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Finally, the Food Post!

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

I wrote the following post over the weekend but just now have the opportunity to post it. Things have been very busy the last few days and I hope I have some time on Friday for a new post, “The NOT-so Super Sunday, and “The Case of the Mondays.” Thanks again for your comments, and yes Carlos, you’re right, maybe I’ll go to California when I get back and learn the real street lingo español! Enjoy (unedited, but not rated R or anything)…and by the way, my breakfast this morning was a yummy bowl of corn flakes all soaked up with hot milk to make it mushy and slimy. Yum! And yesterday was a bowl of black bean soup with rice, which was pretty tasteless and not really filling. But on to the post!

So, where do I begin with the food? As most of you know, I LOVE to eat, and will eat just about anything. I’m not particulary fussy or finicky when it comes to food, although I will try to stay away from mushrooms, sushi and anything that is still moving.

As it turned out, my body took a full 3 days to get used to the new types of bacteria that entered my body through the food I ate. My first official taste of what would become a staple occurred while waiting for my bus from Guatemala City to Xela. A little restuarant tienda was at the nearby corner and I watched as a gentleman seemed to enjoy his little meal on his little styrofoam plate. With no Spanish, I just pointed to his plate and nodded my head. What I got was a fried egg overhard, refried black beans in a liquidy kind of form, and a piece of bread. All for about $1.50.

Later that day, my host mom had a delicious bowl of soup in chicken broth and a piece of chicken, accompanied by a delecable tomato salad. Things looked pretty good.

But then the night came, and the next day, and the next day, and my stomach was just torn to pieces. I should have started on my pepto bismol the moment I stepped off of the plane, but didn’t have my first one until Friday. By then, I was severely dehydrated and feeling pretty weak.

We have it good in the US, with our high standards of sanitation and keeping things clean. Here, it is a different story. Cutting boards to chop up meat are then used to slice vegetables. Tap water should be boiled for 20 minutes before consumption, but often times it is the same water used to clean the dishes. Although my mom has a fridge, sometimes I’ll wander into the kitchen and have to look the other way because things that we would typically store in the fridge are just out in the open. Meats, soups and other foods are left out overnight on the counter. I haven’t seen many flies in the house, but I avoid thinking about where my food comes from and for how long it has been there. I just hope that what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me and call it good cause my body will take care of the rest.

A lot of food is fried. Meats, bananas, beans, pastries, potatoes, eggs, and more. Mitzy mentioned that during one breakfast, she picked up her “omlette” and it was just dripping with oil. She hid it in a napkin and took it out to dispose of later.

I’m tired of eggs. Seems like I have eggs twice a day. Mostly it is eggs over hard with some ranchero sauce. I’ve taken to not eating the yolk anymore. Eggs over hard with refried beans and a tortilla or a piece of bread is a standard breakfast. But I’ve also had it for lunch and for dinner.

The following are pics from the food I have been served and have eaten at home. It may look pretty good in the pictures, but read the captions for more information.


My first meal! Chicken soup with fresh sliced tomatoes and a pretty good dressing.


Pasta salad slathered with mayo, grated carrots with a lime marinade, plain sliced tomatoes, and a bowl of liquid soup (instant lipton packet stuff you’d find in the grocery isle)


2 corn tortillas, one “omlette” with sliced hot dogs, and a soupy serving of refried black beans.


A trio of 3 corn tortillas with avocado and sliced hot dogs, plus a cauliflower and carrot salad with some kind of dressing.


I don’t know what you call these. Both a wrapped in a corn husk. One is made of rice and some a piece of pork (really, it’s a piece of pork) and the other is made of mushed potatoes. Actually one of the better tasting meals I’ve had.


Breakfast. A fried “omlette” with tomatoes, and a not-so-appealing shaped serving of refried black beans.


The famous sardines, rice and cabbage slaw with mayo.


My favorite meal! Simple comfort food. A piece of fried chicken, sliced cucumbers, and some rice. Unfortunately when I took my plate back to the sink I saw the piece of chicken skin next to the sliced cucumber skins.


