You really didn't think, what I think you thought, right? That paints a pretty scary picture in my mind's eye......
Right after my post on Tri-Village, I received an email from "Dave" who asked me about.... well, basically skin, and where I've had the best dishes. The wording was quite interesting, and really cracked me up. So I thought I'd do this post as a companion to the mmm-yoso raw! post. Just for some fun...... After all, there are few things better than fried animal skin. What's interesting is that some of our favorite skin dishes aren't from anywhere here in the US. Even this one, from a future post.....
Wouldn't make the list.....
And in spite of what most folks think; this stuff:
Fried Chicken Skin from Pollo Pinulito in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala:
Man, you gotta hand to the country that is home to Pollo Campero; they sure know how to fry chicken. And this little shop in the village of Santiago, on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala made some very good fried chicken skin.
I could smell the seasonings from outside the place. When we entered, that chicken skin, just out of the fryer was calling to me.
I actually carried that bag of chicken skin by boat from Santiago to San Pedro, and then on the next boat to Lomas de Tzununa, then up 400 steps from the muelle to our room. Was it worth it?
I'm not quite sure about meeting the snakes though. I think I'll pass on that next time, though that snake ruou was fantastic!
Cuy skin from dinner in Cusco:
I've probably mentioned our Cuy dinner in Cusco maybe a thousand times. But it is without a doubt, one of the most memorable meals we've ever had. And that skin on the Cuy, simply seasoned with olive oil, huacatay, and salt, was better than any lechon I've ever had.
And while we felt a bit uncomfortable meeting our dinner's siblings. It really didn't stop use from nibbling on those delicious crunchy toes and feet of the Cuy.
I know, I know.... I've shown waaaay too much skin today! But I hope you enjoyed the post. I hope I answered your question Dave!
On our last evening in Antigua, the Missus wanted to have a nice meal...... She was still thinking about our meal at Churrasqueria Momo's in Copan Ruinas, and asked me if I could find something similar in Antigua. I recalled seeing a sign advertising a Churrasca, basically a steakhouse. And ironically it was located right under the landmark we took the most photos of...... The Arch of Santa Catalina:
The arch was built in 1693 to allow the Nuns of the Convent of Santa Catalina to fulfill the conditions of cloister, out of public view and contact, to access a vegetable garden across the street.
There just happens to be a hotel right under the arch. I had read a sign in front of the hotel, and recalled that it had mentioned the restaurant specialized in Churrasca.
since this was located right smack in the middle of 5 Avenida Norte, we both knew that this would be more touristy, and the prices would reflect that.
Still we knew it wouldn't be that bad with regard to prices, and it wasn't.
I had the Puyazo, basically a marinated grilled skirt steak, which came to about $11/US:
The marinade was not as tasty as the version in Copan Ruinas, but the meat was of higher quality, very beefy, moist, and relatively tender.
The Missus went for the Filet Mignon, which came to about $12.50/US.
The filet was wrapped in bacon and topped with a red wine sauce.
It was a nice relaxing last meal in Antigua.... we sure were going to miss the splashes of color of the town.
Now it's on to Mauricio:
When we first arrived in Guatemala City, we headed out to the feeding frenzy of shuttle and taxi drivers. For some reason, we noticed a clean cut young man holding a sign..... and he spoke excellent English. This was Mauricio. We arrived at his mini-van, and immediately noticed a young woman and a young child sitting in the passenger seat. It was Mauricio's wife and son. This immediately put us at ease. From that point on, Mauricio was our driver...... he was always prompt, so friendly, and flexible. We enjoyed many wonderful conversations on a wide range of subjects. As we found in our travels, folks seem to be just as interested in us, as we were in them. On our return trip from Flores and Tikal, returning to Antigua from Guatemala City, we made arrangements for our return trip to the airport. As he was dropping us off, Mauricio asked us if it was okay to pick us up early in the morning. As he explained to me, "we'd like to show you the town we live in, and a bit of Guatemala City, not as customers, but as friends......" How could we refuse? And so on our last morning in Guatemala, a young man arrived in Maurico's mini-van with a note in hand:
And we were driven to Mauricio's hometown of Amatitlan, and met up with Mauricio's family, including his Mom. After breakfast at Pollo Campero, we were given a short tour of Amatitlan. The heart of Amatitlan is Lake Amatitlan, which had almost been reduced to a polluted mess by being the catchment area for Guatemala City. Luckily, the lake is on what will probably be a long road to recovery. Mauricio's Mother told us stories of swimming in the lake when she was a child, and though I don't think anyone will be able to do that for a while, perhaps in my lifetime, I hope that one day children will be able to......
We snapped that photo after taking a ride on the aerial tram. The views are beautiful, and you a get a good view of the active Pacaya Volcano. You also have great view of the town of Amatitlan.
Mauricio had a few surprises for us.... our next stop was Baños Termales Santa Teresita, location of thermal springs and a spa.
A massage and shower later, and we were relaxed beyond words.......
The last stop on the way to the airport was a drive through Naciones Unida National Park. Located within the park are smaller scale models of Guatemala's most famous sites, like Antigua, and even this:
Yep, it's a mini-Tikal! Who needs to go to Flores! And these were much easier to climb too.....
While driving through the park, we came to an area where the road was blocked.... what was it? Banditos, a bad accident, a hold-up??? Not quite......
There were kids dressed in traditional garb, swaying from side to side enthusiastically, with a woman dancing in front of them......
So what was this...... it was a music video being filmed of course!
When the filming was done, the woman smiled, waved, and shouted out her thanks, and all the kids smiled and waved at us as we drove past. Somehow, I just can't see this happening in the states....
