Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blue bread, fried fruits, and a side of cream: Foods of Guatemala and Honduras!

On our first night in Guatemala, we found a lady with a table on the street covered in pies. Jackpot! Andy got strawberry...
...and I got pineapple. I usually hate strawberry pie stuff, but I have to say that his was better. There is something weird about pineapple in pies. Also, I hate meringue, which was on top of the pies. Still, fun for a little more than $1 a slice.
A nearby vendor was selling fried bananas stuffed with some sort of sweet goo we could not identify. I thought maybe chocolate, but we were never able to really figure it out. It lives in Andy's tummy now.
The next morning, we visited a bakery that had fun-looking pastries. Unfortunately, they were dry, disgusting, and overly expensive.

This muffin was filled with strawberry jam, which made it the more edible of our two choices.
Here is Andy drinking some mosh, which is hot sweet milk with oats in it, very popular for breakfast (and tasty). Not necessarily a breakfast food, but enjoyed by Andy at breakfast as well was this suchita, a cornmeal dumpling stuffed with chicken that is like a tamale.
Speaking of chickens, here are some in the back of a pickup truck outside the marketplace. Ready to sell!
One of the most fun street snacks in Guatemala is the chocobanana, a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and sold for less than 50 cents. Why don't we have these in America?
On the day of our six-month wedding anniversary, we took a boat over to San Pedro to check out this other lakeside town. Wandering around, we just so happened to stumble upon a restaurant that has "Smokin Joe" from the southern United States come cook real smoked barbecue every Sunday at noon. It was Sunday at 12:15. We went in, he had two smokers going and bevy of delicious side dishes! For about $6, we got a half rack of ribs, potato salad, buttered corn, green beans, and garlic bread, and it was actually really good!! Happy anniversary to us!

That night, back in Panajachel, we got some hot chocolate on the street. Very nice, as it gets cold at night in the mountains of Guatemala. Also, it had rice in it, which was fun.
From the same street stand, a tostada, which is a crispy corn tortilla, here covered with guacamole, beans, tomato sauce, onions, and cheese.

From the stand down the street, we got some tacos. Check out the huge round taco-cooking aparatus, with different sections for the meat, onions, tortillas, and sauce/grease. The finished product: Messy but tasty.
This coconut jam actually came from Nicaragua, but we busted it open in Guatemala to eat on fresh corn tortillas from the local tortilleria. A tortilleria is a small shop that consists of a griddle and some ladies making about a zillion tortillas a minute on them and selling them really cheap.
Antigua's market brought us into contact with all sorts of new goodies, such as these giant blackberries. Biggest we had ever seen!
Also, blue corn tortillas! When's the last time you ate bread that was naturally this color?
Check out Andy's leisurely pose as he munches on some delicious spicy peanuts from the market. Don't work too hard now, honey.
Here I am on the square in Antigua with booty from my favorite bakery in Guatemala, Dona Luisa Xicotencatl. Amazing banana bread and homemade apple yogurt, among the best yogurts I had on our whole trip. Yum!!
A large coconut candy Andy found in the handicrafts market. Leave it to Andy to find sweets when we were supposed to be shopping for souvenirs...
Some little chicken-filled fried tacos from the market in Antigua. Made healthy by the fresh salad on top, of course.
Ooh, this was bad. It looked good, like a pile of glazed cherries or something, but it turned out to be some kind of gummy crabapples.
Even cheaper than the chocobanana: The chocopapaya! Not quite as good, though.
On to Honduras! We only spent one night there, but we found a great cheap restaurant in Copan called Comedor Mary. Andy got the "plato tipico," which included beef, beans, plantain, grilled veggies, and a little cup of cream. (Honduras and El Salvador are big on cream, for some reason.)
I ordered pupusas, which you can see mostly decimated in the upper righthand corner of the next pic. Pupusas are popular in Honduras as well as El Salvador (kinda like cream!). I got one filled with beans, one with beans and cheese, and one with chayote and cheese. Chayote is a squash kinda like zucchini, and that pupusa was especially amazing.

