Once again I’ve taken a blogging leave of absence so to speak, this time due to a trip to Central America for two weeks! Sorry for the lack of posting, I promise I’ve got lots of new things to cook, bake, and share with you.
I don’t really know where to start. I’d love to share all of the details of the trip with you, but as with most travels – it’s hard to sum up several weeks of new experiences in a mere article. Words can never really do travel justice. It’s something you just feel when you think back on it. I will do my best to sum up the highlights with some imagery and stories, while trying not to spend too many hours plopped in front of the computer screen. A backpack full of dirty laundry with volcanic ash hidden in all it’s cracks awaits…
Our first day of travel included a nice long afternoon layover in Panama City, which afforded us just enough time to bust out of the airport and over to Casco Viejo, the historic town center of Panama City, originally settled in the late 17th century. Very interesting place to visit, had some tasty ceviche and cold cervezas. A nice warm pit stop and another stamp added to the passport.
Back on the plane and we fly another couple of hours to Guatemala City, where we are picked up by a pre-arranged shuttle, two gentleman who take us another 1.5-2 hour drive to the town of Panajachel in the highlands of Guatemala, in the department/province of Solola. We arrive in the dark, late at night and are tired out from a day of travelling, so our surroundings are a complete surprise to us in the morning when we wander out from our hostel. We took a stroll down to the waterfront in the morning sunshine, and were blown away by the wide open Lago Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) framed by massive, perfectly formed volcanoes. Almost everywhere you look in Guatemala you will see volcanoes dotting the skyline. Much better than towering buildings.
We spent a couple of nights here in Panajachel, and from there took a day trip to Chichicastenango, an indigenous Mayan hilltop town with it’s famous market on Thursdays and Sundays. Many goods are sold here, but my favorite are the brightly painted wooden masks (one of which we had to bring home), rainbow coloured textiles, and fresh fruits. Here you are bombarded with people crowding the streets, everybody wanting to sell you something, sounds, colors, smells, all at once, a great little rush of culture emersion.
After a few days in this region we headed to Antigua, the most beautiful Colonial city. A blend of brightly painted structures, crumbling ruins, and the silhouettes of volcanos at the seemingly distant end of every street.
From Antigua we did a two day hike up to the top of Acatenango Volcano, which lies adjacent to the very active Fuego Volcano. This hike for me was both before and after the trip – the highlight of my two weeks. I had high expectations going in, and I was most definitely not disappointed. It took us six hours to get to camp, and from there we got to spend the afternoon and night watching the many eruptions of Fuego. To sit around a campfire surrounded by distance city lights, clear stars up above, and lava flowing out of a volcano a couple of kms away… again, words can’t describe that.
From Antigua we also spent a half day touring a local coffee farm in San Miguel Escobar, just outside the city at the base of Agua Volcano. There we got to experience what it’s like to walk through the trees, harvest the beans by hand, and then learned the process of fermentation, sorting, and roasting. As coffee is my vice this was an important process for me to witness. Seeing first hand how much work goes into producing just one bag of beans, learning just how much labourers make per pound of beans picked, and how many of these beans in the end are not used due to subpar quality, really raises the hairs on the back of your neck. You’ll think twice the next time your local cafe lineup – the question of ethical business practices and environmental impact weighing heavily on your mind.
After our few days spent in the Antigua area, we were finished in the Highlands and on our way (on a 9 hour overnight bus) to the low lying jungles of the Peten region. Here we’d spend two nights on the island of Flores, and take a shuttle to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Tikal lies across 60 square kilometres of jungle, and while there are countless structures and temples to explore – believe it or not – much of the site’s 60 square kilometres has yet to be excavated and restored. With spider monkeys dangling from the trees above you and the distant screaching echo of howler monkeys, it’s really a sight for sore eyes. We went in the latter half of the day and climbed the stairs to the top of Tempo IV, which gave us the most stunning views of the jungle canopy with the Gran Plaza in the distance. Templo IV was built in 741 AD. Beware for the height fearing – there are no handrails or guards at the top, just a perfectly open view from the ‘top of the world’.
And finally… three days in Belize. Not as many photos to share from the last days of the trip. But you’ve got the idea by now!
And now for the recipe…
Horchata is a drink common to both Spain, Latin America, and some Southern regions in the US. It is made with varying ingredients depending on the region. Typically a Guatemalan horchata is made with rice, cinnamon, and sometimes vanilla. We saw this on menus around Antigua, but I didn’t try it until coming home and making a batch myself. I have used walnuts because I already had them in my cupboard and enjoy the flavor. When we saw them on menus in Guatemala they also contained sesame. The recipe below has been adapted for my own taste.
Horchata serves 4
750 ml cold water
1/3 cup walnuts (or almonds, traditionally)
1/3 cup long grain rice, I used basmati
pinch ground cinnamon, or 1 stick
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, to taste
to taste vanilla extract
-Blend the dry rice in a coffee grinder or food processor to a fine powder.
-Pour the cold water over the rice powder and walnuts (or almonds, traditionally), add the cinnamon, stir the ingredients together, and allow to rest overnight at room temperature.
-Once the mixture has rested overnight add the sugar to taste, as well as a few drops of vanilla extract, and blend in a blender until completely smooth, then pour through a fine mesh strainer, a tea strainer, or some cheesecloth to remove small bits.
-Check again for flavor, adjusting the sweetness and vanilla-y-ness to your preference, and serve over ice!