As we arrived at the airport, I felt sadness coming over me. We had been blessed again, just as in other trips. Beyond the sights and the food, it's the people we've been blessed to meet that stay with us. I could never thank Mauricio enough, not only for his generosity and kindness, but for also providing us with an anchor, and a sense of security during our travels.
Flying through Mexico City, and "gripe porcina":
This being April of '09, we were around Lake Atitlan when the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic story broke in mainstream media outlets. By the time we hit Flores, and actually had access to a television, things were going crazy... the whole Sanjay Gupta at "ground zero" thing had us glued to the television. The bad thing was, we weren't able to change our flights, as everyone seemed to be in a panic, and we had to fly through Mexico City airport. We were in a state of not really knowing what the heck was going to happen. Mexico City had been pretty much shut down by that point. I had expected the flight from Guatemala City to Mexico City to be empty, but it was packed to the gills. Mexico City airport, usually a mass of humanity had an eerie sober feel to it. And scenes like this were somewhat surreal... as in, is this really happening.
People were making sure not to be too close to one another. And even though we knew that the face masks we got, even doubled up, was no replacement for having TB masks and being fit-tested. We still wore our masks, and took this classic photo of us:
Is that major "sunblock fail" on my forehead or what?
The flight to LAX was almost empty..... only seventeen passengers on a 737!
And even though at first glance it looked like business as usual at LAX, both Immigrations and Customs was a ghost town. We made it through in fifteen minutes....amazing. Two and a half hours later, we were home........ with some interesting stories to tell.
I really need to finish up my Guatemala, and for that matter my Thailand posts. After Copan Ruinas we returned to Antigua, to spend our last nights of our trip.
We really loved the colors of Antigua, from the cobblestone streets to the colorfully painted buildings, this is one photogenic town.
After some research I booked our room at the Hotel Casa Florencia. Our usual "M.O." is to book a room for the first night or two and take things from there.
As for how we enjoyed the Casa Florencia.... I ended up booking all our nights on our return trips from Lake Atitlan and Copan Ruinas at the Casa Florencia. The rooms aren't very large, in fact, they are on the small side. Though on our last night, we were given the larger "triple" room on the second floor. I'm guessing that the folks at CF were being nice to us for making the place our base of operations.
What we found most impressive about Casa Florencia, was how clean the place was.....the floor shone and squeaked under our feet. You felt like you could almost eat off that floor.
Hotel Casa Florencia 7a Avenida Norte #100 La Antigua,Guatemala
On many nights, we'd sit on one of the benches outside our room, and have our snack of fried chicken from Pollo Campero, and a cerveza or two. One evening we decided to taste test two of the very popular beers..... Brahva and Gallo.
Brahva is a light lager, very effervescent. Gallo, which is the more popular beer is also a lager, but has a weird "skunkiness" to it, that wasn't very enjoyable. It wasn't just a bad can.... all of them tasted that way. Needless to say, we stuck with Brahva from then on......
On the west edge of Antigua is the market which we only briefly visited. We did spend enough time to take some photos.
If I were to go over all the sights in antigua.... well, I'd have a ton of posts. Instead, here are two of our favorites. On the north side of central Antigua is La Merced, a beautiful church.
And though La Merced is known for what is often called the most impressive fountain in Central America....
And the views from the top of the church.... I found walking the hallways more interesting. The lights and shadows give the place an interesting feel.
La Merced is an interesting way to spend an hour wandering the hallways, checking out the views above, and of course the fountain.
To the Southwest, is one of the oldest churches in Antigua, the Iglesia de San Francisco. Dating back to 1579, the church and the large monastery was destroyed in the great 1773 earthquake.
The church has been rebuilt, but the grounds of the monastery, which once included a library, and even a hospital has not. You can walk and explore the ruins.
And of course, since this is a food blog, I need to include some food. During the evening, you can find vendors outside of La Merced, selling various items that is a good change of pace from all the tourist food.
Where you can get stuff like this....
The Missus always cracked me up when ordering these..... this type of small tamal are called "chuchitos". The term tamale is saved for larger tamals. So the Missus would point and go "tamales...tamales?" And the woman manning the cart would go "no, no, no tamales.... chuchitos!" And the Missus would point again and go, "tamales...." And the woman would go, "no...chuchitos"....... he-he-he....
And of course there was always someone selling tostadas.....
Even though we had our eyes glued to the little television in our room (the whole Swine Flu story was just breaking) most of the evening, we had no problem waking for our 5am bus to Tikal. Even at 5am, it was still pretty muggy. We made the 60 plus Kilometer trip squeezed into a mini-van, and arrived without incident. We purchased our tickets, and started walking under the jungle canopy making our way through the sprawling ruins of Tikal. But not before checking out the "Do Not" sign......
Which would have taken one several minutes to read.....and led to the inevitable question, "was breathing allowed?"
The park itself is a set of trails which meander up, around, and through the ruins. The grand scale of the pyramids are pretty amazing, rising up in the air piercing the jungle canopy. You also soon come to understand that only a fraction of Tikal has been restored. All of those mounds and hills you walk past are structures waiting to see the light of day.
According to what I've read, Tikal was first settled around 900 B.C.....yes, B.C. It was a minor settlement until the collapse of El Mirador between 250 - 150 B.C. when the first ceremonial structures were built. By 250 A.D. Tikal had become an important, and powerful Mayan "state". In 562 A.D. Tikal was crushed, and period called the "hiatus" began. For 130 years, no new structures were erected at Tikal. In 682 A.D. Tikal once again gained power, and a frenzy of new building began. At the height of power it is estimated that Tikal's population topped 100,000 and the city covered almost 20 square miles. By the 9th Century A.D. Tikal began feeling the strain of population growth, and eventually the city was abandoned until it's rediscovery.
