Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Simply Beautiful

A long long time ago I said that I was going to appreciate the beauty of Antigua more often on this blog, but then never much about it. In my biased opinion I think that most of the images that I post are beautiful for the scenery or colorfulness of the culture, but sometimes I forget that even simple things can be beautiful too. Not every image needs to include a colorful guipil or smoking volcano...although they are pretty impressive!

To honor all that is simple and beautiful, but often overlooked, I'm going to start a new feature on From Colfax to Xela: Simply Beautiful. Now, I'm not going to make any bold statements like that I'll post a new image each week (although that's the idea) because you all saw how we pooped out on our Must Have Lusts, but I'll do my best to share my idea of everyday things that are simple yet beautiful every so often.

Without futher adieu, Simply Beautiful image #1. My neighbor's window.

I walk by it at least 3 or 4 times a day and often don't look twice at it because I'm too busy rushing into my own house to avoid her barking dog, but that window really is stunning when the light shines through just so.

I'm gonna miss that window when we're gone. Not the neighbor so much, but her window for sure.

A well balanced weekend

While Ben and I have interests that are about as similar as those of Martha Stewart & Paris Hilton, we do often enjoy participating in each others past times (even though were both too bull headed to admit it!) and this weekend was no exception. A his and hers weekend it was - very well balanced! The beach for me and the great outdoors for him!

First on Saturday we packed up Dewey bright and early and left for a day of fun in the sun at a beach in Sipacate with some friends. The beaches close by here in Guatemala aren't anything to get super excited over, but this one was actually pretty nice. The waves weren't too strong so we splashed and played in the water on and off all day.

Speed Walking Finals from Krista on Vimeo.

(boys being boys)

On Sunday we stayed a bit closer to home and paid a visit to Senderos Alux, a great ecological park right outside of Antigua. It was quite a pleasant surprise with great winding paths and swings and amazing views of the city below.

(Look close. do you see Ben flying high?)

(They are even ecologically minded, something that is a rare find here!)

We'll definitely be visiting both places again.....the best of both worlds.
Besides, opposites attract, don't they?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Seeing purple

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is in full swing around these parts and while we do feel lucky to be living in such a beautiful place during such a huge event, we'll certainly be ready to get back to a tranquilo (calm) lifestyle when it all ends. Each weekend during lent leading up to Easter the catholic churches in the villages around Antigua have their ceremonies and processions. Little by little they get bigger, more elaborate and more frequent.

Last weekend San Bartolome (a village just right down the road from our home) had theirs. We knew it was going to be big, but neither of us understood just quite how big it would be. Around 8.30 am we wandered down to Callejon del Burrito (that's the next one over from us) to see if anyone was out and about making alfombras (flower carpets), and low and behold we met up with at least 1,000 others! What normally is a 10 minute walk took us about a hour. It was nice though, having it so close, but yet being able to escape to the peace in quiet on our street. We were actually walking in front of the procession and at one point I stopped to snap some photos and found myself in the middle of things. Oops! I darted out to the sidelines as fast as I could, but not without capturing this:

Who can resist a friendly Roman soldier (with what I know has to be a broom on his head)?

The alfombras were some of the best we have seen, although i'm sure this coming week we'll be in for a treat. There are all types, from very simple to super elaborate. At first the procession goes around them, but when the floats (for lack of a better word) come through, they go right over top, destroying hours and hours of hard work! It's all good though, since they all get blessed before being destroyed and swept up by the clean train (remember it?).

The rest of the day was pretty calm for us, as the procession made it's way in and around Antigua, that is at least until it came back through later that night. Of course the route was a bit different and on the return trip it actually came right by our cul-de-sac. Our nice neighbors (I say nice because they are honestly about the only nice ones) made their own alfombra, so of course we had to go out and see it. Later that night the procession passed by, band and all, at 1.15 am, bolting us both out of bed, we "appreciated" it for about 15 minutes before falling back asleep into dream land.

Aside from all the crowds and craziness that goes along with crowds, we're actually looking forward to the festivities this week. We'll keep you updated to the best of our abilities (the internet is down at our house, so blogging isn't so easy) so that you too can enjoy Semana Santa, wherever you are!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Visit Guatemala: Part 3

The final destination of the lake adventure with the Lengacher 3 was to the always delightful, super clean village of San Juan La Laguna. (Check out their great little website right here.)

