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XelaWho by Issue

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Making it Rain in Xela

Stick around in Xela long enough, and you ?ll have to work. It’s the law of financial gravity; barring a trust fund, a fortuitous lottery win, an unexpected inheritance, or a suitcase full of money that you find like that guy in No Country for Old Men, your bank account will slowly sink earthward. At some point, you’ll be lifting up your mattress to find enough 25 centavo pieces for beans and tortillas.

What next? You’ll likely end up teaching Spanish. You’ll get some part time work at a fraction of a first-world wage, giving you the valuable perspective on the Global South that you’ve always wanted. You can do some intercambio with your students; they’ll teach you about Guatemalan culture, and you can expound on thorny topics like your racist grandma and whether it’s okay for white people to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Should your students spot you on the dancefloor on a Friday night, do your best to pretend you aren’t drunk; go get your jacket from the coat check, buy a flight home on your phone, and never come back.

Past teaching Spanish, you have a few options. You can try and turn your volunteer gig into a real job —a lucrative and rewarding proposition, if you can swing it, but one that requires out-competing swarms of other applicants who have scads more degrees and experience than you do. A better option might be seeking remote work. You’ll spend your afternoons in cafes typing furiously to make up the cost of the lunch that you bought when you got there, sit around anxiously refreshing your bank account waiting for invoices to transfer, and waste long days lying in bed wondering why you aren’t doing work. The flexibility of working without an office that comes with a desk and free coffee, co-workers with whom you can socialize, or face-to-face contact with the person who pays you is truly liberating.

Even better than remote work is the tantalizing possibility of starting your own small business in Xela. You can enjoy the intimacy of knowing and interacting with most of your customers, decorate your space with a colorful selection of local art, and support Guatemala’s market ladies by buying and reselling their fruits and vegetables as smoothies, wraps, and mixed drinks. Expats and Guatemalans both with treat your with warmth and respect in hopes of scoring a free shot of espresso or tequila, you can let your dogs run wild in your place of business, and you get to pick all the songs on your playlist.

There are downsides, of course. Outside of beer, you can’t really buy any of your business supplies wholesale —you’ll be paying the same price for milk as your customers would at Xelac and applying a markup after the fact. Furthermore, you’ll have to pay for everything with cash; Guatemala, with a postal service that teeters between unreliable and nonexistent, is unkind to credit card holders and those fond of online shopping. Attempts to get around these supply problems via trips across the border to fill suitcases with cheap soymilk at the Walmart in Tapachula are very illegal and could well bring you into conflict with Guatemala’s dreaded bureaucrats.

And oh, those bureaucrats. They’re the worst. Hounding you for licenses you already have, or for licenses that nobody has or needs; dropping in on a regular basis to check and re-check you papers. Should you be so lucky as to own a bar of your own, then the police will demand protection payments from you. They might even or show up in long convoys of ten trucks or more. They’ll drop in for a chat with some fifty officers armed to the teeth to let you know that the music is a little loud for that hour.

Buena onda, Xela!

Xelebrity of the Month

XelaWho’s ear-the-ground correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month he spoke to the proprietor of Xela’s favourite cantina Marinitas 2, just up the road from Chocoyos Bridge.

Starting with the basics, am I correct in assuming your name is Marinita?

Nope, my name is Aura Marina Soch. Marinita is my aunt.

Interesting. I’m guessing she has something to do with the elusive and mysterious Marinitas 1?

My aunt used to have a cantina called Marinita over by the cruz de piedra but it doesn’t exist anymore. I started working there when I was 10 years old, then when I got married I moved here and started Marinita 2. That was 35 years ago.

Can you explain to us ignorant extranjeros what the difference is between a cantina and a bar?

This place is a cantina. All types of people come here and the drinks are cheap. But there aren’t many girls in cantinas. The girls are at the bars.What is your favorite thing about working here?The opportunity to form lasting relationships with people who have been coming for years.How about your least favorite?

