Goodbye to Clare and David and My Explore Group

Trip Start Feb 01, 2012
Trip End Feb 21, 2012

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What I did
La Azotea Coffee and Mayan Culture Museum

Flag of Guatemala  , Sacatepéquez,
Saturday, February 18, 2012

Got up before the alarm this morning.  Clare was almost all packed up.  She went off to breakfast with David, but I wanted to go to the bank for money and possibly check out my airport transfer so I organized a bit and then did my errands.  As I was taking a few photos of the square, an elderly man (probably my age) approached me and asked where I was from.  Then he proceeded to tell me how wonderful Antigua is.  He had worked in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania for three years, then came back to Guatemala and lived in Guatemala City.  He hated it there because of the pollution, crowding, dirt and litter, and violence.  He went there the day before and now his throat hurts.  But he is happy because he now lives in Antigua.

When I got take-out at one of the cafes, I ran into Clare and David there.  I had purposely gone to that one thinking that they would have gone to the one on the other side of the square and thus they would have some time alone without me.  So I waved to them and went back to the hotel.  I was sitting in the lobby trying to get internet when Clare came by for the key.  I feel bad that I always inconvenience her - somehow she got past me and went up on the roof before going to the room.  I had been up on the roof right after I got up when it was clear but hazing up.  I went back to the room while she gathered her belongings for her pick-up to go to the airport.

Lou arrived and so she, David and I saw Clare off.  I was sad to see Clare go - she was a great roommate.  Lou said she wished everyone on her tours were like Clare because she is so easy-going.  I went over to the next street shopping with David and ended up buying some things - that I had intended to go back for anyway.  I dumped them in the hotel and took David over to the mini-market next to the Carmen church ruins and we took some more photos.  He is really good at taking people photos.  I am not, but I try.  I didn't really see anything interesting in the market, but that is where I bought my huipil when I was in Antigua before.  After this, David walked me to my coffee tour pick-up across from the cathedral and we said goodbye.  I was sorry to see him leave too because he is really a sweet guy.

The La Azotea coffee tour van dropped me off with a Danish couple and a Spanish man at the Cultural Center.  The man at the desk said we would do music first, then the coffee tour so we walked where he pointed - or at least the Danish couple and I did.  We felt a bit lost because we really didn't know what was going on.  We walked around the music exhibit that was nicely done.  Lots of manikins dressed up in Mayan traditional clothes playing various instruments like flutes, horns, drums and marimbas.  There was some music piped in and a video that showed some Mayan musicians performing in their communities.  I liked the exhibit and took lots of photos because they were so appealing to me.  At some point, we heard an English guide and tried to join the group, but something happened and we didn't.  We waited around and finally a young man appeared who spoke English and we joined the other people following him into the coffee museum part of the complex. 

First we landed in the history of coffee exhibit, but I don't remember his explaining this part so much.  He began by showing us a map of where coffee was grown in Guatemala and the different stages in the production of the coffee we drink.  There were the ripe coffee berries:  the red ones called cherries.  Then  they were washed and hulled.  The red hulls are used for mulch and stuff and also to make kahlua.  At this stage they are fermented for two days.  The beans are then washed to get rid of mucilage coating but they still have a parchment coating and are called parchment beans.   Somewhere they were called green beans (or some other color) but I don't remember when that was.  The parchment beans are then roasted and, finally, ground.  He mentioned that there are larger beans that are better and they make better quality coffee that is sold to Japanese and Starbucks among others.  Antigua produces Arabica coffee that is medium strength - the robusta is stronger, but cruder.  There was a chart that shows the different characteristics of coffee.  As the beans get roasted longer, the acidity lowers, the flavor increases, the fragrance increases and then decreases, and the caffeine decreases.  At least that is what I think I remember.  I took a photo so maybe I can double-check this.  Someday.  But where is that photo?

We then saw some coffee in the various stages, some of the processing equipment, including modern machinery.  We saw some photos of people picking coffee and learned how much people could pick and how much they got.  I think I remember $5-8 per bag - were they 100 lbs?   This is not quite in order.  From the museum building we moved out into the patio where they had coffee beans drying.  A few people got to push the rake that is used to turn the beans 6 times per day at a minimum.  Then we saw some workers washing the beans in a machine.  Finally we went into a small building where they roasted, ground and packaged the beans.  We taste-tried a medium and dark roasted bean.  And we got to try some chocolate powder.

From here we went into the field with the coffee trees.  A few had flowers.  Usually they flower earlier.  In December the berries start to ripen.  They harvest from December through March.  (I just overheard a woman talking to her group and she said that since they are at a higher altitude here, they need to drink a lot.  At least 2 liters in the morning and more later.  I missed that part.  She told them to take care of themselves, not get sunstroke, or else they will miss all the fun.  Interesting.  Another lady piped in and warned them about dogs because she needed to get rabies shots.  I am now in the hotel lobby to use the internet.)

