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Part 5:  Miscellany



Auto Hotels  ("rooms for cars") are a common site outside cities and along rural highways in Central America.  They are motel rooms - suitably available by the hour - with an enclosed garage below each room and private entry way upstairs.


Another Guatemalan past time, Coffee, is a major export crop, grown in 7 regions in Guatemala (right).  We visited the Coffee Museum, and 21-acre working finca (plantation) in Jocotenango.  It is one of the 25 fincas in the Antigua area, where we had an informative tour by a young man speaking great English. 

Coffee trees are delicate and are grown under avocado and other trees for shade.  It takes 3 years for a coffee tree to produce coffee beans, and it can produce for 30 - 40 years.  Coffee "cherries", the red bean, are harvested by hand December through February.  A worker gets paid Q25 (US$3.30) for each 100 pounds picked - and he can pick about 100 to 150 pounds of cherries a day.  Cherries are then dried in parchment (1 week on the patio) producing the dried bean.  It is split open using a bicycle-type foot-powered machine producing the green bean, which is then roasted, and maybe ground.  The whole process takes about two weeks.  Cherry skins are used to make the Mexican liqueur Kahlua.

One coffee tree (they're really more like a bush) produces enough beans for 40 cups of coffee:  1 coffee tree produces  --> 6.5 lbs of cherries  -->  1.5 lbs dried beans  -->  1.25 lbs green beans  -->  1 lb roasted  -->  40 cups of coffee.  Doing the math, only 15% of what is picked is used.  Guatemala exported 5 million 150 pound bags of coffee in 2004.  If you pay a $1 for a cup of coffee, 84¢ goes to the consuming country and only 16¢ goes to the producing country to cover labor, plantation and exporting costs.  Based on the above rough figures from our tour, that comes out to $4.8 billion flowing into Guatemala's economy.

Guatemala is 6th in the world in production (4%) behind Brazil, Colombia and Viet Nam(?).  It is ranked 3rd in the world in taste behind Ethiopia and Kenya.  The more the bean is roasted, the resulting cup of coffee is less acidic, less aromatic but fuller flavor.  What was also interesting is that the stronger the coffee, the less caffeine it has in it. 


Jade is a stone found in large quantity in Guatemala.  In Antigua, there are many nice jade stores, some which offer little tours, which we did.  Indigenous jade comes in green, white, black and blue, and in very recent years they have discovered lavender (ring at right) and orange jade (discovered, we were told, after hurricane Stan).  Jade is naturally light green and changes colors when it touches other minerals.  Jade is a very hard stone and can only be cut with a diamond.  On the hardness scale with diamond being a "10", jade is "6.5" - "8".  Jade can be translucent, and holding it up to a bright light reveals all sorts of interesting colors and qualities.

Jade can only be cut on straight lines due to its physical properties.  To achieve rounded surfaces it must be ground using diamond dusted belts.  The ancient Mayas believed that jade gave afterlife and accordingly buried dead with a piece of jade under the tongue; wealthier were buried with jade masks, jewelry and other items as offerings.  The Mayas used sticks and stones to "drill" into and shape their jade.  Seeing the modern day process and how hard the stone is gives new appreciation to the skill (and perseverance) of the ancient Maya.


"Why do Guatemaltecos litter? "  A plausible explanation we've heard is that not too many years ago, before plastic made its way down here, everything was "packaged" in biodegradable material, e.g., food wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, liquid in coconut shells, etc.  When done they threw the "container" away which soon returned to the earth.  Accustomed to that, that's why they throw plastic everything everywhere -- they haven't been educated on the difference.  (In all fairness, Venezuela was much worse, though.) 


"Why do Guatemaltecos do everything the hard way?"   Early on in our stay in Guatemala we observed that rarely are labor-saving devices used.  Instead of using wheelbarrows, dollies, weed whackers and lawnmowers, they use buckets, backs and machetes, respectively.  The owner of Monkey Bay Marina has just finished building a small "kitchen" palapa (called ranchito here) and is currently redoing part of the dock, both projects requiring driving 30 ft. pilings into the river bottom.  He offered to rent a pile driver, but the crew strongly objected.  He explained to us that doing it the old fashioned way is job security for them, ensuring work for a longer period of time.  Wages are very low, so that is not an issue for the owner.  Pictured at right is the "human pile driver" - be sure to enlarge it (or watch the slide show).

It has been interesting to watch the whole process from start to finish.  I've been fascinated with the thatched roofs in Guatemala, so seeing it first hand, along with the replacement of the owner's thatched roof on his house, has been educational.  And I got it all here  .  .  .


View the educational Building of a Thatched Roof Palapa Slide Show  (includes narrative)


"Have we been robbed or had bad things happen to us here?"  The only bad thing that happened to us is ATM fraud.  We're usually pretty careful but had become complacent in our now familiar surroundings on the Rio.

Steve went to the usual ATM on Sunday by himself.  The machine ate his card.  Another person attempted to help (Steve did not reveal his PIN in any way) to no avail, but when the other guy tried his own card, Steve saw the other guy's card come back out - looking back we think Steve's card came out with but under his card, as a plastic "shim" fell on the floor.  The next day, along with another couple who lost their card, the bank said no cards had been withheld by the machine.  Somehow the PIN code was cracked and the bad guy maxed out the ATM and Debit card for 3 days.  "For 3 days", you ask, "didn't you call it in?"