The pickled cabbage that came with the Honduran pupusas was a lovely purple color thanks to the beets it also contained. And it had chunks of carrot...turns out I love pickled carrot! High marks to this meal from me.
On the bus from Honduras up to Flores, our last stop in Guatemala, Andy bought a bag of fried fruit things. There were fried flattened bananas and there were these pineapple-filled doughy things. Way to turn fresh fruit into an unhealthy snack, Guatemala! (Tasty, though.)
Less tasty was this ice cream from the local parlor in Honduras. Bad fakey taste, crumbly texture, and not so cheap. Meh.
Andy found these tasty juice drinks in Flores: Mango-guava and strawberry-banana. At 20% real juice, these may have been the most natural drinks available in all of Central America.
And I finally tried the national brand of yogurt, Gaymont. I liked that the fruit-on-the-bottom cups were clear so you could see what you were getting, and that they came with a handy little spoon (well, I was torn on that, actually--liked the convenience, disliked the extra plastic waste). I did not like the taste, unfortunately...this was no Dona Luisa yogurt!
And that's what we ate in Guatemala and Honduras! Guatemala definitely had the best and cheapest tortillas we had had so far, probably because we were getting really close to Mexico. And oh man, that banana bread...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Almost home!

I know, we have fallen off the face of the earth a bit. Our excuse is that internet in Belize is insanely expensive and not so easy to find, so we haven't been able to blog from here at all. But rest assured, your Foods of Guatemala and all Belize posts will be up soon after we get back to the states...


Yup, we fly Belize City to Dallas tomorrow, spend the night in Dallas (looking like the airport floor at this point, silly expensive hotels), where we will hopefully also find some good BBQ...then on to Indy the next morning, just in time for a birthday Steak & Shake brunch. Not a bad way to start my 30s, I am hoping!

So, hope everyone is having a great holiday season, and hoping to see and talk to many of you soon. A lot of people have asked, so I will say that we think we'll be back in NY around December 28 or so, and should be there for at least a couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Trip: Ruined

Okay, a deceptive title, but this post will focus on some Mayan ruins. We visited Copan in western Honduras and Tikal in northern Guatemala. In addition, you can read about our visit to Joya de Ceren in El Salvador in that post. Because Copan is in Honduras, and everyone is afraid of Honduras, we saw about 10 people there. Tikal was rather crowded, but still bearable. Tikal also had good birds and animals in the area.