Like I think I may have mentioned in previous posts, in recent years San Juan's claim to fame is being cleanest town on the lake, and rightfully so. In comparison to surrounding villages where trash is often srewn about on the streets and trash cans are hard to come by, there is not a single stray piece of trash anywhere and garbage cans line the streets. But aside from it's cleanliness, San Juan is also decorated with hand painted murals dipicting the locals' feelings about environmental and cultural issues.

Whether it's the still life or the real life, I always seem to find some inspirational images when I visit San Juan. Below are a couple from this visit.

Our first stop was a quick trip to one of San Juan's best naturally dyed textile shops.

Oh, how I heart those soft shades of blue and green....

...and I heart this guy too for being a good sport about all the browsing and shopping!

From there we hopped into Jimmy Blanco's rad bad tuk-tuk and headed on over to La Voz que Clama en el Desierto coffee co-op for a private tour and tasting. Jealous?

Yes, all 5 of us squeezed in there. Just like we did when the Finotti's came to town too!

WARNING: You are about to encouter some educational information about coffee processing. Keep this in mind the next time you are sipping down your grande, no foam, extra hot, double shot, skinny latte!
Cooperative La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto (The Voice that Cries Out in the Desert) was founded in 1979 and now consists of 140 members. With the extra revenue they have earned from participating in fair trade, they have been able to improve the quality of their coffee as well as provide credit, training and education in their communities. Click here for more specifics.
This being my second or third or even forth coffee processing tour (I lost count after this painful explantion), I feel like I've got it down by now. I've tried to simplify the explantion while caputuring all the steps involved in getting you your cup of joe. Hope you learn something!

First things first. Did you know this is what coffee looks like when it ready for picking? The red berries are the ripe ones. They have a sweet sugary taste if you suck on them.
Coffee picking season runs from December through March and the coffee ripens at different times, so farmers have to make several passes through their crop. And for those of you who were wondering, coffee grows on a tree - not a bush. It's a shortish tree that generally grows in the shade of another taller tree.

So then you must be wondering how those shiny red berries get sorted out from the greenies that still need some time to ripen? Easy. It happens in this water filled trough. The mature berries sink to the bottom and are funneled out and the other float to the to top where they are separated and placed in a holding tank where they wait a while longer for their turn.

A coffee bean has several layers of pulp that need to be removed before arriving at the final bean. The outer one is removed in this machine.
There are 3 levels of coffee. Only the very top are exported. The lesser remain here in Guateamala and are turned into lower quality coffee (like the instant kind). After the first layer is removed, the depulped coffee then is seperated into these troughs with the good stuff going into the 2 tanks on the right and the other stuff further down on the left.
From there a constant flow of water moves the coffee bean around these long narrow troughs, and washes it during the process.

Finally it is ready to be spread out to dry.
After a couple of days in the sun it is bagged....
....and stored in a cool, dry place.
At this stage of the game, most farms here in Guatemala end up exporting the beans untoasted. Unfortunately they are not nearly as valuable this way and the money ends up being made by whomever purchases and toasts them. Sometimes coffee farms have a connection that offers them a slightly better "fair trade" price, but many times it's not so. It's so sad that even though the majority of the hard work is done here, but the export price isn't fair, just because they are missing 1 step. It's always the dream of a co-op like this one to one day have enough funds to purchase their own toaster so that they can export the final product and reap the financial benefits. Many co-ops do at least have a small toaster like this one so that they can share and sell small quantities of their finished product. Here's what it looks like all packaged up, ready to be sold. The trays in front display the coffee berry/bean at it's various stages.
And finally, my cup of joe! (I was really tired and drank almost all of it before remember to take a photo, but I swear there was a little bit left in the bottom of my mug!)
What do you think? Did you learn something new? We were once told that what begins as 100 lbs. of red berries end up being only 18 lbs. of drinkable coffee. Now if that doesn't make you appreciate your next cup a bit more, I'm not sure what will! As we were departing the coffee farm, Jimmy Blanco pointed out this section of mountains to us. It's known as El Rastro de La Maya. Can you see the face of a Mayan Indian?
How about now?

