
First stop in the mall? The bathrooms and the Food Court! I was struck with a sudden question when using the fancy modern bathrooms in the mall -- do I flush my toilet paper? I decided to do it, which felt weird! I'm so used to using the garbage pail for my TP. It was a bit exhilarating, I must admit. :D

The group of us split up to order food and met back at shared tables to eat. Bert chose Taco Bell and I chose Burger King. We were both SUPER happy to be eating junk food! And it was actually really delicious. I'm not a big fan of BK back home but my Whopper was delicious.
One half of the Food Court -- Taco Bell, Domino's, Pollo Campero, and two more restaurants near the end I don't remember.
The other side of the Food Court -- Burger King, a Chinese place that Jan said was pretty good, and Subway.
The menu board at BK. I learned that "Tejano" means "Texan". Pretty much all the same stuff as back home, with the addition of a Fig Pie. :)
The mall made us feel like we were back home. It was so modern and normal. Slippery tiles, piped in mall music, a weird fashion show in the courtyard, kiosks for perfumes and cell phones, and a lot of normal looking people. To me, it felt like I had been at Camp in the woods for two months and had just come back into civilization!
Bert walking in the mall. We felt like hicks from the country. :D
The mall had two floors and lots of clothing and shoe stores. They had a Radio Shack, Payless Shoes, Levi's store, The Gap, GNC, a cute pet store, plus stores selling brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Naturalizer shoes, and Mary Kay cosmetics. There was even a movie theater. Fancy!

We beelined to Walmart to get cheap stuff first. Bert and I both felt it was a bit of a letdown. It seemed it had the same stuff we have at the Despensa in Pana, only more of it. (Oh and they sold motorcycles. Ha!)
Their women's clothing section was super small. It was mostly shirts, and the only pants available were either jeans or stretch pants. No shorts, no cargo pants, no capris, no casual cotton pants. Who wears polyester in this heat? I guess Guatemaltecos! Not me, that's for sure. We did buy some nice little things like deodorant, a new computer mouse, and lots of snacks, plus scored a great deal on a coffeemaker. Sweet!

After Walmart, we strolled around the mall and gawked at the modern stuff. Bert said, "We don't need to go back to Canada if we're homesick. We can just come to Xela." It truly did feel like any mall back home. I pondered the fact that a lot of people, myself included, feel that Guatemala is a third world country. But walking through the Pradera Mall, we felt like it was just as first world as Canada.
Shiny clean mall. Fancy kids area with lots of rides and games.
Bert carrying our new coffeemaker. And Payless Shoes! So bizarre to see stores from back home, and signs in English.
People lined up for Pollo Campero Express. Guatemaltecos love their fried chicken!
Bert was feeling a bit off and we decided to head outside for some air. He said he was feeling light-headed and kinda hungover. I said, "Me too!" I felt like I was over-tired, a bit dizzy, and the back of my head hurt.
Then I had a realization. Xela is probably at a higher elevation than Pana!
Sure enough, when I asked my friends later, they said Xela is about 2,000 feet higher than Pana. I Googled it when I got home to find the exact numbers. Quetzaltenango's altitude: 2,330 meters or 7,640 feet. Panajachel: 1,600 meters or 5,230 feet. So yeah, we had good reason to be a bit wonky.
Of course I have to take photos of the gorgeous flowers in the gardens outside Walmart.
We decided to head around the corner to check out a second-hand store for clothes. It was super easy to get to -- just leave the mall near Walmart and turn left and left. We passed an amazing collection of chicken buses! They were parked four or five deep. Lots of honking and diesel fumes.
A flock of chicken buses. :)
The biggest paca I've ever seen. (Second-hand store)
Inside MegaPaca in Xela. A tad overwhelming!
Inside MegaPaca in Xela
The Megapaca was super impressive when I walked in but pretty quickly turned disappointing. Yes, there were tons of clothes but there was hardly the organization was not helpful for me.
Everything was separated into types, like women's pants or men's shirts, but then instead of being separated into sizes, they were separated by discount level, which was indicated by a colour sign like gris (grey) or azul (blue). There was a big sign hanging from the ceiling that indicated what level of discount the colour represented. But I wasn't sure if it meant off of the current ticket price or if the price already included the discount. It was overwhelming for me, plus it was hot inside and I was feeling woozy from altitude sickness. I did my best to go through the pants and shorts but couldn't find my size. I left empty-handed. :(

After that, we went back in the mall for more fast food. Gotta get our fix! The time had gone quickly, so we headed back to the shuttle bus in the parking lot and met up with everyone. We admired each other's purchases and I noticed Ian had A&W root beer. WHAT???? He said it was in Walmart. I almost RAN back inside to get some. :)
Heaven in a can!
All shopped out, the trip home was pretty quiet. Beautiful scenery on the drive home, though hazy from heat and humidity and altitude. We drove THROUGH the clouds at some points up in the mountains. So cool!
Scrubby and dry scenery on the way home from Xela
Even the highways have crazy sharp corners!
Both Bert and I love the pine-forested hills between Xela and Pana. So much like home!
One neat thing we spotted on the drive home were men on the side of the road selling parrots on sticks. No, not cooked parrots on sticks! They were live birds perched on sticks with the men holding them out to the cars. Our driver said they paint the birds' wings to make them appear to be expensive types of parrots!
Lila snapping photos out the window. :)
Amazing view of the valley and a volcano peeking out the top of the clouds.
It was a super successful and fun trip. I would definitely do it again in a few months when I need to appease my cravings for fast food and civilization. And next time, we're hitting up that Wendy's we passed!
Bert the day after shopping. HA!
That's the shirt I found at a paca for him. It's from Breaking Bad!