The loud obnoxious drunks I guess I could’ve guessed that, have there been a lot of fights?

No, gracias a Dios, but we’ve definitely had to throw some people out.

I also wouldn’t think it’s fun to be forced to listen to the same songs from the jukebox over and over again..?

I love it! I love all of the songs on the jukebox and they’re always adding new ones.

Well then lucky you! I’ve noticed a lot of extranjeros hang out here, is this something new?

Extranjeros have always come here but more now than ever. I think partly because I’m in a tourism video that they show in the airports. There’s a scene in the video where I’m dancing with a gringo right here in the cantina. So yeah, it’s become a famous place over the years.

You’re already famous then? So Xelawho is small potatoes?

Yeah. I think it’s a very special cantina. All types of people come here; doctors, lawyers, extranjeros, students.

And what is it that makes the difference?

We pay attention to our business and to our customers, we always maintain a clean and friendly environment. It’s not a dirty place.

Do the extranjeros that come here behave themselves?

Ahh yes, they’re always very polite to me and always pay for their drinks.

(Keep up the good work people) But do they get drunker and louder than the Guatemalans?

It’s hard to say. Each person has their own personality. Some can hold their liquor and others can’t. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. We’re all just people trying to have a good time.

Do you have any advice for the extranjeros that might find themselves at Marinitas 2?

Not really. I’d just like to say that I love meeting new people and I hope they all stop by!

Beer and Beef Chili

by La Salsa Inglesa

This chili may not be a Xela culinary classic but it does feature some key Guatemalan ingredients: black beans, cocoa, chile coban and not forgetting my favourite, una cervecita local. Guin’s stout from the Black Cat works best, although you can never go wrong with una moza.


1 tbs. olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red jalapeño chili, deseeded (if you don’t want a hot chili) and finely chopped

500g minced organic beef

300ml moza or Guin’s stout

3 tbs. tomato paste

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground cumin (comino en polvo)

1 tsp. chile coban

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 can black beans, washed and drained

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp.salsa inglesa

1 tbs. cocoa powder


1.Heat the oil in a deep pan and begin to fry the beef. Fry gently until all the meat has browned, then add the onion, garlic and chili. Fry for a couple of minutes

2. Add the cumin, cinnamon and chile coban and stir for a minute before adding the tomato paste. Stir for two minutes more

3. Slowly pour in the beer and simmer for a few minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil and then simmer over a gentle heat, covered, stirring occasionally for one hour until the flavours infuse to give you a dark, rich chili

4. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and add more chili powder if needed. Serve alongside arroz guatemalteco, tortillas and a generous dollop of soured cream. Be sure to have a bottle of salsa picanteto hand when serving.

Bon appétit, Xela!

My Latin American food blog can be found at AMA’s Alternatives Boutique sells homemade salsas, peanut butter and jams as well as beautiful textiles: 5a avenida 6-17 Zona 1.

¡Hasta Pronto!

by Diana Pastor

I’ve always enjoyed writing for Xelawho. The name of this magazine is a combination of the K’iché name for Quetzaltenango, Xelajú, and the interrogative who -a name that suggests a search for persons, for the movers and shakers behind the scenes in Xela and Guatemala. It’s a guide and an important reference for our foreign friends and Guatemalans both.

Eight years ago, I read Xelawho for the first time. I asked James Gray, the editor at the time, whether I could be part of the team at the magazine. James was friendly to a fault -one of those rare souls painted with a perpetual smile -and he was kind enough to extend the opportunity for me to write a series of articles, “Spotlight On,” that touched on different art and culture topics in Quetzaltenango.

In time, I expanded the focus of my column from arts and culture. Thank you to the owner, Lucas Vigden; past editors Steve, Jed, and Chris; and current editors Alex and Sean. They’ve given me space to write about politics during Guatemala’s presidential election and to provide Valentine’s day tips for Guatemalan-expat romance.

