Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Zarahemla: Where was it and does it matter?

Zarahemla is a city of Ancient America, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, a companion book to the Bible. Zarahemla could have been located in Central America, possibly in an area of the United States-- scholars differ on location. Some people believe it is in Guatemala, perhaps the Tikal area.

The people of Zarahemla originally came from Jerusalem right before the Babylonian invasion. They were led to a promised land by the prophet Lehi. Once in the Americas, they spread and grew, creating cities, industry, education and of course governments and nations. The various groups often fought against one another, with wars becoming a defining point in the eventual end of their civilization.

The message of Zarahemla, and of the Book of Mormon, is that living the commandments of God brings peace and happiness, while disobeying God brings sin and unhappiness. It is the message that matters more than the exact geographic location of the areas talked about.

The Book of Mormon stands as another witness of Jesus Christ, as He visited the people in the American continent after His resurrection. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10: 16)
While my husband and I are living in this area where so many archeological digs have unearthed ancient structures, we appreciate the added insight that comes from the Book of Mormon about these "other sheep." They worshiped God, built temples, kept sacred records, raised families and strengthened their communities through education, religion and industry. 
Visiting the ancient sites helps to bring their stories alive. There's a small one in the Lake Atitlan region. The largest site in Guatemala is in Tikal, the site of numerous cities that have been discovered.

 I discovered the Book of Mormon when I was twenty, and it changed my life. Whether you read it for spiritual guidance and inspiration, or simply to learn about the journey of people from Jerusalem to the Americas, it is well worth the time spent. Zarahemla is just one of the great cities you will learn about in the Book of Mormon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Yogurt

I left a lot of my prized possessions when we moved to Guatemala. Didn't even store them, just sold or gave away. But one thing I saved and brought with me was my yogurt maker and strainer. And am I glad I did, because the Greek yogurt I love isn't available and any other kind is outrageously expensive.

The milk I use is boxed. At first the yogurt wasn't turning out. It didn't get thick and there was too much whey left when I strained it. I finally discovered the problem was the milk. I wasn't checking the label and had bought milk mixed with other ingredients-- sugar, water, vegetable oil, etc. As soon as I corrected the problem and bought only leche entero, or "entirely milk and nothing else" the problem was solved.

It had never occurred to me that what was labeled as milk might have other ingredients added to stretch the product!

Here you see my treasured yogurt maker, along with the 2 boxes of milk I add, along with a tablespoon of yogurt. It stays overnight at the ideal temperature and in the morning is ready to strain. It is so good blended with fresh papaya and mango!

(For more details on making homemade Greek yogurt, see my website.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: X-pats and Xela

Central America is becoming populated with X-pats, or expatriates-- people who maintain their citizenship in their home countries while living permanently elsewhere. Many do it for lifestyle, health or financial reasons, since the lifestyle is simpler and more laid back than the US. And financially, if you have an income, like Social Security or disability or an Internet business, your money goes much further in Central America than it does in the States.

One of my favorite expats in Pana is Paul, originally from the U.S., who came here about a year ago for health reasons. He is very friendly and outgoing, and made my husband and I feel immediately welcome when we met him. We stayed at his place for our first month here, house sitting while he returned to the US for a visit.

Another interesting expat is Tom, a young man from the UK who makes and sells jewelry on Calle Santander every weekend. He stays occasionally at the hotel and helps out there. Tom has dreadlocks down to his waist, a soft cultured accent, a wealth of experience and intelligence, and a mom back in Wales who worries about him getting enough to eat. Tom enjoys the laid-back style of Pana and the other villages around Lake Atitlan, and it's a place where he can earn a living doing the creative work he enjoys.

My other X word is Xela, pronounced "shay-la", official name Quetzaltenango-- a city about 2 hours away from Panajachel. My family is unloading on arrival from our transportation, called a "chicken bus."
If you want to know why it's called a chicken bus, just check out a few of the items below that were also on the bus. Pay special attention to what's in the lady's pink bag.

Xela is a big city with a really nice shopping mall and a beautiful LDS temple. We walked and walked and walked, enjoying our time seeing the sights in this lovely city.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Women

I am fascinated by the Mayan women. Like women everywhere, they are undoubtedly the glue holding together families. They are distinguished by their brightly colored skirts and blouses, which are, in this day and age, surprisingly modest. The blouses all have sleeves, no cleavage, and the skirts hit below the knees or to the ankles. More about their traditional clothing can be found here.