A crisp corn tortilla with avocado (it�s NOT guacamole) and that instant soup stuff.


Ah, what is this? Vegetables and pasta! Yesss!! Only, it was very very salted. Like very salted. Plus there is that salty instant soup stuff again. Boy, I was sad after having such initial excitement.


My plain fried “omlette” egg with fried plantains and a side of bread.


Lunch. Instant cup o’ noodles, sliced tomatoes and some kind of fried meat. It was tasty, though.


Fried plantains, a heap of mixed rice and refried black beans, and sliced hard boiled egg.


Breakfast. Hamburgers? Yep. 2 small hamburger buns with hamburger meat with ketchup and some other secret sauce. It was pretty good.


Rice, brocolli, and cauliflower fried in some kind of batter with ranchero sauce. It would have been pretty good had it not been so lukewarm.


My lunch today, Saturday. My first real “meat” aside from the fried chicken and chicken soup. It wasn’t chewy and fatty, but it was pretty tasteless. Kind of odd since next to it was that really really really salty pasta with mayo and the grated carrots with lime.

So there you have it, a photo tour of what I’ve been eating. I’ve become accustomed to not expected too much, and I am very thankful that I have food to even eat at all. I hope I don’t sound too picky, it has honestly just been an adjustment for my body to take in reduced portions and calories, which is good, but I think I am lacking a few essential daily vitamins and nutrients. So it’s good that I have my generic Fred Flinstones vitamins to supplement my days with, although I doubt their dosage really makes much of an impact. I hope this will be able to post with the amount of pictures I have up!

Walking Around Xela

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

Most of my fellow students took off to the beach for the weekend. Despite my being cold at night, I wasn’t really in the mood for hanging out in the hot 95 degree beach sun all day after taking what amounts to a 3 hour bus ride from Xela. 2 other students went to a retreat at a coffee plantation co-op (which I’ll sign up for on a future weekend), and another one signed up for a 2 day hike (which I will definitely do sometime before my studies are over). Me, I just wanted to take it easy, and so ended up walking around the town for 4 hours. Actually, I had 2 goals today. One, to find a public park where there are basketball hoops and players. And two, to locate some churros to buy where I can dip them into hot chocolate.

After a lot of walking, I found the place to play. 3 outdoor basketball courts, with no nets. People in Guatemala and not tall at all, I’d guess that the average height of a male is less than 5 foot 4, and that of a woman less than 5 foot 2. The game played here consists of a lot of driving to the basket and then dishing off. Not many players I saw went up for a jumper. Fouls are called, and balls are inbounded almost immediately from anywhere at the out of bounds. One guy had a #8 Kobe jersey, and another a #91 Rodman jersey. Maybe next week, when I have some basketball-related words in Spanish under my belt, will I join a game or two. But I’ll leave my trash talking back in the states.

I ended up at the local market for my churros, and actually didn’t find them until the tail end of my journey. Unfortunately the stand or any other nearby stands had no hot chocolate, so I had to eat my churros alone with some azucar (sugar).

Imagine the Saturday market, and then imagine it 10 times bigger with rows and rows of tarped and open stalls of everything imaginable. CDs, DVDs, shoes, socks, underwear, handicrafts, watches, vegetables, fruits, housewares, school supplies, kitchen tools, nuts, used electronics, etc. etc. etc. Stalls also sell meat, and outside the uncovered areas, little stands sell french fries, tortillas filled with meat and onions, fresh sliced fruit, empanadas, ice cream, and other fried items. It’s kinda like a flea market, but goes well beyond that. People walk around with a few items to sell to whoever crosses their path, while buses at the main terminal Minerva clog up the street with vendors selling their wares on the buses and people climbing aboard and off the buses. It is literally an intoxicating environment with all the sights, sounds and smells.

In addition to all the people, the goods, the buses and the activity, there’s garbage everywhere, and even more sad, is that the one main garbage area for the market where a lot of the debris is taken, has a bunch of people digging through it for food or to salvage things to sell. One of the students I hung out with last night, Lauren, just returned from a volunteer project in Guatemala City where her organization helps in construction projects for the poor. Her stories about witnessing and learning about the crime and poverty in the capital and the numbers of people at the garbage dump are gut-wrenching.