Without a doubt, the most impressive area of Tikal is the "Great Plaza". This large grassy area is dominated by two towering temples. Temple I towering 44 feet, also known as the "Jaguar Temple" is probably the most well known structure in Tikal as it is shown in most of the tourist photos and literature.
Directly facing it is Temple II (Temple of the Masks) at about 125 feet.
As you can see, there are some fairly steep stairs up Temple II, from which you can get a good view of the "Great Plaza".
It's hard to believe that building of the Great Plaza had already been underway during the time of Christ!
And like many things in life....it's much easier going up, than it is coming down!
As grand as it all was, for some strange reason "temple fatigue" set in pretty quick for me. Though the Missus was having a grand time. She being the one who never met a set of stairs She didn't want to climb. She even scaled the 190 foot Temple V, and got this wonderful shot of Tikal rising out of the canopy.
By noon we both had seen enough, and caught the first minibus back to Flores. The minibus thing was interesting, as tourists were squeezed in, and than even more room was found for locals who used the vans as an informal bus service to get from location to location.
We arrived back in dusty Flores famished. We had given a thought to trying out one of the wild game restaurants across the causeway in Santa Elena, but after reading that much of the wild game is poached, we decided to give it a pass. I had also read about a restaurant owned by a German Architect who specializes in monument conservation named Dieter Richter. Apparently, Mr Richter has worked on many remote sites, and has a restaurant called Café Arqueológico Yaxha. On the map, the Cafe seemed to be very far away, on the other side of Flores. But Flores, being perhaps the length of less than 3 football fields wide, it was just a 10 minute walk, taking the long way.
The interior is bright, and photos of various Mayan sites are posted on the walls.
And among the Hamburguesa, pancakes, and various versions of spaghetti was a page of "Mayan" specialties. We placed our order, and in keeping with restaurants in Honduras and Guatemala, we waited. Waiting for your meal in these countries is not a bad thing; it means that your meal is being prepared fresh. Sitting with a growling belly for an hour is not uncommon as we found later on in Copan.
The Missus ordered the Filete de Pescado al Tikinchic:
Unlike the Yucatanian Tikinchic I've had the "sauce" was not citrus based, but tomato and pepper based. The Black Snook (robalo) was cooked to perfection. The Missus loved this, and even enjoyed the mass produced corn chips!
I ordered the Pollo con salsa de Tamarindo:
This was a piece of boneless, skinless chicken thigh glazed in a tamarind sauce. The chicken was tough and stringy, kinda to be expected. The sauce was super tangy and puckery, and I think I detected a hint of soy sauce? Nevertheless, it was tasty. This was not bland in the least bit.
Curious, we also ordered the Yuca con Hierba Mora.
At first we were disappointed that the Yuca was just served on the side as with our other dishes. In essence it was a scrambled egg dish......but a scrambled egg dish that we enjoyed! The greens had an interesting mildly bitter and astringent effect, which heightened the flavor of everything else.
So after I return home, I look up Hierba Mora, and gasp! Everything I find lists it as Black Nightshade, which got my attention. Especially the part that read "When mature they should be considered poisonous as they may contain high levels of solanine, but in general the plant is not as poisonous as many of its nightshade cousins." Yikes! But reading this publication put me at ease. Within the document it lists the plants use as a pot-herb in Guatemala, saying that young plants areconsumed in large quantities.
It could have been that we had not eaten since the night before, but this meal left us more than satisfied.
Café Arqueológico Yaxha Calle 15 de Septembre Flores, Guatemala
Flores itself was a pretty dusty town. It didn't help that all the streets were dug up. Instead of streets you had trenches, some of which were ten feet deep.
In some instances, shops and building were isolated, and you had to cross those trenches via planks. As was the case in the local Tienda (market).
In others words, I got to say that I had to "walk the plank to get Agua Pura (water)". I'm sure that all the construction was for the good of all the future visitors.....
In Flores, was stayed at the Hotel Casa Amelia.
The rooms were modest, but clean.
Dig the curtains made from burlap sacks!!!!
But Casa Amelia had one commodity we relished, well two. Air conditioning, and a (small) television.
And we had a view of Lake Peten Itza out our window. The Missus took this photo of kids being, well, kids using a sunken boat as a swimming pool.
By the time we landed in San Pedro night had fallen. We caught a taxi to our hotel in Flores a few kilometers and across the causeway from San Pedro. Flores seemed tiny, but it was hard to tell because of darkness. After checking in at our hotel, we wandered out into the humidity to find something to eat. The air was thick with dust, and the roads were all dug up. We had to exercise caution when walking, falling into one of the trenches would not be a fun experience. Flores is not short of pasta, pizza, and Mexican restaurants. We were wondering what the locals ate..........it seemed that just about everything on this side of the causeway was set-up for the tourist trade. Until, we saw a huge crowd of locals lined up at a doorway. Curious, we queued up to see what was going on.
As we got near the front we finally saw what was being sold.......tostadas! They were selling like hotcakes. In fact, while the Missus was waiting in line, I observed one portly woman polish off eight tostadas, than push her way back to the front of the line for eight more!
We eventually made our way back to our room with six tostadas, 2 slices of cake, and 2 cups of Jamaica for 24 Quetzales! That would be less than three bucks.
We stacked 'em up, and crunched away! I enjoyed the tart and sweet Ensalada de Remolacha.
The carne had a kind of a "mystery meat" texture and flavor, but overall this was a filling meal....and the cheapest by far on this trip!
And that was a good thing, since we had to wake at 4am the next morning and be on our way to Tikal. It was hard falling asleep, since the Swine Flu story was starting to gain momentum......it was "gripe porcina" 24/7 on all the news networks. We were especially concerned since we had to fly through Mexico City during our return flight......
