Alfombras (sawdust carpets)

This tradition appeals to me on so many levels.  Entire communities come together to prepare intricate and colorful alfombras (sawdust carpets) in the streets for the Catholic Easter processions.  Teams of friends and family work all day and night to complete the alfombra only to have them walked on soon after by the long processions and immediately  shoveled up by the clean up crew.  Each group seems to have their own method and design concept.  They are primarily using coloured sawdust, wood shavings, pine needles, flowers and other random at hand things like vegetables and bottle caps.  One alfombra even had a fountain with wine while another was a rendering of jesus entirely done out of different shades of sawdust.   Because we were visiting Antigua in the weeks leading up to Semana Santa, there was a procession every weekend.  I would compare the processions to a parade in North America.  Needless to say, there was eye candy every weekend.  The processions include hundreds of men (dressed in purple) and women (dressed in black and white) carrying religious icons.  One of the platforms being carried was so large that it required 70 people on each side to carry it.  Processions start in the morning and can go all night.

The last procession we saw included Roman soldiers.  Now, the soldiers were not just there for decoration….they served a purpose, using their pitch forks to prop up the telephone and power lines.  There was also a fleet of men with walkie talkies at vantage points throughout the procession organizing the mass of people.

 

Coffee Break

For 3 weeks while G and I were taking Spanish lessons, these two words were music to my ears.  From 10 to 10:30 am, we were able to grab a snack from the ladies who set up shop at the Spanish school next to ours.  My Spanish teacher very quickly discovered my love of food, so we spent a good deal of time discussing it.  She shared with me the ‘snack’ tradition in Guatemala.  My favorites were the tostadas with beans, guac, cabbage and salsa or a taco stuffed with potatoes and covered with the same stuff.  Tostadas and tacos are different then their Mexican counterparts.  The Guatemalan tostada starts with a thicker and crunchier fried corn tortilla.  The Guatemalan tacos are actually rolled up and then fried.  George usually opted for a bread roll (pan) with a chile relleno, guac, beans, hot sauce and cabbage.  For something sweet, he’d grab a rellenitos de plátano (small balls of mashed plantains filled with sweetened black beans, fried and sprinkled with sugar). Another favorite snack was the corn on the cob.  We preferred ours with salt, but the locals smothered them with all kinds of condiments including ketchup.  Truth be told, I kept my distance from the loaded down cobs of corn.

Lunchtime is typically the most substantial meal in Guatemala.  Some local restaurants would have pots of stews sitting in the entrance, which was almost impossible to pass once you caught wind of the smell.   Without fail, they would have ample delicious soups and salads as well for me to try.  George usually opted to try as much meat as possible.  As many of you know, I don’t eat meat and therefore cook primarily veggie food.  If G doesn’t have a big chunk of meat at least every second day, he’s convinced that his body needs meat asap and that he couldn’t possibly carry on.  Eating a big meal at lunch worked out well for both of us, because I could cook veggie for dinner without any complaints.

One of the dishes that I really enjoyed was vegetarian pepian.  The dish almost tastes like an Indian curry because you begin by toasting spices in a dry pan.  I also highly recommend the panaderias (bakeries) in Guatemala – plenty of fresh bread and sweets to choose from.

G and I celebrated the completion of our Spanish classes with some frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts followed by a few too many Quetzalteca + sprite.

 

Pacaya Volcano

Today we took a quick tour up the Pacaya Volcano.  Pacaya is about an hour and a half drive south from Antigua and is one of 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala.  From the top of Pacaya we could see Fuego (active as well), Acatenango and Agua.  The three volcanoes are situated in a circle around Antigua.  Fuego has been casting big plumes of smoke almost every day and had a big night lava eruption our first week in Antigua.  Impressive!

A shuttle came to pick us up from our apartment at 6am.  After an hour and a half driving we made it to a small mountain village on the outskirts of Pacaya.  We were about to hike 5miles up the volcano.  The trails were made of fine crushed volcano rocks and lots and lots of volcano dust. The locals in the parking lot were insistent trying to sell a ‘taxi’ service (horse ride) up the mountain for Q100 (about $12 USD).  At first everybody in our group declined the taxi ride.  Nevertheless two kids on horses followed us up to mountain.  I guess they knew what usually happens … So, 10 minutes in the hike one of the girls gave up and hopped on a horse.  Next was … Teresa :).  Well, in her defense, the second kid was walking right behind her for 35 minutes and asking her more or less every 20 seconds “Taxi?”,  “Chika, taxi… ” ….  I think T eventually hopped on the horse just to get him to stop bugging her :).

We made it close but not all the way up the volcano (did not climb to the crater since it is dangerous).  By the way there was a huge plume of smoke that shot up in the sky while we were right under the volcano.  At the end of the trip we crossed a 2 year old lava flow to a place where superheated gasses were coming from the ground.  It took only a second for a bunch of dry sticks to get on fire after our guide tossed them under the rocks at that spot.  We finished the day with roasting marshmallows on the hot gasses before heading back.