Dust off your cowboy boots, people: it’s Fair time again in Xela. If you want to get technical about it, we’re talking about La Feria Internacional de Independencia. It’s when Guatemalans really show how they can put on a party.
First held back in 1884 in the Canton San Nicolas, the fair has had various homes over the years, but in 1984, to celebrate its centenary, the fairgrounds —CEFEMERQ — were constructed just out of town, and it’s been held there ever since.
The general tone has changed, too. Way back when, there were traditional games like chasing greased pigs (los coches encebados), balancing on ropes (la tamba del Diablo) and climbing greased poles (el palo encebado), along with parades through the city, social dances, horse races and beauty pageants.
That last part has survived, and grown. This year just some of the titles being contested are: Little Miss Quetzaltenango, Little Miss Maya, Miss Quetzaltenango, Miss Maya, Miss Indigenous, Miss Sports, and our favorites: Miss Municipal Employee and Miss Female Prisoner.
Out at the fairgrounds, the entertainment has become earthier too. You can expect the same sort of shooting gallery, sideshow games that are found all over the world, alongside food stalls (traditional and junk), rides, random concerts and the scariest Ferris Wheel you’re ever likely to ride.
The action goes from morning to midnight, from the 12th to the 16th, with crowds getting craziest on the main day, the 15th.
If you’re planning on hitting the fairgrounds (and we strongly recommend it) bear this in mind: every pickpocket and bagslasher in the country will also be there. Don’t panic, but don’t take Absolutely Anything, either.
One feature of the week is the free concert held on Independence Eve, the 14th, with bands playing everything from Marimba to Rock. At midnight the mayor gives a long-ass speech known as the “grito de independencia” — the independence shout — (which is not nearly as entertaining as a grito ranchero but then you can’t have everything), church bells are rung all over town and then the fun starts up again. Bars used to be allowed to stay open all night long on the 14th. However, in Xela at least, the Municipalidad has been cracking down on all night Independence partying over the last couple of years. Most places ignore the crackdown though, so many parties continue to go on late.
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With the highest number of Facebook users in Central America and a Twitter population growing by the thousands every month, social media can be a great place to find out what’s buzzing in Guatemala. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of nonsense posted online too, but at XelaWho we like nonsense so here are some of last month’s social media trends, with the interesting & the informative alongside the vacuous & the ludicrous.
Last month, the Ministry of Education, along with the Great National Campaign for Education and several other organizations, held a conference as part of an effort to discuss solutions to improving digital education and access in Guatemalan public schools. The Great National Campaign for Education is run by the Association for Research and Social Studies, an organization in Guatemala City that lobbies various ministries and community members to develop sustainable solutions to some of the country’s most pressing political, educational, and economic problems. The plan is to finally say #AdiosBrechaDigitalGT, and get all students properly trained to work in our increasingly digital world.
The future is uncertain for Guatemalan Magistrate Douglas Charchal, whose immunity was stripped during the #LaLinea investigation of 2015. It was suspected that Charchal accepted bribes to speed along rulings to favor the criminal doings of ex-President Otto Pérez and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti. Charchal is now sending a letter around the supreme court, basically asking for his old job back. Although Charchal wasn’t linked directly to all the La Linea shenanigans, his involvement and favorable rulings were quite suspicious, and are reason enough for Guatemalans to be nervous about his plans to return to his day job. #FueraCharchal hashtags are flying all over Twitter, with Guatemalans continuing to voice their desire to shed the corrupt reputation of their government.
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By La Salsa Inglesa
It is considered good food etiquette in Guatemala to keep your fridge full with pre-made food ready to offer unexpected visitors at any time of day or night; aunque solo tortillas con queso’ (even if it’s just tortillas and cheese) as the phrase goes. A Tupperware filled to the brim with frijoles is one requirement; a bowl of escabeche is another. Escabeche combines chilies and vinegar to make a spicy condiment ideal for desayunos, cenas, pupusas and, of course, on top of tortillas con queso.