Got a little sidetracked there, but the subject of the current problems that plague Guatemalan society are worth a future post. Most of the foreigners I have met are here for one of 3 things: To learn Spanish, to volunteer, or to do a combination of both. I have not yet met one person who is here just to travel.

I leave you now with pics from visiting the 2 local markets here in Xela. Also, if you’d like to view a bigger image of the pictures, just click on one and a new window should open up with a larger version of the thumbnail. Tomorrow I’ll spend all day on a mountain bike, and my next post will be the Food post!









Quick Weekend Thoughts

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

I now close my 10th day here in Xela, and here are some weekend thoughts to chew on:

– Superbowl Sunday. Go Seahawks! I’ll be spending my day on a rented mountain bike touring the valley, then getting back in time for the 5pm Xela-time start for the big game.

– I’ve timed the church bells that go off every morning at 6am–it’s closer to 2 minutes than a full minute.

– At night, all the neighborhood dogs like to howl and bark and make a mockery of people trying to sleep. Plus the added benefit of car alarms, music and kids playing the streets into the late hours into the night always makes for an interesting time to try to get some sleep. I usually sleep around 11:30.

– There is pretty good, reliable internet service here in town, bolstered by a number of internet cafes and the like. Speed can vary quite a bit. I found a really cheap place and was all gung-ho excited, but left after only 10 minutes when loading up the Yahoo homepage took an excruciating 2 minutes. You get what you pay for.

– I’m surprised at how relatively inexpensive it is to call the states. It’s about 25 cents per minute, or about the same rate if you are on one of the those limited cell phone packages in the states.

– You are not allowed to place anything into the toilets. Only the body’s, natural things. Everything else goes into a waste basket. That goes for public restarants, hotels, in my home. It helps if there is a lid to the waste basket, if you can catch my drift, no pun intended.

– The salsa dancing is amazing down here. There is no cover to go to the local club, Coco Loco’s, and watch all the fantastic dancers on the dance floor. Dancing with the Stars would find some credible challengers here.

– Weather has generally been pretty good. Aside from cold nights (around 35 degrees), the days warm up by the afternoon and there has only been 2 days of light rain. Still, I wish I had packed warmer clothing and a full body towel, instead of my little REI packtowel.

– Spanish is still a struggle, and I wanted to avoid talking English to the gringos, but I just can’t help it. There’s a small group of students that I hang out and we try to speak in Spanish, but we usually resume back to our native tongue. I’ve gone the route of creating flash cards for myself and have found them to be really useful. But it was a little difficult in trying to request a local shoe repair fellow to try and fix my hiking boots.

– I am very very excited for the possibilities of traveling through Guatemala. There are plenty of Mayan ruins to see, the primary destination being Tikal. I’d also like to do the 5-day hike to El Mirador in Mexico. I’m getting waaay ahead of myself, and it could either motivate me to really hunker down and learn Spanish, or might hinder my progress because of my travel bug. Some students take classes for 4 weeks, leave for 2 to travel, and come back for another stint. I might have to do this as I am getting quite restless. Or I’ll just do it all in 4-10 weeks and then go. We’ll have to see about that, but if anyone out there has the opportunity to visit this country, GO!

– Still haven’t gone into Micky D’s. But many students did a couple of weeks ago when the water was out for 4 days. I managed to survive my 3 days of no water earlier this week.

Here are a few more pics for the weekend:


My school is on this busy street where the sidewalk can barely squeeze two people abreast and you have to take your chances with stepping foot into the street.


Last Sunday I spent an hour strolling through Xela’s cemetary, where rows and rows of tombs and gravestones are festooned with fresh flowers and other adornments. Many families spend a portion of Sunday to pay respects to their departed loved ones.


Another area of the cemetary.


Just one of the many dogs that roam the streets, alone and sometimes in packs.