So we did see quite a few coffee bushes.  They are under trees that they prune to get the right amount of sun and then they use the branches for firewood and some of the tree trunks for planks that they cut with a power handsaw one at a time.  Next was the gift shop and a cup of coffee.  Oh, we also saw photos of the founder of the company and members of the family that inherited the business.  Our guide quoted to us what someone had said about coffee:  It should be black as night, strong as passion, sweet as love, and hot as hell.  Milk is said to spoil it and bad coffee is said to spoil the sugar I found a few things in the gift shop, including a t-shirt with the chemical formula for caffeine for Serge.  Unfortunately, Serge has informed me that it shrunk when it was washed.

Rather than taking a shuttle back immediately, I decided to wait an hour and that gave me a chance to go back and see parts that I missed.  Oh, yes, after the coffee bushes, there was a garden with trees and plants labeled and some models of houses/huts from various regions of Guatemala.

Back at the main square in Antigua, I popped into the bookshop, walked around the square, walked up the shopping arcade street and down the other side of that block looking for an inexpensive, interesting place to eat something.  I found a little cafe after giving up on the street food in a little park near one of the churches.  There was a mayonnaise-like sauce they were putting on their sandwiches, tacos that wasn't so appealing and I wasn't sure if my body was ready for street food here.  I stopped by the Adrenaline Travel Agency and booked my airport shuttle.

When I got back to the hotel, there was a mob of people at the reception counter, including Naomi who had decided to come back.  She was going to hang out in reception until her room was ready.  I picked up my key - not easy since the people checking in were all around the counter - and read a little note from David.  It was sweet of him to leave a thank-you note.  He said he is interested in my blog and wants it before it is finished so he can help fact-check and supply photos.  I said I would think about it.  I have to look for my email list - I hope I haven't lost it.  I did confirm Kerry as a friend on facebook, so I could probably get the list from her or Naomi.

I went up to the room and got my computer to get on the internet.  That was another hassle since it was hard to get to the desk to ask for the code.  I finally got it from the accounts man across from the desk after a lady got a pen from him.  I thought maybe she was getting the code.  At first he told me to get it from the desk, but when he saw the poor reception clerk swamped with people, he went over and found it himself and give it to me.  I got on and checked my email and wrote up today's events, or non-events, up to this point.  Time had flown as I tried to catch up on my blog.  I realized I needed to get ready to meet Naomi.  I shouldn't have worried about cameras and batteries since I didn't take a single photo.

Naomi and my collective memories of the location of the French restaurant with absinthe that Lou recommended was not perfect by any means.  We both remembered Avenida 4th.  I remembered it as being on a street parallel to the street our hotel was on.   Naomi could see the map and found the street - which ran perpendicular to our hotel street.  We walked past the washer women's place and down some other streets, came back to Avenida 4th which runs past the Cathedral.  We saw a Peruvian restaurant and Naomi asked the men in the doorway about a French restaurant.  They were so nice and helpful and said there was one on a corner a few blocks away from the Cathedral on a street parallel to ours (and not that far away).  I think both of us were tempted to stay at the Peruvian restaurant but not quite ready to give in.  We followed their directions and found the restaurant.

I had trouble understanding the wait staff when they spoke to me, but managed to order - with some assistance from Naomi who told me that they wanted to know what I wanted to drink.  I decided on the house red wine and Naomi got a glass of sparkling wine.  She had a filet mignon I think and I got a sesame-crusted tuna with Swiss chard.  Very nice!  The reason I had wanted to go to this restaurant was that they had absinthe and Lou wanted to try it.  They had choices - none of which were familiar to me so I asked for the waitress's recommendation.  Meanwhile the couple next to us started a conversation.  They were from around Cape Cod - although he sounded like Jimmy Stewart - and wanted to know all about our travels in Central America.  They were going on to Belize.  The didn't like Costa Rica because it was too hot and they got too sunburned.  They didn't like the cities.  He said that he had wild dreams when he had absinthe.  Then they talked about his dental work in Costa Rica and how he had 16 fillings in a day and US dentists send down to Costa Rica for all the dental prostheses.  They left before I finished my drink

The absinthe had quite the paraphernalia - there was a cocktail glass with a stem and shallow bowl, a columnar glass for the green absinthe liquid, a strainer, a sugar cube and a huge carafe-like glass container for the ice which dripped water on the sugar cube in the strainer into the absinthe (that had been poured from the columnar glass into the cocktail glass) at which point it began to turn lighter green - almost white - and cloudy.  It definitely had an anise taste.  The waiter said it was very strong --138 proof--but I didn't feel incapacitated.  Naomi may have a differing opinion.  We walked back to the hotel without incident with Naomi leading the way.  I did comment on the fact that the cobblestones and uneven sidewalk must have exercise value for Antiguans.  That may have been an indication of my status at the time.

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