Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fresh Cheese in Guatemala

A long time ago, I tried the local Guatemalan queso fresco (fresh cheese) and I decided I wasn't a fan. But I thought I might give it a second chance seeing as how we're trying to save money and buy more things from our local tiendas rather than the big chain grocery stores. I think I paid Q15 for this block of cheese, which is about $2.75 Canadian or $1.95 U.S.

Fresh cheese is sold wrapped in a banana leaf. It is very soft. It barely holds its brick shape and when you cut it, it is almost like cottage cheese that has been pressed together, or maybe ricotta. It is very wet! The flavour is mild, tangy, but with a bit of pungency at the end. It's not bad really but to me, it almost tastes like cottage cheese that has gone a bit off. Not moldy but maybe vinegary? You will have to try it for yourself to know for sure!

Queso fresco de Guatemala

Sliced fresh cheese of Guatemala
Cheese is also sold as seco (dry) where it is pressed into a circle shape, is very hard, and you shave it off like Parmesan. I've sometimes seen the fresh cheese with loroco in it, which is a flower bud (I think) that tastes a bit like asparagus. I've never seen anything but pure white cheese. No orange cheese here!

I found this interesting video about making fresh cheese in Guatemala. It's quite long -- 16 minutes -- and rambles quite a bit. They seem to be having fun! I don't understand most of what they're saying cuz their Spanish is so fast! But it is worth watching, especially for any readers who don't know much about Guatemala.
The part that will interest you is not making the cheese, but the environment. They are working in their kitchen, which is just a dirt floor with tin walls. Their stove is propped on cinder blocks. They wash dishes in their pila (stone sink) and spill the water on the floor. When they need a banana leaf for the cheese, they walk down their dirt road to their neighbour's house and just cut one from a tree. (And their neighbour has a squirrel in a cage???) It is a fascinating look into the life of a family in rural Guatemala.

It appears that they do use rennet to make their cheese but I have also seen people do it just with lemon juice or vinegar. 

If you would like to try making fresh cheese at home, it is very easy! Here is a recipe I found:

Bye for now! I'm going to go cook beans & rice and top it with my queso fresco, tomatoes, and fresh jalapeños. Yum!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Finally Bought an Ecofiltro

Super excited to start purifying my own water with my new Ecofiltro. 👍💧😀

Ecofiltro with optional stand.
Did a short video for your viewing pleasure. 😊

And of course, the best thing about a new appliance is the big box!

Queso in the Ecofiltro box.
Check out for where you can buy one or how you can support disadvantaged people in Guatemala. Gracias!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus in Guatemala

Nothing is higher in everyone's minds right now than COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, that is infecting people all over the world.

As of today, Guatemala has 16 people infected with coronavirus and 1 person who has died from it. So on the timeline of the infection spread, we are very early.
casos por coronavirus Guatemala 22 Marzo
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The president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, has acted swiftly and decisively to put measures in place to protect the people. However, not all his decisions have been happily accepted by Guatemalans and expats.
  1. All borders are closed to foreigners. Guatemalans and legal residents can enter, but no one else.
  2. The airport is closed to commercial flights.
  3. Markets are only open from 7am to noon, and now closed completely on Sunday.
  4. Non-essential stores, factories, and other workplaces are all closed. 
  5. As of yesterday, there is a nation-wide curfew. Everyone must be off the streets by 4pm.
Yeah, kinda crazy, right?

These restrictions were announced on a televised broadcast, as well as on the radio. But as many people here are poor and don't have TVs, internet, or radio, trucks with loudspeakers were sent out to all towns to announce it. I filmed a bit of the one that passed our house.

So how are we dealing with this coronavirus madness?

Many tourists and even some expats took advantage of the very short window of opportunity to get out of the country before the borders closed. Some people who were a bit slow to understand the seriousness of the lockdown scrambled at the last minute to find a way to get to the border by land and cross into Mexico. They were allowed out of Guate but will not be allowed back in. Many then flew home from Tapachula airport. (Mexico has not enacted any restrictions.)

The Canadian Embassy arranged for a bus from the city to the Mexican border. The American Embassy, I believe, hired a charter plane to take citizens out. (I think they had to pay quite a hefty sum though!)