Construction workers tear up the street in order to do necessary repairs and upgrades to the local water supply. This is why sections of Xela do not have water for upwards of 4 days.


Parque Central. This is the main outdoor hangout for Xela, about a 3 minute walk from school and many students from other programs meet here to study or pass the afternoon away. This Sunday, the parque will be transformed by the local handicraft market, held on the first Sunday of each month.

Have a nice weekend all.

Welcome inside

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

All students in my school have the option of having a homestay arranged with a local family. I think it’s an extra $35 per week for this, which includes meals 3 times a day, 7 days a week. You are supposed to have your own private room, and you’re also supposed to be the only student living in the home. With about 20 different language schools and programs in Xela, there are a number of families that offer up their home to students to gain a little extra money.

You’ve met Tonito, now meet mom, Claudia.


27 years old, she’s lived in Xela for the last 3 years. Papa is in the “distillery” business, so I don’t see him much and actually haven’t even met him! Claudia aspires to open up a small restaurant in the next 4-5 months, which will specialize in simple, vegetarian plates that cater to students and other locals looking for cheap and wholesome food. She says she’ll have a small place close to Central Parque, with pictures of the plates posted up in the window with numbers to make it easier for ordering. Cool, I’m all for it. I just hope I can be the tester for her dishes…my next post will definitely have to be about the food.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s about a 12-15 minute walk to and from school, depending on how much traffic, dust and diesel fumes I have to dodge.


The street leading up to my homestay.


The same street with the usual dust from cars driving by and the wind blowing it around.


Exterior of my home. I enter through the black door on the lower right.

Homes in Xela are 50/50 constructed by: concrete, and others in tierra fire-hearth bricks. My home is concrete construction, which makes it cool inside during the summer….but freaking COLD during the invierno (winter) months. Xela has only two seasons–summer and winter. Guess which one I’m in.

You enter the black door into a single car garage, and opening the 2nd door reveals the living room. Just beyond that is the dining area with small TV, and beyond is the kitchen. Upstairs holds the master bedroom with it’s own bath, and 3 bedrooms. I have a small private bathroom just off the bedroom hallway. The 3rd floor holds the rooftop piazza, basically where they keep their pila (holding tank for water) and where clotheslines are strung across for laundry to dry. On clear days I can get a pretty good view of the surrounding areas and can watch the street scene unfold below me.


The living room


The dining area


Opposite view into the living room, looking from the dining area. The brown door enters into the garage and out into the street. The stairs on the left go up to the bedrooms.


My bedroom in all its glory.


One more shot of my spacious bedroom. Notice there’s no closet, no dresser and lacks anything more than the desk, chair, bed, and window. Could be worse, and it’s livable, so I’m fine with it.


The view from the rooftop

So there you have it. Mi casa. I might change families in 3 weeks, just to get a different experience and perhaps get an upgrade on my food. But Claudia has been great, I love little Tonito, and overall I’m pretty happy with my homestay. I even caught some of the Portland Trailblazers – San Antonio Spurs basketball game last night on the fuzzy small TV! For some reason, it gets a San Antonio station and with the volume off, I was able to make out the players and the score, they even showed a shot of the Rose Garden and Convention Center! So all in all it was pretty fun for me last night to see Portland in some form or fashion!

I hope that the pics attached don’t end up undersized in the blog, if they do I’ll try to fix em tomorrow night (Friday) so check back for a full size version! And thanks everyone for your comments, yesterday wasn’t my best but today was a lot better! Up and down, up and down. And you are right Jonas, now is the perfect time to grow my dastardly evil beard and big head of hair! Wait til I get back, you probably won’t recognize me and my 20 pounds!

What the Hell am I doing??

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

The food is hardly worth a mention–but oh, you’ll hear about it for sure a little later on. If it’s not black clouds of diesel fumes I inhale, it’s dust. It’s freezing at night, I’m coccooned in my sleeping bag underneath 3 blankets, with my jacket on. And my Spanish lessons just kill me!