You see them everywhere with their children, who often sit quietly nearby, or help with the work of the day. These are the most well-behaved youngsters I've ever seen. Even the babies are quiet and rarely cry or fuss, making me wonder if perhaps there's a root or herb all the women know about to give the little ones to pacify them?

The mercado is a central location in town, where the women go to work and to shop and to visit with one another. Pretty much anything available for purchase can be bought at the mercado. My favorite find so far was a 9" x 12" Pyrex baking pan.

The common way to carry a heavy or bulky load is on top of the head.

Meet Mercedes. She has her own fruit stand, and takes care of it herself Monday through Fridays. Although there are many fruit stands just like this one in town, hers is my favorite. When I order mango, she does not include the seed like everyone else does-- it's all the fruit. She is always wiping down her stand to keep it clean, and has the fruit behind a glass rather than out in the open. She asks if you want a bag or a fork. 
I really appreciate how much care Mercedes takes with her little business. To me, she represents the best of the best of Mayan women.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Vegetables

Vegetables are just about my favorite foods. I like getting them fresh and experimenting with new ways of preparation. Today I'll share a few recipes I developed using vegetables from the local market.

Cucumber Salad

Peel and slice cucumbers, place in a bowl and salt. Blend together Greek yogurt and dill pickle juice to taste. Add additional dill seasoning if you like. Stir into the cucumbers and serve. Sprinkle chopped cilantro or dill on top.

Vegetable Soup

Make stock with chicken or beef, using the bones and meat: I add celery leaves, garlic cloves, onion, a carrot or two and one jalapeno pepper. Cover with water, add salt and simmer all day, adding more water as needed.

Cool down and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, skim off fat, remove meat and vegetables and you have the stock.

Peel and chop vegetables as desired: Carrots, onions, a mild pepper- green or red, celery, potatoes. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Salt as needed.

Sauteed Celery

Wash and chop celery in medium chunks, like you'd see in a Chinese stir fry dish. Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan. Add chopped garlic, 2 or 3 cloves, or garlic powder. Add celery and stir.  Add a few splashes of soy sauce. Stir fry until celery is tender. Serve with rice.

Roast Vegetables

Cut up potatoes, carrots, red and green peppers, and onions. Peel a few garlic cloves. Toss them all in a baking pan with 1/4 cup oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Bake at high heat, about 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and carrots are tender.

Below are leftover roast vegetables sauteed with leftover cooked rice, to make a brand new dinner. Another use for leftover vegetables is to chop fine and add to an omelet.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Unlike any other

My husband and I have been married 45 years, lived in many locations in the United States, from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast, had a large family and worked in a variety of professions. But this experience of moving lock, stock and barrel to Panajachel, Guatemala, is unlike any other.

You've probably gotten that idea by now if you've been following my A to Z posts.

Our problems may be different than what we had in the States, but there are still obstacles to overcome and challenges to face. And there's a learning curve, which isn't always easy when you're our age and used to knowing everything haha.

But that's all part of the adventure! I have enjoyed sharing it with you this month. Thank you for going along on our Guatemalan journey with me. It has been a journey unlike any other I've taken so far in my life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Tuk Tuk

The tuk tuk is a "taxi" or basically a tiny car, or maybe a metal structure that holds a driver and a couple passengers set around a motorcycle motor? However it's built, it gets you around for Q5-- or about 65 cents per person, when you've got too far to walk.

My husband and I sold our cars when we moved to Guatemala. We walk everywhere now and love the freedom and improved health it provides. But when we purchase a few too many supplies at the Dispensa, it is nice to flag down one of the tuk tuk's for a quick ride home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Spiders, Squirrels, and Sand Flies

At this moment there's a squirrel busy on our roof, banging about and looking for a way to get in. He shows up every morning. We can hear him pattering about. One time he did get in, until our property manager climbed the roof and closed the entryway.

Spiders are all around, occasionally finding their way in and building webs in the high corners. I don't like killing spiders. When I find one, I like to put him back outside.

The worst of the insect life in my opinion are the sand flies. They are so small you hardly see them, like gnats, and you don't know you've been bitten until later when the area begins to itch. And itch. And itch. And swell.

One time I was in our garden at dusk and got bitten really bad, (dusk and dawn are when the sand flies are out feeding) but I didn't realize how much until the next day when both my feet swelled up and itched so intensely I wanted to cut them off. Calamine lotion, campho phenic, anti-itch cream, lavendar essential oil-- none of it helped. I was up all night in misery.