As for Bert and I, we never had any plans to leave Guatemala. Our home is here. Our pets are here. Our lives are here. So closing the borders hasn't really affected us personally, although if they are still closed in a few more weeks, I may have some trouble getting my tourist visa renewed.

The only minor way this has affected us is that I was supposed to pet sit for my friend until the 29th of March while she was traveling. Well, now she can't get back! So I am continuing to pet sit for her indefinitely. No big deal. I enjoy visiting her cats every two days, and her dog is staying at our house and having a load of fun.

This is really just an inconvenience for us as we have to get out and do our shopping earlier in the day now. It's annoying that the 3Q store is closed (dollar store) because we love to buy cheap stuff there. The grocery stores haven't really run out of many things but I've been doing more of my shopping at our local tiendas (corner stores) because I want to support my neighbours.

And that's the big problem with this decision to close all non-essential workplaces. The people are suffering. The town is shut down. Santander, a street normally packed end to end with vendors, is EMPTY. Clothing stores, stationery stores, shoe stores, everything is closed. Restaurants can only do takeout or delivery.
And all of those people are not getting paid. They have no money coming in at all. How will they buy food for themselves? Buy gas or firewood to cook? Pay their electric bill? Even buy water to drink? (We can't drink from the tap.)
The decision to close all business was a bad one. I think the politicians in the city don't truly understand the level of poverty that exists in most of Guatemala. Many indigenous families are already living hand to mouth, eking out a living on meager wages and inconsistent income. Which brings us to...

Yes, there is now a nation-wide curfew for all people, with the minor exception of anyone delivering food and medicine. Why enforce a curfew? Crime, that's why. I can't think of any other reason to make people stay in their homes at night. And not even really 4pm there is still 2 hours of daylight left.
Yesterday was the first day this went into effect and police and firetrucks went around with sirens on to remind people. I even got a text message on my phone to remind me. Weird.
I'm irritated by how early the curfew is as my favorite time to go out is 5pm so I can run errands and see the sunset on my way home. I am NOT a morning person! I imagine the curfew is probably really bothering extroverts who enjoy going out to socialize, but I'm pretty much a hermit so I feel happier (and safer) inside my home. Besides that, we have a big enclosed yard that I can relax in, so it's not like I'm trapped indoors.

Speaking of the yard, we're starting a vegetable garden! Bert worked really hard to prepare a nice section of earth for planting. He even went out with a wheelbarrow to get sawdust and straw for mulching and big green leaves to add to our compost pile.

Working in the yard to create a place to plant veggies.
All of this coronavirus panic has reminded us that we are not all that self-sufficient. We always intend to stockpile dry goods and water in case of an earthquake, and we always talk about growing veggies cuz the climate is so great here, but we've never really been motivated until now. It's a good way to keep busy and feel productive, plus we will get food in the end -- yum! 😋

Anyway, the coronavirus pandemic is a scary thing and will probably get scarier here in Guatemala over the next few weeks as the number of infected people increases, but I think it's important for all of us to stay calm, positive, and hopeful. Lots of folks are panicking but I am trying to channel any nervousness I have into productive pursuits, like gardening, cleaning, organizing, learning new things on the Internet, or designing tshirts. I am lucky that I make money online and we have a source of income, even if things are tight right now.

I want to share one last picture. A resourceful person in Panajachel is making masks out of the local patterned cloth and selling them on the street for Q5. Smart!

Cloth masks in Panajachel, Guatemala.
Stay healthy and safe, everyone! And wash your hands!! 😁

Monday, March 16, 2020

Bert Bechamel, Professional Mosaic Artist

Bert has finally finished this amazing commission art piece for a friend! It is spectacular!

The final piece!

There are gems that sparkle in the light.
He bought the gems from the local sewing and fabric stores. The local ladies sew them on to their traditional clothing.

The 8 ball is particularly impressive! Very difficult to make such small pieces.
 I really like how he shaped the white tiles to outline the bones in the face, like the eye sockets. Here you can also see how the black grout highlights the contours.

The details are amazing. That's a spade, diamond, heart, and club.
In the picture above, you can see more detail of the background pattern. I told him he should have just done a scattered broken tile background for a quick, easy finish, but he insisted on making this complex pattern. He took a picture of a cobblestone road in town as his template.