Pretty cool, right?

Just another reason we heart San Juan.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Visit Guatemala: Part 2

Part 2: The Lengacher's Visit Guatemala

After a few more scintillating days walking the cobblestone streets of Antigua and touring both Common Hope and Aguas de Unidad, and shopping, eating and more shopping (I wish I would have photographed some of the great finds we bought!), the Lengacher 3 were ready to see more. Did I mention that having visitors is always fun, but often exhausting! Even so, we love it. Not only do we get to spend time with the people we love, but we also get to do those fun touristy things that we don't normally partake in

Early Wednesday morning we packed up Dewey, squeezed in all 5 of us and hit the highway, lakeward bound. Not so much fun from my position in the backseat (the road is super windy), we pulled over about 20 minutes from our final destination to enjoy the color sights in Sololá, a traditional Guatmalan town that many tourists pass through, but only a few stop to wander. We were the few. It was actually our 2nd time (the tour guide and I) meandering the streets of Sololá, the first being a long time ago in another life where our handy dandy Dewey did not exist. It's a bumping little town, with the market almost always causing traffic delays and with many sights to be seen out the car window. Not only do many of the women in town use the colorful traditional dress, but many of the men do too - a total rarity in our area of Guatemala!

After a short stroll through the park and market, we headed back down the hill toward our favorite guest adventure locale, Reserva Natural Atitlán, where they hiked and zipped through a canopy of greens. Remember from this visit and this visit? (I unfortunately was not feeling so hot from the car ride and opted this one out, resting patiently under the pavilion with my latest read Animal Vegetable Miracle - more on it later!). But fun was had by the rest and a few even received a certificate to prove it!

Starving by this point in the journey, we moseyed on into Pana (Panajachel) where were dined on some delicious healthy lunches & shopped some more (imagine that!) before boarding our lancha to Tzununa, where we'd be spending the next 2 nights.

We arrived after one of the sloooooowest boat rides I've ever been on (that's what happens what the captain overloads it to make a few extra Q) and then proceeded to climb 450 stairs, straight up with our luggage in tow! When we had nearly reached the top, a few maleteros (bag boys) ran down to help us. Little did we see, but there was a bell down on the dock that we could have rang for assistance. Oh well it was a good workout!

The view from our rooms (which had a solid wall of windows facing the lake) was amazing - even though it was a bit rainy and dreary the first night.

The next morning we hopped in a private lancha and set off for the village Santiago Atitlán, my favorite place to visit on the lake. A very traditional village, most of the locals dress in traje tipical (traditional clothing); brightly colored huipiles (blouses) y cortes (skirts) for the women and calzones (a sort of belted capri pant/short) for the men. Sadly in many parts of Guatemala the men have abandoned their traditional clothing, leaving only the women to carry on the custom, so it's always a treat to see it being used around the lake.

After an uphill stroll we arrived in the center of town where we visited the huge parish church that was constructed between 1572 and 1581, where woooden statues of saints, dressed in clothing fashioned by local women each year, line the walls. The church has 3 alterpieces that together symbolize the three volcanoes around Santiago, which are believed to protect the town and (quite possibly a myth) were the first dry land to rise out of the primordial waters.

From there we took a short truck ride to visit the site of the ever controversial Maximón shrine, a saint who was supposedly rejected from the Catholic church. While the people still believe in God, they also pray to Maximon and believe that both are necessary. Each year Maximón is relocated to a new home voted on by a local committee, where the family receives visitors and collects offerings for their beloved guest. (Due to the steep Q10 fee that is charged for taking a photo, this unofficial trip photographer opted to save her quetzales for something a little more worthwhile - like textiles!)

Speaking of textiles, the group did make sure to stop for a bit of shopping as we made our way back to the water's edge.

Santiago's handicraft scene is most popularly know for the textiles (my absolute favorite colors), paintings (like the one above that we watched the artist create), unique wood carvings (think driftwood style), and elaborately beaded ornaments (like these).

A couple of hours later than we had planned, we reboareded our little lancha and set of for adventure #2.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Lengacher's Visit Guatemala....soon (much sooner than part 2!)