We had to make our way from Lake Atitlan toLa Aurora Airport in Guatemala City, and our flight to Flores. Initially, we made arrangements for a shuttle from Panajachel to Antigua, ending at La Aurora Airport. This would have been fine, the shuttle would take 2-3 hours to get to Antigua, drop off everyone, stop, make the rounds picking up other passengers, than head off to Guatemala City. After a short discussion, the Missus and I decided to be dropped off in Antigua, and have Mauricio, the wonderful shuttle driver who originally drove us from the airport to Antigua, drop us off. Lucky for us Mauricio was able to accommodate us. We also felt better giving such a nice dependable, independant operator like Mauricio our money. We also saw the benefit of having a 3 hour layover in Antigua to stretch our legs.....and eat of course!
Which leads us to La Cuevita de los Urquizu, located across the street from the Capuchin Nunnery on 2 Calle Oriente. This was an interesting part of town as there seemed to be some very well-to-do residences, instead of just the usual hotels and businesses. La Cuevita is pretty easy to find, you just look for the crowd.....
And all the bubbling pots.......
Like this wonderful looking Hilachas (shredded beef stew).
The hardest part is choosing what to eat! As these two gentleman illustrate. The older gentleman is a bit gruff, but always takes time to name every single item available. I can imagine how tiring that could be.
If you choose one of the "mains" you also got a tamal, and also select two of what seems an endless selection "sides"....argh, more choices! If you thought reading those humongous menus with over a hundred dishes was tough...try having all of this food within reach, but only being able to pick two! Once your selections have been made, one of the Servers will than carry your plate to the table of your choice.
There is also a large selection of other "comida tipico" such as pupusas, ceviches, platano frito, etc, etc.......
The Missus went with the Estofado de Cordero (lamb stew):
For Her sides the Missus chose a simple sauteed greens and guacamole.
Having been underwhelmed with the Pepian at La Fonda, and at our hotel at Lake Atitlan, I decided to give the Pepian de Pollo one last try.
I'm glad I did, this was much better than the other two versions I ate. I was told that Pepian is like Guatemalan "curry", and this was like a nice mild curry; rich, with great body. The flavor was unmistakeably chicken, and there was some tomato tanginess, with a background garlic-nuttiness that I enjoyed.
I really enjoyed my sides, the Piloyada, red bean salad was nice and refreshing, and the Arroz great, because, well to tell you the truth, I was kinda missing rice!
The bland and waxy tamal didn't thrill me much.
And of course there was hand made tortillas, no meal would be complete without it!
You could hear the "pat-pat-pat" noises coming from behind these doors.
Everywhere we travel, we pick up at least food item we enjoy. In Guatemala and Honduras, it was the Encurtido, the pickled vegetables that will be provided, usually by request for tourists.
As usual, the "salsa picante" wasn't very picante, but in this very nice and tangy from the tomatillos used to make it.
I'm guessing the Missus loved Her Estofado de Cordero , what do you think?
By the time we finished our meal, every table was filled. Mostly with well to do locals, and Central American and European Tourists. The prices are pretty much out of the range of the local working folk at about $7 per person.
Overall a nice meal....
Upon our return to Antigua, we were searching for a place to eat. Feeling a bit "lazy" I mentioned La Cuevita. The Missus thought we should search out something else. Soon we passed a woman carrying a wonderful looking and smelling bowl of stew. The Missus inquired as to where the woman purchased her heavenly looking bowl. The woman simply said; "La Cuevita"..........
This time around the Missus decided on a plate of "salads" and a Pupusa de Queso y Chicharron (pork and cheese pupusa). Some of the items were pretty good, the Missus enjoys the guacamol in Guatemala, it is plain, but the avocados are rich and tasty. The Picado de Rabano (radish salad) was also refreshing and delicious. The rest of the stuff was very bland. The pork in the pupusa tasted kind of off, and it was on the greasy side.
Again we made sure to get the encurtido cebollas and salsa picante....and the very nice young man even understood what I requested!
I ordered that wonderful stew I saw the woman carrying.
My two sides were disappointing. After sampling versions in Atitlan and Flores, I had developed an affection for Ensalada Remolacha, the beet salad. This was a bland version, with the beets lacking sweetness, and without the refreshing tart and sour flavor that I had experienced before. It seems like Guatemalans love macaroni....I saw folks buying bags of it in Antigua's Supermercado. It was nothing special.
My stew, however was something special. It was hearty and rich, with a nice smokey flavor provided by chilies, and a nice tomato flavor in the background. Our Server was a friendly young man, and was very patient in dealing with our questions. Not knowing what I had selected, we were told it was "Subanik". I love having other folks write in my "black book", seeing their handwriting always takes me back. And so the young man wrote the name of the dish, and described it better than I could've. Subanik; 3 meats, "pollo res y cerdo", and to make sure I understood he wrote, "chiken, bif, and pork"..........I always crack a smile when I turn to that page!
The Missus also asked the young man if She could go upstairs and take some photos. There is a nice dining area which overlooks the street, as well as the courtyard.
I was told that there are some decent comedores around the city, all of which were much cheaper than La Cuevita. But La Cuevita allowed us a chance to try some "comida typico", typical dishes, and the Missus and I were more than happy with our meals there...... and of course I enjoyed my "chiken, bif, and pork"..........
La Cuevita de los Urquizu 2 Calle Oriente 9 Antigua, Guatemala
Before leaving Santiago Atitlan, we decided to grab something to bring back to the hotel with us. You see, our hotel, is pretty isolated, and at night things are locked down pretty tight for the safety of the customers. And we weren't too thrilled with the food at the Hotel, and of course, we weren't staying there for the food anyway.