Let’s call it a rough Monday. A very rough Monday. Seriously, I couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t get with the program. Couldn’t understand my maestra (teacher), and struggled mightily with simple words from the alphabet. “What am I doing? Maybe I should just pack my bags and hit the trail.” Felt like crap. Felt stupid. Like I was incapable of learning. Yeah, I was ready to quit.

But stuck it out. Spent Monday night studying hard and practicing as much as I could. Other students confided that they, too, had the same “What the hell am I doing?” thoughts. We all go through it. My friend Mitzy came down 5 weeks ago. Her husband is in Colorado, and she said that her first week mirrored mine. We all have our moments of pure frustration, and other days that turn out fabulous. Yesterday, Tuesday, was good. And today, well, it was almost a repeat of Monday. Up and down, up and down.

Perhaps I’m putting too much pressure on myself. It has, after all, been close to 7 years since I was last in school. I have pretty high expectations that I can get this language stuff down. But it has been very hard. My learning curve is slower than what I am accustomed to. My brain tries to formulate all the right word combinations and I try to remember certain words and vocabulary, and it just doesn’t come out of my mouth correctly or quickly enough. And listening to my teacher, I just can’t process. Frustrating.

I’m not quitting. But I have been so itchin’ to hit the trail. I have purposely avoided reading up about surrounding areas and towns and things to do and see. I’ll have plenty of time for that later. For now, I want to get my Spanish down. And I have a LONG ways to go. It’s like my mind is overloaded and can’t take in anymore. Luckily, I have some great student friends that can share in my lows, as well as highs. I’m hoping tomorrow will be much much better. Here are some pics of my school…

My school’s exterior

The downstairs interior. Upstairs we have our classrooms. There are currently about 15 students, all working one on one with teachers.

I’m starting to get a bit of a routine down. Wake up at 7:20. Breakfast at 7:30. Out the door at 7:45, in school at 8am. Private instruction til 10:30, break til 11, then more learning 11-1pm. Lunch back at home at 1:30pm. Back to school around 2:30 for the afternoon activity. Today it was at 3:30. Salsa dancing. My two left feet didn’t help me any. Dinner is usually around 7:30, though it has varied depending on when my mom gets home to prepare dinner. Once it was around 9:30. It’s funny calling her mom. She’s 27, 5 years younger than me. I’ll usually study til about 11:30, then hit the sack. And it’s repeat for the next day. At least I have my morning break fruit to look forward to (less than $1 for a small bag of pineapple, watermelon, coconut, mango, papaya or other fruits she decides to offer for the day).

This is the only fruit I get in my diet. I don’t know how much longer I can sustain on beans, tortillas, eggs, hot dogs, eggs, beans, tortillas, and eggs. I have yet to set foot in Mickie D’s, but oh man…..

Kids will be kids

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

I’m doing a homestay in Xela, which means I’m staying with a family. I have a very spartan bedroom (read: bed, desk, chair. window. door. floor. ceiling. walls. yeah, that’s it) in a very cold (burrrr) “townhome” about a 12-15 minute walk from school, depending on how much traffic I have to dodge. At any rate, more on this living arrangement in a later post. Just thought I’d share a few pics of my little boy living in the home. 5 years old, Tonito. He is one funny, adorable little boy! He spends most of the day watching TV and playing with his dinosaur and action figures, and of course making loud explosion sound effects with emphasis on making sure everyone can hear him. My Spanish is so poor that I can’t even communicate with him except say “Hola, hola, hola.” At any rate, a few days ago I sat down to eat lunch. And his mother, Claudia, also prepared a bowl of food for him. A bowl of rice and sardines. Not exactly my first, second, or 15th choice of a dish to
eat…well, turns out Tonito didn’t take too well to it either. So, when his mother goes upstairs, he decides to do something about it…


This is my plate of food. His was basically a bowl, sans the cabbage salad.


He somehow finds a spatula, and scoops it away…


Hmm, this box of newspaper looks ideal….


“I’m sooo sly”

Good effort, but do you think he got away? Let’s just say that mom wasn’t too pleased…