The Mayans had one of the earliest systems of writing in the world. It was fairly complex, and much of it is still being deciphered. Here is a good example of some writing that commemorated a ceremony of some type. Apparently, they just figured out about a decade ago by comparing these types of markers from different cities that some of the symbols were the name of the city. The name of Copan (from where this one comes) is symbolized by a stylized bat because they have a lot of caves around with bats.
This statues represents the first recorded ruler of Copan, whose name was something like Blue Quetzal Macaw. Not a lot is known about early leaders because it was custom for a long time to destroy everything that had been written about the previous ruler when a new one came to power. Then, some guy needed to claim this ruler as an ancestor to give himself some legitimacy and all the sudden the first ruler was everywhere...
Copan is famous for these giant statues called stellae (singular: stella, no idea why they use a Latin word for a Mayan statue in a Spanish country). They all have leaders in the pose of gods and generally commemorated important events. They almost inevitably have a big round table in front of them where common people are expected to leave presents for the ruling class. Often, the ruling class would sit on high structures and watch who was leaving stuff for them.
Here is another stella. These come from about 600 AD. This area developed what is known as the cult of the stellae. Sounds like a geeky scientist cult, but it was really around the quasi-worship of the quasi-gods depicted in these statues. While stellae exist in other parts of the Mayan world, they aren't very fancy and were often just painted.
Tara took this beautiful picture looking out through one of the temples in Copan. Copan is set among the hills and small mountains. All the temples in Copan are built on top of old ones. Every couple hundred years, a new ruler would order bigger, better pyramids and temples built. Apparently, they shared this with the Incas.
If you look closely, you'll see that's me in the middle of what is known as a false arch. The Mayans weren't quite as good as Greek real arches, but they have held up well over time.
On to Tikal, an even bigger Mayan city. Almost 3 million Mayans lived in the area at the peak of the Mayan empire in about 1200AD. The site is huge, but they have only excavated parts, and even keeping those from being reclaimed by the jungle is challenging. There are 7 major temples in the shape of the Big Dipper. This is one of them. You can see how much moss is growing on the sides, slowing breaking down the pyramid.
A gray-throated woodrail along the edge of a lake at Tikal. Why is it called a woodrail? No idea. But I understand the gray throated part.
Our guide was terrible, but he did grab a tarantula and carry it around for a few minuted. We were cheering for it to bite him. Afterall, he told us all about how it was painful but not lethal. And then we probably would have had a better tour guide replace him.
This is another of the temples. Layers of pyramids with a building on the top. The priests and rulers would go up to the top and look down menacingly at the people. I don't think they sacrificed people in this one, but they definitely did in some of them.
A view looking out from the top of one of the temples. You can see a couple other temples. It also gives a sense of how hard the jungle tries to take over the ruins. In the day of the Mayas, there were no trees anywhere. Not only because it was a city, but because there was massive deforestation for firewood.
Tara in front of one of the temples. I know, they all start to look alike, but this one also has Tara! The stairs going up them are very steep. We climbed a couple of them and were certainly tired by the end of the day.
Last one. This one has both of us with some ruins in the background. A tour guide was demonstrating from the ruins in the background that the acoustics were so good that he could speak in a normal voice and anyone on the square could hear him. They should build more public squares like that today.

Last, but certainly not least, is a picture of the wild turkey that is everywhere in Tikal. It not only has colorful feathers, but a blue neck and head with orange spots. From now on, I only plan to eat this type of turkey for Thanksgiving. I think it will make me prettier.

That's the story of the Mayan ruins. Overall, the Mayans were very skilled. They did a lot of weird stuff, like binding the heads of the ruling class to make them all pointy, and sacrificing a lot of people, but they also invented zero, understood a ton of astronomy, and apparently predicted that the world will end on Tara's birthday, 2012 (actually, their calendar just runs out then--they never predicted the end of the world).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lakes, lava, and a touch of mob violence...Guatemala! (Part 1)

(More about the mob violence in a minute.)

Our bellies still full of pupusas and Mister Donuts from El Salvador, we arrived in Guatemala on December 5 via international bus. We had to change in Guatemala City to get to Panajachel, our ultimate destination on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Western Guatemala.

Guatemala City is divided into numbered "zones," and even though we were just one zone number away from the bus to Pana (as it is called), it was impossible to figure out how far away it was or how to get there, so we had to pay a taxi a slightly usurious price to take us there. We then squashed onto a school bus for the three-hour ride west.

But finally, we arrived. The highlands were refreshingly chilly after weeks of Caribbean heat, and the clothes that the local people (descendents of the Maya) wore were very fun. The women (almost all of whom still dress traditionally) have these beautiful embroidered shirts and patterned wrap skirts, and the men who dress traditionally (fewer than the women) wear colorful shirts, big hats, and three-quarter-length pants.

On our first night in town, we did little other than wander around and eat some dinner. But the next day (which happened to be our 6-month wedding anniversary), we took a boat out on Lake Aitlan to the village across the lake, San Pedro. The boat charges tourists 3 times the price it charges locals, and this is just accepted by everyone--it annoyed us some, but the views of the two nearby volcanoes were pretty excellent.