Three highlighted pieces -- a green and two white.
In the photo above, I've highlighted three pieces that explain why it took so long for Bert to finish this. He carves out the tiles to the exact shapes he needs to fit in the space. This is no ordinary mosaic where the artist just breaks pieces and fits them in willy-nilly! Bert is a perfectionist! He told me sometimes it takes him 45 minutes to make one piece. 😲

Congratulations, Bert, on this great artwork!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Volcán Fuego Erupting

Imagine waking up to this! 😲  (Sound on!)

This is the Volcano of Fire near Antigua. You can book trips to hike up Acatenango volcano and camp overnight in tents. (Intense! Get it? 😆)

My friends over at Trekking Duo did this hike and give great tips here -- HIKING UP ACATENANGO

Here is another personal account of hiking Acatenango so you can be prepared if you decide to do this challenging adventure! HIKING ACATENANGO IN GUATEMALA

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Pollution in Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is often touted as The Most Beautiful Lake in the World. But it won't be that way forever if something isn't done about all the raw sewage, garbage, and pollution going into its beautiful waters every day.

Drone photo of the river delta in Panajachel emptying silt and sewage into Lake Atitlan.

I filmed that video just a few days ago. I like to walk the dogs down this gravel road to the lake cuz it's peaceful -- albeit stinky! Sometimes there are big gobs of dirty foam in the water that comes out from the sewage plant.

The amount of untreated sewage water (aguas residuales no tratadas) being dumped into Lake Atitlan every year.
The governmental organization here that is assigned to take care of Lake Atitlan is called AMSCLAE -- La Autoridad para el Manejo Sustentable de la Cuenca del Lago de Atitlán y su Entorno. In English, this is The Authority for Sustainable Management of the Lake Atitlan Basin and its Environment. They have a lot of great info on their site, but in Spanish of course! They do studies, offer educational programs, and spread awareness. Not everyone agrees with their methods and proposals, but it is good to have a central official governmental body.

For some heavy reading, here is an extensive article about wastewater treatment at Lake Atitlan in English:

Almost every day on my Facebook feed, I see photos, links, complaints, and posters about Lake Atitlan's dirty water, garbage, and pollution. Locals and expats alike are very concerned and working as best they can to find a solution. Education and awareness are key. But I think the limiting factor here is money, unfortunately. I can only hope that something gets done before it's too late. 😔

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Are We Animal Actor Agents Now?

Two more of our dogs were in a commercial for Ruff on the Road dog apparel. Chunk, the chubby black puppy, and Snoopy, the medium blonde dog, stole the show in this video about doggie bandanas.

Bert jokes that it's great to have dogs that pay for their own vet bills. The money the doggies made for their participation went directly to Chunk's vaccination series. Good job, boys!

Shop Ruff on the Road collars, leashes, beds, bags, and bandanas HERE⇒ 

Friday, January 31, 2020

Sugar High On a Friday Night

My life is so thrilling. My Friday night is staying home playing video games and overdosing on sugar!! 
Amongst the junk food I bought at La Torre grocery store today, on a whim I bought this ginormous bottle of POP. Can you guess what the flavor is? Soda Shampan...champagne! Champagne cola is kind of a unique flavor in the Carribean and Latin America. It tastes sort of like cream soda. This one is not bad but a little weak. I realized belatedly that it has aspartame which gives it a yucky aftertaste. Oh well.
That's a lotta pop.
Another strange find in the store today, Fruit of the Forest Oreos. I can't really say they taste like much at all. I mostly taste the chocolate cookie part but I guess the purple filling tastes like...tangy sugar. Not raspberry or blackberry or anything.
Fruit of the Forest Oreos
Just in case you need more sugar for breakfast, Guatemala is obsessed with horrible sugary cereals. It was fun at first, but it's getting kind of tiresome now. I mean do you really need marshmallows in your chocolate rice krispies? I would love to have some nice lightly sweetened LIFE cereal or some brown sugar Mini-Wheats.
Chocolate Rice Krispies with Marshmallows
Poor Bert is subsisting on Cream of Wheat, yogurt, bananas, and pudding. He's getting his teeth fixed, which basically means he's getting most of them pulled out. He's had four done already. After they're all done being pulled, he will get fitted for partial dentures. Ack, that sounds like such an old man thing, doesn't it? Ha ha!
For reference, getting a tooth pulled (extraction) costs Q150 each. That's roughly $26 Canadian or $20 U.S. dollars. Pretty cheap!
Heart of Wheat -- the closest to Cream of Wheat we've found here.
Look at that face! 😍
Bert is being comforted in his dental pain by a new puppy. Yes, we know. Not another dog! Well, he wasn't supposed to stay but he's just so darn cute! His name is Chunk! He's about three-and-a-half months old and he already weighs almost 20 pounds. He is a big boy. His coat is super shiny and black with brown undertones. He is very handsome and laid back and adorable.