I mentioned the intense love of "Pollo Frito", fried chicken the locals and tourists alike have for Guatemalan Fried Chicken. And nowhere was it more apparent than in Santiago. There were three fried chicken joints steps from the main intersection in town, two of them right next to each other!
Choosing the "right" Pollo Frito joint was easy for us. Only one shop was doing some major business.
They could hardly keep up with the chicken...only legs for us, no pechuga (breast) por favor....
And there was something else that caught my eye.....
Chicharron en Pollo - fried chicken skin. Of course the Missus bought a dozen tortillas from the stand outside the shop. The Missus and I joked that the pollo frito places in Santiago had Antigua beat hands down. Whereas in Antigua, you bought tortillas picked from a basket, in Santiago, they made the tortillas fresh right outside the chicken joint!
And so the fried chicken started its long journey back to our room. First, from Santiago back to San Pedro. At the top of the hill from the embarcadero, we decided to give ourselves (chicken included) a break. We hadn't checked the Internet in a few days, so we stopped, and went about checking email. To our surprise, we had received a few emails asking us if we had heard about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico. We had been incommunicado for a couple of days, so we hadn't heard anything. We decided to follow-up when we returned to Antigua the following day. We made our way down the hill to the muelle to catch our lancha back to Lomas de Tzununa. It turned out that the captain of our boat, was the one who returned us to our pier the day before. He greeted us with a smile, and said "Lomas de Tzununa muelle"? And the fried chicken began the second leg(no pun intended) of its journey. Returning, the sky started getting dark, and a few sprinkles started falling. Apparently the rainy season was starting, and just as the previous day, the late afternoon would be punctuated with a few thunderstorms. Making a soft docking at the pier, the captain smiled and gave us a big thumbs up as he pulled away.
There was, of course, the 400 steps back up to our room........
And though the steps were a bit easier this time around, the stairs were still winning the battle. I recall murmuring(more like gasping) to myself, "this chicken better be darn good" about halfway up the stairs. I don't think too much sweat fell on the precious chicken......
So was this worth the effort?
Even with the understanding that the chicken probably tasted better because of the effort, I'd say unequivocally, yes! The flavor was a bit different from Pollo Campero, there was almost a mild curry flavor hiding in the background. The skin was not as good in flavor as Pollo Campero, but the flesh was. The flesh was not as tasty as the chicken from Comedor Elenita, but it was a close second. Taking this into consideration, this chicken came out as the best overall on our trip.
As good as that chicken was, the fried chicken skin was even better.
These were fantastic! Amazingly crisp and light. Though I enjoyed the flavor of the fried chicken skin in Thailand, there was a gummy-ness to them, and also an aftertaste that reminded you of where the skin came from. These were just plain crack-tastic!
The Missus also had a few granadilla (golden passionfruit) which were a bit on the watery side.
Man this was good....as was watching the "fireflies" at night.
We awoke the next morning having had our fill of peace and quiet. It was time to move on. We were on our way back to Antigua, then Flores and Tikal.
Early during our first morning on Lake Atitlan, the Missus was looking out from the balcony and decided on what She wanted to do.
Looking off to the left, She turned and said, "let's head to Santiago". At first we were going to head down the 400 steps to the Lomas de Tzununa pier, but in the end we decided to head out of the side gate and walk to the village of La Tzununa, and the pier there.
The downhill walk, and the cooler morning air made this 1 kilometer walk pleasant.
Walking down the hill we passed many of the young men and women who work at the hotel walking up the hill. We could just imagine having to make that walk everyday, rain or shine, in the summer heat! Everyone we passed gave us a pleasant "Buenos Dias". We passed two gentlemen, and asked directions to "La Tzununa muelle".......after giving us directions, one of the gentlemen asked us, "Ha-pon-nese?" I pointed to myself, and told him "si, Ha-pon-nese"....I pointed at the Missus and said, "Chee-na....uno, uno". Which for some reason cracked him up.....
Following their instructions we found our way to La Tzununa pier, and soaked up the morning sun while waiting for what the gentleman called the "barco blanco".....
And wouldn't you know it, the first boat of the day was a "white boat".
A short 10 minutes later we arrived at the San Pedro pier. To get to the boats headed to Santiago we had to walk to the pier to the Southeast of town, about a kilometer away. Not a far walk, but there's a "little" hill between the piers. The street is lined with all the gift shops, tourist restaurants, and hotels.
They don't tell you about the "little hill" in the guidebooks. Lucky for us, there was a strategically placed orange juice stand right at the top of the hill.
Ahhh, "Jugo de Naranja"......the pause that refreshes. Freshly squeezed, and the woman running the stand even filtered out the pulp (3 Quetzal - 45 cents):
Kinda sour, but it sure woke me up. From that point on, it was all down hill, literally.
While waiting for our boat to leave, another large boat arrived. It was packed with passengers....
And a ton of cargo.......
All of it was unloaded manually. This guy made at least five trips up and down the pier.
Arriving at Santiago Atitlan, we walked up the dock, past the craft stands and into Santiago. It turned out to be market day.
We were told by more than a few folks that Santiago Atitlan is considered the captial of the Tz'utujil MayanNation. In Santiago, folks still wear the traditional "Traje" (dress) with pride. The men still wear "calzoncillos" (short pants).
I'm guessing that these pants are very practical for folk who live around the water.
The women wear a colorful "Huipil" sometimes with wonderful embroidery, often featuring birds and flowers. You can read even more about the traditional dress here.
Out first stop was the Catholic Church.
If you walk up these stairs, and quietly take a seat inside, you'll notice a monument to the right rear of the church.