Sure, but our financial institution, that has 24x7 telephone customer support service, was closed due to the Labor Day weekend - giving the employees a holiday off!  Couldn't believe it.  Anyway, they promptly reimbursed our account without much hassle.  The lesson learned, but previously forgotten, is:  Only use the ATM when the bank is open; both of us go together depending on location of machine relative to bank personnel; and use an ATM machine, if possible, where you can keep your fingers on your card as opposed to one that sucks it in completely for processing.



Medley of Pictures from Guatemala


  Artist painting arch in Antigua.


The boys waiting for the girls.
In Jocotenango (near Antigua) there is the

Coffee - Music - Cultural Museums:

The Coffee Museum:  (see separate section above)
The Music Museum:  A traditional Guatemalan Marimba, played like a xylophone; varying sized gourds create the music. Horn from animal skull.

 Drums from hollow, "H" slotted logs

The Cultural Museum:  Another presentation of Maximόn Traditional village dress
Typical (large) cemetery with brightly painted mausoleums and tombs Frida  Kahlo, famous Mexican artist: popular Frida's restaurant in Guate and Antigua
A Chiltepe Trolley tour through the heart of Guatemala City Yes, those are piñatas, hundreds of them surround the central plaza area
Guiquil (whees-keel), a popular and tasty squash Crypt at Santo Domingo Monastery ruins
  Typical in Guatemala, foreigners pay a lot more for admissions to various attractions
Saying our good-byes to our favorite Antiguan street vendor, Vincy, and friend Flor.  If we could . . . and were so inclined to adopt .  .  .  this cutie would be the one.  Very smart, good English, and one heck of a salesperson! .  .  . and a sense of humor!
  Lifespan of most mariposas is 2-3 weeks; black and red or green are poisonous to predators.  700 species.

Back at Monkey Bay:

Cruiser couple attempts to teach us to Tango Girls' weekly Baja Rummy game (with Paco the parrot)
Cooking lesson:  Mojarra

Yanira (wife of groundskeeper) shows us how to prepare whole fish, marinated with heavily seasoned onions, garlic, lime juice and lots of spices.  (Click here for recipe)

Our new kitchen ranchito This little boy was flying a kite while mom drives the cayuca
Paco, marina manager's pet  
Huge cathedral in Antigua; earthquake damage of late 1700's Cool spiral plant - leaves only grow on one side
This "pod" used by natives for lipstick   Bird's net
At Christmas, cemeteries are decorated with lots of fresh poinsettias and other greenery   



Our fall on the Rio included a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Mario's Marina cooked by fellow cruisers, preceded by a light brunch of quiche and ARGO's infamous Bloody Mary's at Monkey Bay.  Christmas was spent in the lovely Antigua at a very cool house rented by Canadian/Greek cruiser friends, Donna & Cosmos (left), s/v Koukla.  On Christmas Eve Day the guys surprised the girls when a masseuse showed up at the house with her table!  Although the city was not decorated in Christmas lights as heavily as we had expected, the spirit was certainly there as we enjoyed the traditional giant-costume parade (right).  We attended midnight mass which was held at 10:00 p.m. as the priests want to be home by midnight.  For the Guatemaltecos Christmas begins at midnight and continues on for hours into the early morn, starting with a half hour of unrelenting fireworks and firecrackers (and probably gun shots, too).  We had never seen, nor heard, so much at one time - the entire sky around us was filled as were the surrounding mountainside villages.  We observed all from the "safety" of our house's rooftop terrace, although Cosmos insisted on setting off several packs of firecrackers in the street.  New Years '07 (left) was ushered in at Monkey Bay with a big party thrown by the owner and the serving of the holiday's traditional dish of tasty spicy fish soup (right).

A few weeks were spent leisurely provisioning (left) and cleaning ARGO.  Although she had been cleaned periodically while at Monkey Bay, we gave her her last thorough cleaning for a while.  Being kept in fresh water, rust was not a problem, but the humid environment invites green stuff and mildew to accumulate on the exterior.  (We ran air conditioning/humidifier inside so not a problem there.)  For US$1.30/hour, good and dependable local labor helped with the exterior cleaning, well worth it! 


We managed to unplug the power cord and cut the docks lines mid January, spending the first night down river in "Texan Bay", a lovely and peaceful bay being developed by a cruiser couple, Sherry & Mike, from, you guessed it, Texas.  We were their first paying customer at their restaurant, and they are currently putting in docks to accommodate


ARGO anchored View out to Golfete Caretakers doing laundry Back lake/lagoon Local family

both the local and cruising boats.  The bay, set back off the Golfete, has small tributaries through the jungle used by locals commuting by cayuco (dugout canoe) to school and elsewhere, and by us to explore by dinghy.  Way back in there it opens up into a lake or large lagoon.

The next day we continue through "Tarzan" country (left).  We crossed the shallow mud bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce river at Livingston at dusk with a high-high tide, as the morning highs were not enough for us with our 6'4" draft.  There was also a 2-3 foot chop at the bar, causing ARGO to hobby-horse (a rocking forward-backward motion) across the bar.  We did get stuck several times but wind-wave action would eventually lift us up and allowed us to wiggle free.  (Just in case, we had the contact info of a guy who will tow boats off/through the bar when necessary.)  We crossed the large bay in darkness, anchoring off the far shore using our previously acquired waypoints.  Next day we headed to Belize  .   .   .

continued  .   .   .

Click here to continue to Guatemala Part 6 on Pictures/Journal - page 25.

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