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  • Day132

    San Pedro, Guatemala (Part 2)

    February 26, 2017 in Guatemala ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Looking back.

    I wrote the first part of San Pedro midway through the week, but I needed to add more photos and I had a bit more to say so here's the follow up:


    The first shock to me about coffee was that kids drink it. Six year olds. Regularly. I'll admit it's heavily watered down but seriously? I suppose it's nice to drink something other than water every now and again - a dietary choice we take for granted.

    For those of you like me who look no further than that aromatic brown bean as the source of their hot and steamy morning Joe, read on. That coffee you're drinking, or that one you had this morning - that comes from the seed of a fruit no larger than a modestly sized grape. Come to think of it, I don't know why they're called beans, instead of the seeds that they are. And if you're reading from NZ or AUS, chances are it has come an awfully long way as coffee is usually only grown in equatorial climates. That seed comes from the fruit on a tree rarely bigger than you or me. The berries are deseeded en masse, before undergoing drying and washing (read: machined/chemical peeling) three times over. The beans don't go brown or aromatic until you roast them. In fact prior to roasting, coffee beans are white and less flavourless than a watermelon seed. The final process is the grind, which I'm sure you are all familiar.

    In San Pedro, most of the coffee harvested is consumed locally or rarely leaves the family. Hardly surprising when a 20kg bag of fruit can be sold for a lousy $40NZD. Machined peeling is not an option locally so the beans aren't washed - an action they are proud of, claiming the coffee is more organic and better for your health. Fair enough.

    Lucky for us, that plant has spread across the world from africa. Otherwise we'd be still be drinking Earl Grey at every break.


    Farming in San Pedro is another family affair. A farm is passed through generations, divided equally amoungst siblings, so the farms are beginning to get pretty small. We saw some no bigger than your average backyard! The siblings all farm that land and the harvest is kept to feed the family almost exclusively. The main crop is corn, a fundamental ingredient in tortillas (the side for every meal). Coffee forests too are vast at slightly lower altitudes, with the extent of the plots marked only by a palm tree at each corner. Finally and much to my delight, avocado trees tower intermittently between these, bursting with fruit. Well at least those which haven't been genetically modified to stud their growth. Mayans aren't tall people. But they are strong. All of them carry their crop out in sacks (bigger than themselves), slung over their foreheads with a length of old yarn. Right Mike?

    This proves my theory that ripe avocados are not a mytholgical creature. They exist in great quantities for as little as 10c NZD each. This week's avo count is at an all time record.


    Cooking with wood is both easy and economical if you have the right set up. Most houses have a gas stove and a woodfire. The woodfire heats a hotplate for most of the day, primarily for stewing the corn tortilla mix, then frying the tortillas. Needless to say the kitchen is the hottest and only heated room in the house. Lola spent most of her day in the kitchen, sourcing and preparing loads of delicious local food. Impressively tasty meals considering the relative quantity of bland foods such as bread, tortillas and potatoes. Cat and I seemed to be the only ones who truly appreciated her cooking, with Magda being a fussy six year old and Jack not showing for meals or bolting midway through the last mouthful. I hope she doesn't feel the same!


    It's Earths most valuable resource. In San Pedro, most houses have running water but it is piped and residents pay for this convenience dearly with what little money they have. To drink, it must be filtered in the house, even for the locals. And for those who can't afford it, they cluster in their dozens on the lake side, washing themselves and their clothes in the shallows. Hot water, is an absolute luxury, one which we were fortunate enough to have in the guest shower, Mike and Char not so much. I didn't see another hot tap all week.


    I don't know how they do it. Between midnight bed times, 5am starts and a town which sounds more alive at night than it does in the day - where do yhey find rest?! Cat and I were awoken on numerous occasions per night by cat fights, cats falling onto our roof, roosters, dogs barking, the tortilla machine (starts at 4am), church bells (predawn), Magda and traffic - to name just a few. Luckily we saw humour in the ridiculousness of most of these, but we'll be looking forward to a quiet night's sleep, that's for sure.


    San Pedro has 26 churches for a population of 14,000. I'm no town planner but that ratio seems through the roof! Religion, predominantly catholic, is visible everywhere. In murals on the street, to bumper stickers, windscreen stickers, graffiti art, tattoos, song, dance and the ringing of bells which can be heard continuously throughout the day and night. Even the rearview mirror of the van we're in right now says 'Jesus'. I can't say I investigated further but it definitely stood out to all of us.

    On our final Saturday (after watching Scotland put Wales away in the Six Nations!) we managed to sneak across to Santiago Atitlán for an afternoon. Our host family recommended it but I wouldn't. The location is famous for it's markets and 16th century Church, neither of which I'm yet to find huge appeal in. The touristy hustle was aggresively present, and the food no better or different to what we were eating in San Pedro. Nice to keep that explorative attitude alive but I prefer the friendly locals in San Pedro. That and the ferry cost and arm and a leg!

    Spanish in San Pedro has been one of my favourite weeks on tour so far. A huge thanks to all the locals who made it so fun - Javier, Lola, Magda, Jose, Graciella, Chema, Conchita, Felix and Tina! Unfortunately, we all know a week is not nearly long enough to learn spanish. We have seriously considered pulling the pin on the rest of the trip and staying here until we speak the mother-tongue. Three months they say. Too bad. I only hope we will continue to learn and speak more and more often. Perhaps we will find another week elsewhere.
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