The variety here is Xelawho’s real strength. It’s writing about everything and by everyone, written in a clear and lighthearted style that’s accesible and useful. I took a moment to flip through last month’s edition and found pretty much everything a first-time arrival to Xela would want; guides to groceries and buses, places to eat and drink, hostels and apartments, trips and activities, language schools and secrets to staying healthy, news summaries and bad puns, the best and worst of Xela in the past month, photos and quotes from groups in cafes and bars, classifieds, quizzes, sudoku, memes, dispatches from Guatemalan social media -what more could you cram into 32 pages?

My words are shaped by satisfaction and nostalgia here. As you may have guessed from the title, this will be my last article for XelaWho. If you’re reading this magazine for the first time and plan on staying in Xela for more than couple months, here’s my advice to you -keep reading. Don’t miss a month.

To those readers who’ve been so kind as to give me their time and attention in more than one edition of the magazine, I’d like to say that it’s made me so happy to be able to share my words with you; sometimes serious words, and sometimes words that were a little more lighthearted. It’s been an educational experience for me, and I hope you’ve learned something as well. I leave you with a hug, and as Guatemalans sometimes say: ¡ahí nos vemos! ¡Hasta Pronto!


It was a bit of a mixed bag this May from Guate’s twiteros with every chavo with a off-brand smartphone chipping in their two-cents. The big story of the month was as it always should be in May, good ol’ #DíaDeLaMadre. For many chapines, there’s no better way to tell your mum you love her than taking the 30 seconds necessary to put a tweet out honouring the lady who brought you into this world. @Chuchurrunmin128 said it right with “Feliz día a todas las madres. Gracias por demostrar su amor incondicional” (Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, thanks for demonstrating your unconditional love). Let’s just hope she’s on twitter cause if not (and maybe even if she is), she’s probably pissed you’re not making her a proper desayuno tipico in bed (see meme opposite).

And for you dedicated XelaWho readers out there who have managed to read TWO consecutive issues of XelaWho in a row (congrats! And thanks!), you’ll be glad to know that Chimaltenango is still a permanent traffic jam. #Chimaltenango had the usual smathering of angry motorists protesting the protesters of the new highway bypass along with 100s of gory photos of the latest victims of Guate’s favourite city you love to hate. As @DJ_Urizar put it, “NO respetan ni buses, ni pilotos particulares, hacen 3era fila en carril contrario” (They don’t respect buses or drivers and just make another lane of traffic on the opposite side of the road).

But just when we thought all sense of decency and Prairie Home Companion style quaintness had finally been sucked out of Chimal… a little boy called Juan’s dog fell down a well and he lowered himself down on a homemade belay rope with the help of local soccer players and saved his puppy “Boby.” Guatetwitter hailed the now small town hero of #ChimaltenangoJuan as a unlikely heroic figure to give hope to those residing in what has become the smoking @#!hole of Guatemala (end-of-a-Die-Hard flick style hero photo on page opposite).

Another brightspot in the Guateverse is the new #UseLaCabeza social media campaign that promotes safe motorcycle riding through publically shaming riders not wearing a helmet. Among the thousands of photos of motorcyclists without helmets and the “after” shots far too graphic for a magazine as high falutin’ as XelaWho,, @iilescas_pedro reminded us that if you’re going to go dangerous, you may as well do it with all your mates hanging out the back of a pimped-up Canadian school bus (pic opposite).Oh, and #VolcánDeFuego exploded!

Orale Xela!




Books Are Love, Books Are Life

Xelawho loves books -aside from bad puns, cheap beer, and making a silly magazine with our friends, they’re our only escape from a world that grows darker and more confusing by the day.

In light of this, we’re pleased to announce that the book fair has come to Xela. Head on down to Casa No’j the first weekend of this month for lectures, workshops, and the chance to buff out your library. If that’s not enough for you, check out our events section for more chances to get cultured and spend long hours reading at slowly alongside a Spanish-English dictionary.