So life is pretty normal. Nice and warm here, a bit cloudy in the evenings but no rain.
It's pretty quiet in town because we're in that peaceful time between Christmas and Easter. A few months of calm and then tourists will come pouring back in.

I hope you're all well and enjoying life wherever you are. Peace out from Guatemala!

Monday, January 20, 2020

High Praise for Lake Atitlan from Fodor's Travel

I just read this great article about how you can vacation at Lake Atitlan for far less than a trip to Italy and still experience all the joys and beauty you would expect from a European destination.

👉🏼 An Affordable Alternative to Italy 👈🏼

Casa Palopó, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The article from Fodor's features several rather ritzy places and activities, but I can tell you that you can get a lovely hotel for far cheaper than you might think. Plus eating at the restaurants here is very inexpensive, especially for traditional barbecue (churrasco).  That means you'll have more money to splurge on traditional hand-woven fabrics, real jade, beaded animals, wooden masks, amazing paintings of the lake, and buying knick-knacks from the cute child vendors. 

Bert and my sister in the jacuzzi and Hotel Atitlan.
This is not some fancy photo from a hotel website. This is a real pic that I took!
When my sisters visited for the first time, they stayed at the beautiful Hotel Lake Atitlan. It is located just outside of Pana so it is very quiet. They have gorgeous gardens to wander through, a pool with a view of the lake and volcanoes, and extravagant rooms decorated with local art and textiles. My sisters loved it because you could flush your toilet paper. 😄 (Read my article about bathrooms here.)

Lakeview room in Porta Hotel Del Lago
For a more first-world style hotel -- complete with elevator! -- The Porta Hotel Del Lago is a popular choice. It is located right in the middle of Panajachel, only steps from the waterfront. They recently installed a "living wall" of plants that goes all the way up the side of the building. They have a pool, lakeview rooms, conference facilities, and gardens.

Gardens at Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo, Panajachel
Another popular waterfront hotel is Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo. They are proud to feature Guatemalan traditions, food, dance, clothing, and decor, yet they still offer first-world amenities to refresh and relax you. Wouldn't you love to be in one of those hammocks right now?

"But I'm a poor traveler. I can't afford those hotels!"
No worries, my friend! Head over to TripAdvisor and sort by price low to high. You will find rooms for as little as $25 Canadian ($20 American) per night! Hmm, at those prices, I might spend a night in a hotel myself!

TIP: Many folks are scared off of Guatemala due to over-exaggerated news reports about violence and crime. While the city and border towns can be a bit scary, Lake Atitlan is pretty peaceful and safe. The locals know that tourism is their bread and butter -- or should I say tortillas and beans -- and they want visitors to enjoy their time. (And spend lots of money too, of course!) Use your common sense, as you would in any city, and you'll be just fine.

I hope to see more of you strolling around Panajachel in the near future. And in case you need more incentive, today it's 23°C (73°F), sunny and breezy and beautiful! 😎

Friday, January 10, 2020

Picture This...

It's January.
I'm wearing shorts and a tshirt, as I always do.
I'm walking home from the store, munching on fresh green coconut slices that I bought for less than a dollar.
I stop to admire this sunset...

sunset Lake Atitlan Guatemala

And then a tuc-tuc rips by in a cloud of dust, playing TARZAN BOY at full blast. Ha ha ha!
Guatemala, you still make me laugh after all this time. 😄

For those who can't recall what Tarzan Boy sounds like, let me take you back to 1985...where Guatemala still happily lives!