A Few Observations

Trip Start Nov 05, 2007
Trip End Nov 29, 2007

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, November 26, 2007

             With all this talk about coffee, you may be wondering if I've been doing anything else! Indeed I have, and here I'll try to share a bit about some of the various aspects of Guatemalan history and culture that I've been learning.
Markets: If you've never seen a traditional market, imagine a typical Farmer's Market and multiply it by about 250. Add to the fruits and vegetables you would expect to see everything from empty tin cans (apparently for planting flowers) to shovel heads to goats, spread it over a good portion of the city, and you might just begin to get an idea of the market at San Francisco del Alto. 
The most notable goods for many foreigners at this market are the many live animals for sale on a flat stretch of land high above the rest of the town. I asked one woman how much she wanted for her hen.
             "Forty quetzals," she replied (about $5.33).
             "Okay, thank you."
             "Wait - for you, I'll give it to you for 35 quetzals," she implored.
             "But I can't buy a chicken! I don't know how to kill it."
             "Oh, just like this," she said, demonstrating with her finger where to cut the chicken's throat.              

               "I don't want to kill a chicken! Better to buy one already dead."
             "You can take it home with you," she insisted.
             "My roommate won't even let me have a dog - I can't imagine what he'd say to a chicken!"
          By this time the woman's husband had joined us, and I found the whole conversation so funny that I asked to take a picture of them.
             "Only if you buy the chicken," the woman countered. So much for that idea! 
              Here are a few other prices, just in case you should find yourself in need of some Guatemalan livestock. As I said, the hen cost 40Q, but roosters are a little more, at 65Q (about $8.67). Chicks are just 2 for 25Q (about $3.33). You can buy a big pig for 450Q (about $60) or a cow for between 1800Q and 2000Q, depending on its size ($240 - $267). Want a puppy? Get a purebred for 100Q ($13.33) or a mutt for just 5Q ($0.67)! Itching for something more exotic? A friendly green parrot can be yours for just 300Q ($40).
Chicken Busses: I've mentioned these before, but then I was only assuming they were called that because of the chickens that sometimes accompany the passengers. Now I know for sure it's true! Chickens aren't the only fowl; yesterday I sat next to a juvenile turkey on my way back from the market. I asked an indigenous woman in the bus how the cows traveled, and she told me that they, too, take the bus.         &a mp;n bsp;      

               "But how do they fit through the door?" I asked.
             "People carry them," she replied, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Now, before you get too incredulous, rest assured that the next woman I asked reminded me that many of the indigenous people speak only a minimal amount of Spanish, and that my informant had probably misunderstood me. No, the cows ride in the back of pickup trucks, not in the aisles of chicken busses.
Food: Many people are naturally interested in this very important topic. I'm happy to report that the food has been, for the most part, both tasty and free from the sorts of things you might find in, say, Thailand, where beetles and worms are both accepted parts of the diet. A typical meal consists of some sort of meat (usually chicken in my case - I've had to give up vegetarianism in Latin America), rice, beans, and lots of warm, fresh corn tortillas. My favorite meal is breakfast, which also tends to include fried plantains. That's in the restaurants, that is - at home, families eat much more simply. I was surprised to look in my host family's refrigerator and find it completely empty!
             Tortillas, it should be noted, come with everything. Locals, it seems, can't imagine a meal without them. Last night, for instance, I had a small meal of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and tortillas with a new friend (who shall be introduced in a couple of entries). The tortillas ran out first.
             "I'll order two more," she suggested.
             "That's okay; I can eat them plain," I insisted. "In the U.S., we don't eat with tortillas."
             "Really!? How do you eat, then?"
             As anyone who has traveled to the tropics has probably experienced, there are also a number of fruits unbeknownst to the majority of North Americans. One of the most prevalent here is a zacote, which someone described as being a bit like an avocado, only sweet. The skin is quite avocado-like, though the fruit itself is bigger, stringier, and oranger.
             Unfortunately, I've recently learned that pesticides and chemicals are quite prevalent in food here, as in the U.S.
Showers: I mention these here partly because I want to take one, but I can't seem to get the shower heater to work. Xela, being in the mountains, is quite cold in the mornings and at night. To make the showers hot, you flip on a switch, then turn on the water just a little, until you hear a sound (that's the water heater), often accompanied by a dimming of the lights. If you're fine with a trickle of water, you can get it quite hot. But if you prefer water pressure, you'll have to choose between the two. 
                Not everyone has hot water in their homes, but yesterday I learned about a lovely alternative. Xela is fed by a number of hot springs, and the people have taken advantage of this by building public baths throughout the area. For 2 quetzals (only 1 if you live in the community), you can soak yourself in naturally heated water for as long as you like. Be sure to bring your soap, loofah, and towel! Bathing suits aren't necessary, although if you don't like getting naked in front of the opposite sex, you may want to go in with your underwear on. Feel free to wash yourself 3, 4, even 5 times, which will make you look like a local. Don't worry about the little black seeds floating in the soapy water -- they've just come out of everyone else's loofahs.
Be sure to check out the captions by clicking on the photos to read about some other random observations!

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