Father Stanley Rother was a priest who was assigned to the mission of Santiago Atitlan in 1968. The late 70's through the 80's were turbulent times for Central America, and Santiago was not spared. Because of his work, Father Rother's name appeared on the list of the "Death Squad". Upon hearing that his name appeared on this list, the Parish staff urged Rother to return to his home of Oklahoma City, which he did. Only to ask for permission to, and return to Santiago a few months later. On July 28th, 1981, he was killed in the rectory of the church by gunmen. Father Rother was flown back and buried in his home town in Oklahoma, however, at the request of his parishioners in Atitlan, his heart was brought back to Santiago Stitlan and buried under the floor of the church. This was not the end as things eventually reached a critical mass on the morning of December 2nd, 1990, you can follow the link, or read even more about it here.
Escaping from the persistent kids outside the church, we made our way back to the main intersection. I noticed groups of women walking up the stairs of one of the corner buildings. Our curiosity piqued the Missus and I walked up the stairs to find a pretty active market area.
The items I found the most interesting were the freshwater crabs, with the legs wrapped in strips of leaves to keep them from walking away.
This, of course, left me hungry. The Missus and I walked around a bit trying to decide were to eat. I finally decided based on one of my main eating rules; "when in doubt, eat where the police eat." And in this case, it was a tiny, very clean looking Cevicheria. We sat at one of the three tiny tables, on plastic stools, Vietnam style. Two police, or maybe security officers with shotguns were having an early lunch at on of the other tables. One of the officers was of particular interest to me, he had two bandoliers of shotgun shells criss-crossing his torso, just like the movies!
This was a two man operation with one doing the prep, the other putting together the ceviche.
Three items were served, Ceviche Camarones(shrimp), Pulpo (Octopus), or Mixto (mixed). and though the shrimp and octopus were "Pacifico" (from the Pacific), we thought the ingredients looked very fresh. The Missus ordered a Grande Mixto, easy on the pulpo. 30 Quetzales ($3.75). While we were waiting, the Missus decided some tortillas would go well with the Ceviche, instead of the usual crackers. So She headed across the street........and to the laies making tortillas in front of (what else) one of the Pollo Frito (Fried Chicken) joints.
The tortillas being sold were "yellow" tortillas, corn-y goodness, and the best we had on the entire trip. It was also the most expensive at 3 for 1 Quetzal (12 cents).
We ended up eating a dozen with our ceviche.
And what about that Ceviche? Well, it delicious, but very different from any Ceviche I've ever had.
The marinade was very dark, but wonderful, with a nice savory flavor as a counter-point to the refreshing citrus flavor. The tomatoes were sweet, the white onion was mild and on the sweeter side, and I could taste a light touch of mint as well. When we asked about the sauce (I thought I tasted some soy as well), I thought the very nice young man said "salsa Iglesia" and I was somewhat puzzled,"Church Sauce" just didn't make much sense. But later on I purchased a small cookbook, "Favorite Recipes from Guatemala" in the airport, I found a recipe for Ceviche de Camaron. And it became quite clear, it wasn't Salsa Iglesia, it was "Salsa Ingles", Wocestershire Sauce, along with Soy Sauce that flavored the Ceviche!
I was satisfied after the Ceviche, but the Missus couldn't resist buying a tamal from the young lady wearing the coloful huipil pictured above. It was a funny thing as, the Missus kept asking "Tamale", and kept getting negative nods, "no...no tamale". She kept pointing at the corn husk wrapped tamals, going, "tamale?" And the response would be a "no-no chuchito, chuchito, no tamale!"
Chuchitos are small masa tamal, and unlike the tamals we are used to, Guatemalan tamals are dense and waxy, and tend toward the dry side. This Chuchito, at least by our tastes and preferences, was the best we had, moist, with a nice sweet-tangy-mildly spicy sauce.
The pork was very tough, but the rest was pretty good.
We had the Chuchito and some Agua Pura, while sitting on one of the raised sidewalks.....it was perfect for people.....
And pet watching.
It was starting to get crowded, which we took as a sign to get moving along. But I just wasn't ready to leave without getting a little "something small to eat".........
That's what the bird outside our window said at the crack of dawn. I awoke every morning to that distinctive call, and came to love it. I also enjoyed Antigua in the morning, at 6am, the streets are almost empty, and there are no cars in sight, as folks haven't come to work yet.
The streets are clear, the air is fresh, and the colors really pop. As we walked back to our room after grabbing some coffee, we spotted a young man selling roses.
He seemed to be quite popular with the local folk walking to work.
The Missus asked the young man what a bunch of roses cost. His reply? 10 Quetzales ($1.25)! So of course we bought a bunch.
But what the heck were we going to do with roses? We were off to Lago Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) in an hour...... We had decided to give the roses to the folks at Casa Florencia, which really surprised the Woman working. It was kinda nice to see the roses we bought blooming in a vase at the front desk when we returned from Flores a few days later!
We quickly learned the "shuttle drill"......someone will meet you at your hotel or pick-up point. He'll give you the receipt and paperwork, and you'll pay him. A bit later the minivan will be by to pick you up. The uneventful drive to beautiful Lake Atitlan took about 2 1/2 hours, driving through several villages, and winding it's way to Panajachel. We saw two shuttles stopped on the side of the road with carsick folks losing their breakfast. We were dropped at Tzanjuyú Pier (muelle), and swarmed with folks trying to get us boats, some for $20-30 a person!!! The word to remember is "publico"......there is a semi-formal system of "lanchas" that serve the various villages around the lake. We had been told that our Hotel, Lomas de Tzununa had it'sown muelle. We finally made our way down the pier, and we were squeezed into a boat. Pricing for tourist "vary" on the lanchas, this trip cost us 30 Quetzales each, which turned out to be the most expensive of all the boats we caught. And so it came to pass.....here I was wedged in the bow of a boat that seemed to barely rise above the clear waters of Atitlan, squeezed between two propane tanks, and two cases of doritos.