The next day I called my daughter who gave me a remedy that worked like magic. Put ice packs on the affected areas until the skin goes numb. Then dry and apply cortisone cream. Take Benadryl or some other antihistime. The ice, the cortisone cream and the antihistime pills together knocked it. I had 3 or 4 hours peace until they started itching again, at which time I did another treatment. It only took 3 treatments that day and the next day I was feeling human again.

So you see, despite all my lovely photos and happy experiences, it isn't quite the Garden of Eden it may appear to be. And I haven't even told you about the termites.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Religion

There are many churches in Guatemala, with the Catholic Church being the largest and the oldest, of course. Catholicism goes way back to when the Spaniards came to the New World.

At Easter time, the week leading up to it is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week. It's a festival week with vacationing, partying, family gatherings, and religious celebrations, culminating with Easter Sunday.

Regardless of one's personal religious affiliation, appreciating the Catholic churches with their schools, culture, statuary, courtyards is part of learning the history of the land.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Quetzal

The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, so colorful and beautiful! They are found in forests and woodlands, especially in humid highlands. I've not yet seen one, but then I haven't been looking either. But aren't they beautiful??
The quetzal bird is so important to the country, they also named their national currency after it. One quetzal is worth 100 centavos. In American dollars, the ratio is about 7.50 to one, or one American dollar gets you 7 - 8 quetzales.

Bottom line, our dollars go pretty far if we are careful, and Americans can live fairly well in Guatemala for a whole lot less. I'm still not over the thrill of taking $350 out of the ATM for my U.S. bank account and seeing it come out in well over Q2000.

So even though the Quetzal bird is pretty, I'm more excited about the Quetzales I carry around in my bag for shopping. Call me shallow but after years of living frugally and trying to make ends meet in the States, it's rather nice to have a little extra cash in Guatemala.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Panajachel

Panajachel, called Pana for short, is about 90 miles, or a three hour drive from Guatemala City. It is one of several towns on Guatemala's fabulous Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala's high country at an elevation of over 5000 ft. Population is about 15,000 and growing. The weather is gorgeous, never too hot or too cold, because of the elevation and the lake.

 People like to take off at the harbor and do a boat tour of Lake Atitlan, visiting other villages along the shore.
On the hills around Pana, you can see how the farmers grow their crops in terraced fields.

Pana is where we are now living, with no plans to move any time soon, God willing. Our family's hotel Casa Colonial is right off the main street, called Calle Santander, where tourists wander up and down to shop at the stalls selling traditional Guatemalan items and to eat at the local restaurants.

Casa Colonial Hotel, now open for guests. Come and enjoy Pana!

My husband taking a break from all the walking we do up and down the streets of Pana.

Not all streets of Pana are as busy as Calle Santander. Behind these walls are quiet gardens, homes and apartment dwellings. There's always somewhere interesting to walk along the cobblestone streets. I've walked all over and always felt safe.

It is especially nice to see a branch of our church just down the street from the hotel. It makes us feel right at home each Sunday when we attend services.

Panajachel is a wonderful place to visit, and to live!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Life in Guatemala A to Z: Organizing a New Routine in a Foreign Land

At first the idea of organizing our routine didn't seem so hard. It was pretty much like moving anywhere new, something we'd done quite a few times before. You find housing, you explore your neighborhood, you set up your work routine based on the job requirements. You get a few things for functioning in everyday life.

Setting up the household has been the most difficult, because Panajachel is a tourist/ resort area without shopping centers or large, familiar stores (WalMart, PriceMart, malls) like there are in Guatemala City.

When I wanted towels, I found a few overpriced, thin ones at the Dispensa. The Dispensa is actually owned and operated by WalMart, only a whole lot smaller. Not that I'm in love with WalMart-- give me Costco or Target any day-- but I'd have sure taken to a Super WalMart if I saw one in Panajachel.

You just don't run out and get things, like sheet sets or cutting boards or a shower curtain. You do without or you find a substitute until you can get to Guatemala City (3 hours away.) Or to Xela, which is closer but did I mention we don't have a car? So figure in the price of the transportation-- a taxi, or a private shuttle, or you can always take the chicken bus, or catch a ride on the next pick-up truck.

So far transportation has stopped me from venturing beyond Pana for shopping. I keep my routine pretty basic and centrally located within walking distance.And a lot of what I need is found in the corner tienda. The one shown is actually the size of two, or even three, tiendas. Most of them aren't this big.

So I get up and ready for the day, spend time at work writing and/or editing, plan the meals and walk to the market, study Spanish, back to writing and/or editing with too-frequent breaks for social media.

We enjoy family time in the evenings when we can.

If it's just my husband and me, we watch something on Netflix then go to bed.

So far we like it!