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!