You've heard of Chicken Buses? Well, I called this the "Chicken Boat"! Lomas de Tzununa is a bit isolated from the other villages, and has its own pier. The water of Lago Atitlan is crystal clear, and deep.
Lomas de Tzununa is located up the cliffs from the lake.......and it's four hundred steps up to the hotel.
Doesn't sound like much, but these seemed like four hundred leg burning, lung bursting steps....I hadn't felt this wiped out since Pisac. Even though our backpacks averaged 8 kilos...it might as well have been 800! There was a really nice young man with the biggest smile, and a shotgun to match who offered to carry our luggage up the stairs, but I couldn't let him do that. Thierry, who along with his wife Maria run the hotel met us at the top, and handed us our keys so I wouldn't have to struggle with the dozen or so steps to the main hotel restaurant and lobby.
So why go through the trouble? The isolation, the four hundred steps? Well, each of the ten rooms at Lomas de Tzununa are very clean and spacious...and what you're really paying for is this:
Each room is it's own "bungalow", and are located on the cliffs above the Lake. There's no television (this will play in later), but you've got views like this morning, noon, and night:
For us, it sure beat the tourist heavy scene at Panajachel or San Pedro, whose lights you can see here at sunset.
Of course, the Missus wasn't one for sitting still for long....soon enough it was back down those four hundred steps. Standing at the dock, the Missus and I gave each other one of those, "ok, now what" looks. But not for long, right off the dock is a little cabin, and there is what seems to be a father and son, who run the private lancha, and do all the lake activities. They asked the Missus where we were headed. And as a boat was passing what seemed like a hundred miles away, he whistled. And sure enough the lancha made it's way to the muelle. This boat was not nearly as packed.
We got off at San Pedro La Laguna, a popular tourist destination, right on the Nothern Slopes of the San Pedro volcano. Our destination was a village a 2 kilometer walk from San Pedro, San Juan la Laguna. We walked along the shores of the lake,passing women doing laundry on the shores of Atitlan.
Arriving at the top of the a hill, we could view the village of San Juan below....it was such a serene sight.
We followed the few vehicles into town........it wasn't very hard....San Juan is a fairly small village, and home to Tz'utujil Mayan. It is a small, peaceful, yet colorful village.
San Juan is known for its local Artisans, and the murals made that very clear.
As in Laos, Cusco, and Siem Reap, we bought a small painting that displayed what we thought symbolized the trip for us. It was a beautiful painting, from a little shop on the way to the pier. Later we would come to know that the gentleman and his wife that we dealt with were pretty well known in the area.
We hadn't eaten since the evening before, so the Missus and I were on the lookout for a comedor. We passed several, but many were pretty empty, and I really couldn't get a good "feel" of any of the places. So the Missus started asking around. A group of schoolgirls headed home for lunch, looked at us curiously, and told the Missus "Comedor Elenita". We still weren't sure though. As we walked pass the school the Missus asked another woman, who also recommended Comedor Elenita. The woman walked us to the street and pointed us to the colorful restaurant. When we arrived, that table had pots and a tray of "pollo frito" on it that was selling like crazy.
I trudged up the rather high step(my thighs were still rather shakey from the 400 + 400 steps), peered into the place, and knew this was going to be a decent meal.
How did I know? You see those five heads on the left? Those were all Police Officers having lunch...and you know what they say about where the cops eat! The menu here was simple, the Menu "Del Dia" (menu of the day) is written on a greaseboard. The jolly gentleman who waited on us was a bit confused why we would order three items, but we were starving.
I ordered the Pollo Frito (fried chicken) which along with the Sopa de Pollo, was what we saw everyone eating. As with similar comedors, the food took a while, but it arrived with the chicken still sizzling.
There are a couple of interesting items to note. First, this was a typical meal for the area we visited.....there were three starches, in this case, rice, papas fritas (french fries), and tortillas, something for the tortillas, in this case guacamole, and some veggies thrown in for looks. I really like the guac, it was very simple, but had wonderful flavor, the avocados used for this must have been super. The fried chicken, was moist and juicy, and the flesh was soft and had flavor thorugh and through. Overall, this was in the top three with regards to fried chicken (best tasting flesh) on this trip.
The Missus ordered the Pescado Frito (fried fish).
A good sized fried fish, moist, but very mild, along with the same sides.
The Missus also ordered the Sopa de Pollo (chicken soup).
This came with a quarter of an avocado, lime, rice, and tortillas. It also came with a half cob of corn, which the Missus loved; She believes that corn in the states is much too sweet, this was more like what She ate growing up.
The soup was decently flavored, though not nearly as hearty and rich as what I had at the Mercado Central in Cusco. The meat was undoubtedly Gallina (old hen), as it should have been, tough and dry. We noticed that folks seem to think that tourists want "pechuga" (chicken breat)......which is what was got. After this, we started requesting, "no pechuga por favor".......
There was one food item I learned about during this lunch....the item on the right in the photo. In the areas we visited in Guatemala and in Copan Ruinas they called it Encurtido, and based on what the main ingredient was in it, perhaps Cebolla(onion) Encurtido, Coliflor (cauliflower) Encurtido, etc.... I made sure to request it with every meal. This version was very good, as you can tell by the jar....sweet, refreshingly sour, with a mild spicy bite.
After lunch we slowly made our way down to the muelle.
We envied this guy........
San Juan is a relaxed, and sleepy little village.
