Tarantulas and a fantastic Birthday!

Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
Trip End Jun 22, 2010

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Where I stayed
Carlos's House

Flag of Guatemala  ,
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We arrived back in Poptun, Carlos' hometown, glad to see that Carlos had recovered from his virus.   With just a day to prepare for his birthday everything got busy very quickly. Carlos’ grandmas and sisters were cooking up a storm… including a massive batch of delicious tamales, which are a made of polenta wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed. They also have bite-sized chunks of meat, olives and slices of pickled capsicum (peppers) inside…and a chilli (which is best removed before eating)!! They made fantastic table decorations that had a guitar cut out in the center surrounded by fruit skewers. We helped Carlos’ mum Lorena and sister Eva stir the cake mixture for the Birthday cake (see photo).

 The party was held at Carlos’ place, which is a really cute 2-story house that Carlos is extending and renovating (we stayed in the top floor bedroom). The house is brick on the ground floor and dark wooden paneling on the top storey. I helped Carlos choose some paint colours, we went with white for the ground floor walls (outside) and dark brown for the upstairs wood paneling. The window awnings which are made out of corrugated galvanized steel and wood frames were a deep red/brown colour. I think it will look really nice when it’s all painted.

We helped to set up several marquees, tables and chairs. It was really nice that everyone got together to help with the party. We met lots of Carlo’s relatives, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, brothers and sisters.

We learnt a new kind of bbq style, very very different from what we do in Australia. It begins with the construction of an underground oven (see photo) about 7ft long by 2 ft wide and 6ft deep. Dry wood (pine) is stacked in a special way and then piled with rocks on top. The resin in the pine smells awesome when it burns too. Carlos showed us how the resin makes red stripes through the fresh cut pine.  Once the underground bbq is lit the wood turns to charcoal and the rocks start to fall into the oven. Some even cracked and exploded, making a loud noise to keep everyone on their toes! We noticed that some of the guys had built a lean-to style shelter at the back of the yard and a massive pot of water was boiling on an open fire….(hmmm what could this be for??) A further clue to the next step of the bbq preparation was an equally massive pig that was tied up to a tree munching on the grass. …(you know what’s next right??) Yes this is the bit that is very different from our Aussie Bbq. Luckily I was inside when the pig made a fairly hasty exit to heaven. With my fingers jammed into my ears to dull the squealing and gurgling squealing sound…I was somewhat witness to how pig becomes pork. So after the worst bit was over I was quite interested to see what goes on next. The guys firstly bled it from the neck and collected the blood in a big pot. They then shaved the pig with a big sharp machete, washing off the hair with the hot water. This transformed the black, dirty and dusty pig into a clean pink/white pig and perfect for making "Chicharone" or as I know it pork crackling. The rest of the butchering included cutting the head off, removing the internal organs and intestines etc. I didn’t watch this process too closely. The chicarone is made by boiling it in salty water until the water evaporates and it crisps-up.

The smaller pieces of pork were marinated in a red sauce made of tomatoes, salsa verde (Worcestershire sauce), soy sauce and more. Then wrapped and tied up in banana leaves. The oven had been heating for quite a few hours and now it was ready for the parcels of pork. A sheet of corrugated iron was placed under and over the parcels and then it was closed up by shoveling sand on top. It was left to cook  (overnight) for about 12 hours.

That evening we were able to see the Easter procession on the central street. Two big floats were carried by several guys and the street was decorated with many patterns using coloured sawdust and water. Following the floats was a ute with a big stereo that played traditional music. I think the photos can explain this better.

The following day guests began to arrive around midday and the oven was opened. Just before though, I noticed a crab walking slowly next to the oven and a pile of wood. On closer inspection I noticed that it was a tarantula!!!! Arrrrgh woah…not a crab. We also saw one in the bathroom later that night…aaargh. They are actually quite interesting to look at (see photo)…but I wouldn’t want it to walk over my face when I’m asleep in bed.

Carlos’ 40th birthday party was really good, we even got to see our 1st Marimba band which is a giant xylophone played by 6 guys who use two sticks in each hand to play. There was also a bass and drum player. It sounded great! Matt suffered some “cuisine retaliation” as earlier he had inflicted the pain of Vegemite onto some of Carlos’ relatives. Guess what they had for Matt to try??? Pig intestines….lol. (see photo of Matt enjoying this delight.) We did some dancing and enjoyed eating the delicious bbq pork with fresh tortias and potato salad. The tamale parcels were delicious too. We practiced our “Spanglish” and found that some guys spoke really good English too. We are learning a few more Spanish words, which helps a lot…but I wish I knew more. We drank Brahava beer and tried Ron Zacapa white rum. Just after the main bbq meal was finished it began to rain. The sky turned purple and it really poured down. The marquee roof filled with water and gushed over the edge. Most of the guests rushed into the house until no more guys could fit in. It was kind of exciting and funny that the weather changed so quickly. I guess that’s what it is like living in the tropics.

The following day we helped to tidy up the back yard. The underground oven was still smoking a little. In the afternoon we went to Carlos’ sisters place for Cerviche, which is a prawn dish with coriander, chilli, onion, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. It’s eaten with a dry cracker and is a favorite of mine.

Carlos helped us to pick out the best places to visit next…the Peten Cito (Zoo), Tikal (Ancient Mayan ruins), Yuxa and Uaxatun. So we headed out by micro bus back to Flores to start our new journey.
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