Here's a shot I took from the shore, including my favorite flowers, azaleas: And here you can see both volcanoes in one shot.
Looks pretty peaceful, right?Well, when we arrived back in town that afternoon and were wandering around the souvenir stalls, we saw some locals suddenly running down the street toward the lake, and then suddenly it seemed like every vendor was racing to pack up his wares and close up shop. Our first thought was "Oh, CRAP, a volcano must be errupting." But we asked people what was going on and finally were made to understand that there was a problem with some thieves in the marketplace, which was in the other direction from the lake, back near our hotel.

"Why is everyone down here freaking out about a couple of theives on the other side of town?" we wondered. Well, soon enough, we had the full story. The problem wasn't exactly the thieves--it was the fact that an angry mob from the marketplace, incensed that the police would do nothing to stop the thieves, was rioting, overturning police cars, and attempting to set the thieves on fire in the square.

"Oh," we said, as black smoke began to rise from the direction of our hotel.

So we did what other tourists seemed to be doing, and slunk down toward the relative safety of the lake to wait out the situation. About an hour later, with me still rather rattled, we were able to get back to our hotel, where we holed up for a while (Andy offered to play cards with me to calm me down and I beat the pants off him at euchre). We heard some helicopters overhead, but otherwise things seemed to have calmed down. At night things were very calm, some restaurants were open, and we were able to get dinner. We left town on an early bus the next day (yes, the buses were running), and on our way out of town, passed several truckloads of national guard troops rolling in in their SUVs.

We read the news that day and learned that a thief had been killed. And that was our introduction to Guatemalan mob justice (happy anniversary!), which apparently has been a growing trend lately--there had been a similar incident in the next town over the week before, with two people killed. Probably none of you read this in the American news, but it did merit an AP article the day after the Panajachel (or "our") incident.

We were never personally in any danger, and that the only signs of the violence we witnessed in person were people running down the street and smoke in the distance. Also I will point out that all of the people we talked to who lived in the area were squarely on the side of the rioters--apparently, the police are completely corrupt and do nothing about crime, forcing people to take the law into their own hands. Most people seemed to be of the "I don't like violence, BUT...this situation is out of control" mindset.

I will also add that it seemed extremely ironic to us that we basically skipped visiting Honduras because we were concerned about possible civic unrest there, and then this happened on our second day in a very touristy town in Guatemala!

Anyway, our next stop was Antigua, a very peaceful colonial city (so don't worry, moms!) and definitely the tourist capital of Guatemala. Apparently Andy didn't upload any pictures of the city, but it had pastel buildings and big churches and overpriced tourist restaurants and all that. (Honestly, after Cartagena, Granada, Leon, and now Antigua, we're getting a little cute-colonial-citied out.)

The coolest thing about Antigua (and we've agreed, Guatemala as a whole) was the trip we took to the nearby Pacaya Volcano, where we were told we would have a chance at seeing flowing lava.

Well, even if we hadn't, the views we had of other volcanoes, poking out high abover the clouds, while climbing Pacaya around sunset were spectacular.

The lower reaches of the volcano had a lot of crumbly black volcanic rocks that got in our socks and were generally unpleasant to hike on, but as we got closer to the top, we started to see more freshly formed rock. You can see some of the patterns here that you get when lava dries.

Then, suddenly, fire in the hole! All around us, we could see 2000-degree molten lava glowing just feet away through cracks in the not-so-old dried lava rock. We also noticed that it was getting kind of hot around us...

...and then we went over a rise, and there it was! Rivers of flowing lava! (Is that pure excitement or sheer terror on my face?)

Yeah, I know, it's still in the picture, but trust me, it was flowing. We have some video. Happy couple with hot lava and fluffy cloud backdrop. Note my hiking stick, btw--our guide borrowed it, lit the end with some lava, and used it to light a cigarrette to general applause. Also, some people brought marshmallows up the volcano and toasted them over the lava, though I have heard that that just makes them taste like sulfur and can make you sick.

We had to hike down in the dark, one of my least favorite activities, but it was totally worth it. If you ever get a chance to go see some flowing lava, do it! Unspeakably cool. I mean, hot.

Andy will pick things up for the rest of our (mob-violence-free) adventures in Guatemala!