Street Harassment Action

By Optimus Ovary

***Trigger Warning: contains graphic detail of an instance of sexual assault***

It was a cold evening in May when it happened. I was probably thinking about something completely inconsequential, like which extras I was going to order with my fondue from Bajo la Luna. An approaching car’s headlights lit up the graffiti on a wall in front of me, and I immediately became tense. Years of constant street harassment have taught me to pay attention to everything coming my direction when walking alone on a quiet street. I paused, took a deep breath, and glanced over my shoulder. Yep, a car, I thought. And then I felt a hand between my legs.

I gasped. A motorcyclist, whose presence was initially masked by the blaring car lights, drove off. “PINCHE PENDEJO!”, I yelled. It was a struggle to reconcile my blank mind with remembering phrases in Spanish I’ve been told to say in these situations. How do I make this a learning moment for this guy? How should I let him know that his behavior is absolutely not okay?

In the days when a presidential candidate in the US can say “grab them by the pussy” and still get elected, I’m left wondering how I can empower young women, including myself, in a world that is generally unsafe for women. No matter how independent, capable, and strong we feel, the pussy-grabbing Trumps and motorcyclists of the world will always take what they believe is their fair share of our bodies. Think street harassment is confined just to Guatemala? Think again. According to an international Cornell University survey, 85% of US women report being street harassed before the age of 17. I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s somehow worse here in Xela, but the truth is… it is bad everywhere.

You might be asking yourself what the point of this article is by now.

The point of this article is to say that women cannot bear this problem alone anymore. We’ve discussed the topic endlessly at girls’ nights; we’ve stayed home due to our anxiety about another incident. We’ve talked about ways to avoid this happening in the future, but the truth is, the objectification and harassment of women isn’t because of what we wear, where we live, or at what hour we’re out in public … it isn’t because of anything we do or don’t do. In fact, street harassment isn’t even exclusively a women’s issue—it’s a societal issue, and one that requires allied men to step up their game. When allied men are silent in this conversation it enables aggressors to continue doing their dirty work.

This is a general call to action for all of you men out there: if you see a man harassing a woman—something you’ve told me is something you object to and detest—say something. Listen to women’s stories. Bring them up at guys’ nights (those exist, right?) and find a moment to identify yourself in front of your male friends as an ally to women, and an activist against any form of violence towards them. Ask your friends for their commitment to preventing sexual assault

Xela Keeps the Beet

With the rainy season upon us, what better time to rant about the great outdoors in the land of eternal spring! While good ol’ Guatemala has some of the most fertile land going and oodles of water in the wet season to get your unloved herb garden growing, much of the produce shooting out of the ground comes from vast monoculture plantations basted in a healthy smathering of pesticides —Guatemala, at a whopping 1.5kg per person per year, trails only Belize in world pesticide use. There is, however, a growing (*cough*) organic agriculture scene coming up in Guatemala and as always your mates at XelaWho HQ are here with the dirt (*cringe*) on Xela’s organic scene.XelaWho142.fw

Agriculture in Guatemala has long been a heated battleground between small-plot farmers and large-scale agro-exporters who work hand in glove with large foreign conglomerates and governments. Consider those golden days of American corporate colonialism—when the United Fruit Company and Eisenhower ousted Guatemala’s pesky social-democrat president Jacob Arbenz in 1954 for the crime of modest land redistribution to boost economic growth. Today, the Central American Free Trade Agreement’s mandates that agribusiness giants have intellectual property rights to GMO seed genes and thus own any such seed in Guatemala—even if it accidentally blows onto your land (thankfully Guatemala’s constitutional court blocked that one in 2014). Rant, rant, rant…

Thankfully, there are more and more local people fighting back through networks of sustainably grown crops that repair the land and feed both those who grow the food and the who buy it from them. In Xela, the best place to get a taste of this is our very own Día Orgánico that runs in Parque Central on the second Sunday of every month. The Día Orgánico is a market to buy organic and sustainably grown produce, but it’s also a hub for people interested in avoiding pesticides and monoculture and supporting food that takes care of Guatemala and Guatemalans. The market just had its 4th birthday, and on top of quality goods from chocolate to sausages, it boasts products that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere like mushrooms and chard.