We made our way to the dock, which, just as the town, was still and peaceful.....
I couldn't help but start mumbling:
"Sittin' in the morning sun, I'll be sittin when the even comes....."
We had wondered if Lanchas would actually stop here, but sure enough, one of the boats saw us, and made its way to the pier. At this point, I felt fat and happy, but than I realized that four hundred steps was in my future!
I'd readily admit that I did almost no research on where to eat before our trip to Guatemala. Work and other commitments kept those efforts to a minimum. In the end we had to depend on guidebooks, and other info to guide our eating. There was one restaurant that seemed to always be on the radar on all the Antigua websites and in all the guidebooks; La Fonda de la Calle Real....simply known as La Fonda. La Fonda serves upscale "Comida Tipica"......upscale enough for Bill Clinton to eat there during his visit, and is an institution in Antigua with three locations.
We chose the location on 5 Avenida Norte, because.....well, we were in the area, and two, we were starving after our morning tour of a few of the surrounding villages. There's quite a bit of ample seating in the large restaurant, and we were taken to a table in the bright and sunny courtyard area. In the rear is a kitchen and grill area which the Missus headed off to.....and proceeded to have every pot opened...asking a zillion questions...all of which was answered with good humor.
After placing our orders....in which I made a faux pas of ordering the same dish twice (ok, since it was pretty good), a plate of garnishes and seasonings was placed at our table.
It included a chili powder, oregano, lime, and cilantro and onions. We ended up using all of the cilantro and onions and lime.
We also used up all the green "Salsa Picante" to the amazement of the staff, who warned us beforehand, "muy picante, muy picante..." We even had a refill.
This was nice and tangy, and mildly hot. We found the food we ate in Guatemala to be fairly mild in the heat department.
The bowl of oregano was also a nice touch, as it came in handy with a few of the "Caldos".
We started with an order of Tamalitos de Chipilín (16Q - $2):
This proved be very dense rectangles of masa, and in spite of the menu saying it was flavored with Chipilin, black beans, and cheese, quite bland and dry. The salsa ranchera was a bit watery for our tastes, and on the mild side.
I had ordered a bowl of Kac-Ik ("Cack-ik", "Caquik"), a turkey soup that is from the city of Cobán in Central Guatemala (54Q - $6.75).
The soup was accompanied by mixed rice and a tamal. The broth was thin, but had a pleasant hint of onion and garlic. The addition of lime brought some of the background flavors out....I detected what I believe was mint and perhaps clove in the soup. I also added the onion and cilnatro for some bite. In spite of the color, the soup was mild in the heat department, with whatever combination of chilies used added a mild smokiness to the broth. I really enjoyed the turkey meat, it was gamey, and didn't look at all like "Western" turkey. In fact, the Missus didn't believe it was turkey.....She thought it to be lamb. I had to grab one of the Servers to explain to the Missus that this was indeed turkey!
We also ordered the Frijoles Volteados (31Q - $4), your basic Guatemalan refried black beans:
To my amusement, this was the Missus's favorite dish of the meal. This is where Her love affair with Frijoles Volteados began. I'm not quite sure what it is, but the Missus, an avowed frijoles hater just loves this. The hand made tortillas provided were grilled over an open flame, making them crisp.....on the menu it said it was "tortilla chips", but this was way better.
The Missus went to work on the frijoles, which when combined with the salsa picante, onions, and cilantro made for quite a treat.
So much of a treat that the Missus's main course, Estofado de Cordero (79Q - $10), went unheralded.
And yet, it was very good! This stew from the region of Tecpán, had a nice tomato tangy richness, and the "cordero" had a good "flavor of the pasture."
I selected the El Comal de los Recados (76Q - $9.50), which was a sampler. I neglected to notice that Kac-Ik was included in this as well. But since we enjoyed it, that wasn't a problem.
In addition to the Kac-Ik, the rice, and tamal, this sampler included Revolcado de Pollo, a thin stew of sorts. There was a mild chili flavor, with hints of garlic and onions, and you could tell that offal played a big role in the making of this stew. It was a bit too strong in flavor for the Missus (I didn't tell Her about the offal until later - when I displayed the small minced livers).
Also included was a dish I really wanted to try, Pollo de Pepian, a dish that I've read about.
The base of the stew is a seasoning mix that includes "Pepitoria" (pumpkin seeds) and a variety of chilies. Every version of this I ate was different, so it's hard to really get my bearing on this dish. The only thing in common was the use of pepitoria and a tomato base. This version was much milder than I thought it would be, though the chicken was nice and tender.
There was something quite deceptive about this meal....it was very heavy.....major food coma heavy. A group of women on the table next to us, ordered in a similar fashion, each got an appetizer, a main (which they polished off), and they even each got a dessert, which they demolished. We, on the other hand were totally finished off. La Fonda is not cheap, in fact it was the most expnsive meal of our trip coming it at close to $40. But we managed to learn a bit about eating in Guatemala (and even Honduras), meals are leisurely, and very hearty. We headed back to our room and passed out!
Later that evening we decided to take a stroll.......and found an interesting mixture of people. Youngsters heading home from school and workers headed West toward the buses. Tourists were wandering about, looking for a place to eat, perhaps a hostel, or in search of liquid refreshment.
And even at night Antigua is very photogenic.
We headed to Parque Central, where we found rows of people with their camera gear out....tripods, remote flashes....you name it. All cameras were aimed at the beautifully illuminated Cathedral of San Jose:
After for a while sitting and watching people set-up, line-up, adjust, set-up, line-up, check settings.....set-up, line-up, it seemed that very few photos were actually taken......we headed back to our room. We were still feeling a bit sluggish from lunch, and settled for two pieces of chicken and a few tortillas for dinner.