The market is run by the Western Regional Organic Collective (CORO) which is a network of producers, consumers and vendors that gets some support from organisations like Oxfam. Sadly Xela’s always reasonable-and-easy-to-work-with Muni has stuffed the market around since its birth and refuses to give them a fairly priced and consistent location. ‘Onya Muni!

Another way to get good produce is to get a basket of produce through Hojitas which dishes out the goods twice a month like a CSA (community-supported agriculture). You can look them up on Facebook and get involved. On top of good eats it’s a good way to meet interesting locals.

“That organic stuff is way to pricey for humble moi”, you say? Well, yeah if you’re buying $5 organic avocados from your local Brooklyn Whole Foods, but thankfully the organic scene in Xela hasn’t moved to the boutique pricing common elsewhere. It’s around about the same price as your regular compras… you just need to know where to shop.

So whether you’re anti Big Ag, you want to avoid pesticides or you’re just so so hip, get down to the market, check ’em out on the web at, Facebook ’em at Domingos Organicos Xela, or stuff your face at restaurants who buy sustainably produced local goods like Tacorazon, Al Natur, Tan Lechuga Yo, La stampa, Cafe Nativos, Mandarina, El Cuartito and Frutopia.Buen ‘provecho Xela!

Pollo guisado

Pollo guisado is a popular dish served for almuerzo in homes and comedores across Guatemala. Originating from Spain, the ingredients used to make pollo guisado are easily sourced in Xela’s local mercados to create a hearty yet nutritious meal and features salsa inglesa — aka English sauce — aka Worcestershire Sauce. This recipe serves four people.
Pollo guisado
4 chicken thighs (free – range, organic chicken if you can)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp salsa inglesa
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube, crumbled
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 limes, quartered
2 green bell peppers, quartered
1 small red onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tomatoes, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cut into inch inches
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
½ cup pitted olives
Water, to cover chicken

The Fires of El Petén

There’s a magic to the jungle in Petén that you can’t find anywhere else. That’s a cliche, but the undergrowth is alive and old —stand under the trees and listen to the countless living things around you, and you will for a moment catch a glimpse of yourself stuck in deep time; a mote floating on a sunbeam, tiny and new. Those who’ve experienced this feeling have tasted a deeper part of Guatemala —they have wandered and in wandering glimpsed a tronche of this land’s deep natural history, touched slice of eternity nestled in the warm bosom of the earth.

Unfortunately, the Republic of Guatemala seeks to put a price on this priceless natural wonder. Environmental activist Roberto Arias said that there is no framework in place for the protection of this jungle, and that if there were, “most ranchers would slash and burn for cattle, crops, and landing strips anyways.” The cost of this non-policy is a raging wildfire that’s been spreading for weeks, upending the region and growing more menacing by the day.

The fires that burn Petén come, for the most part, from out-of-control trash fires started by narcotraficantes and other settlers who come to claim the jungle as their own. International and national groups seeking to protect the jungle have proliferated. Mexico and Honduras contributed firefighting helicopters to bolster Guatemala’s efforts. Still, the jungle is vulnerable. In 1962, 1988, 1998, 2002, and 2003, Petén was scorched by massive fires.

Those who fought to stop these fire work long hours in dangerous conditions. States of emergency and firefighting efforts can’t stop these fires from consuming some 15,000 hectacres. The jungle has burned and will continue to burn unless we can take the necessary steps to protect one of the great jungles of Latin America and all the world. Petén will recover slowly, as did the jungles of Vietnam sprayed with Agent Orange. That herbicide stripped plants of their leaves and left the earth scarred with bald spots —empty spaces haunted with the carcinogenic wages of war. Today, the jungles of Vietnam are growing back, with shoots springing up to reclaim those empty spaces. The process is slow, and the jungle takes its time, but there is levity too —a winking optimism, the confident busyness of a resurgent living community, living things remaking what had been burned away.