This recipe was taught to me by the Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano’s (AMA) talented cook; my mentor over the summer who tirelessly serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner to groups of hungry service learning volunteers.
If you’re not keen on hot food be sure to take out all the chilies’ seeds and membrane. Leaving the chilies whole, which I did on my first attempt, made the escabeche extremely hot. For a medium-hot condiment try taking the seeds out of half the chilies, as suggested in the instructions below.
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Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Alyce Devlin, who is originally from Melbun’, Australia but is now co-owner of Mandarina here in Xela.
What brought you to Xela and how long were you planning on staying?
I came to Xela in November 2014 to brush up on my Spanish. My plan was to stay for two months and then move on to Mexico where I was going to retire.
And so what happened?
Well it was going to take more than two months to fix my Spanish. A warning to all the newcomers: Spanish is harder than you think.. I also just really liked Xela, and decided that if I liked it, why leave.
What were your first impressions of the city?
It was grungy. And there were a lot of drunks sleeping on the street. Definitely not the prettiest city I had been to.
And you still stayed?
I liked the grunginess, it felt more real and less shiny than other places I had traveled. And Ok, I also met a hot young boy…
Ahhh so you stayed for a boy?
Nooo, but it was definitely a part of the attraction.
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XelaWho’s ear-the-ground correspondent, Alex Mac, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month he spoke to Luis, proprietor of the world famous Taiwanese Empanada shop just across the road from the Yoga House. A tried a true go-to of Xela’s hungover and hungry, these guys really know how to satisfy a craving…
So Luis, you’re originally from Taiwan, right? So how did you end up in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala?
Well about 18 years ago my son came here to study medicine at the San Carlos University and he said Xela would be a great place for me and his mother to move. So the following year, we did!
Wow, that’s quite a move. So when did you start the empanada shop?
Pretty much straight away when we got here. We needed to make some cash and I knew how to cook.
So how did the famous Taiwanese Empanada come about?
I invented it when we started the store. I guess it just made sense. Guatemala, Taiwan, Empanadas, Chilli Oil. It just all came together.
And you’ve got a team of young Guatemalan ladies working with you, do you all speak Taiwanese together?
Ah, they’ve been here a couple of years and are picking it up well. Probably more than my Spanish!
So how is it different living here in Xela not Taiwan? Do you go back to visit?
It’s a lot better here, I love it here. I go back to visit each year or two but this is my home, where I have my business and my family.
So there’s another Taiwanese restaurant that just opened up in town. Do you know them?
Yeah, we’re mates. It’s a small (extremely small) Taiwanese community here in Xela so everyone knows everyone.
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By Auntie Dolores
Dear Auntie Dolores,
I’ve been living in the city for 2 weeks and few days ago I had my first date here with a Guatemalan woman. We met in front of the theatre and headed to a bar. I wanted to share a litro with her but she said that she doesn’t drink. I thought to myself umm strange but I can deal with that — at least on our first date — I know other people that don’t drink and they are fine, most of the time. Besides, we were having a good time together and she wanted to meet again on Sunday. But it wasn’t exactly the meeting I was expecting: she wanted me to go to the church with her. At this point I was confused, no alcohol, and church? Also she needed to be home at 7pm! There was definitely something weird going on. I asked her about all this and she explained, “Soy Mormona.” This marked the end of the date: she went home — it was already 7 — and I polished off another liter of cabro wondering how I can get better at dating in Xela. What is a Mormona? What can I do to have fun with this person?? I would be grateful for any piece of advice that you may have for me Auntie Dolores. Thanks in advance!
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Backpackers in Guatemala are a strange breed. Many come to the land of the Maya seeking an authentic adventure, claiming to be a different type of traveller to those that swarm into the likes of Cancun and Costa Rica‘s tourist traps on made-to-order package holidays. And yet, pretty much every single backpacker that you meet in Guatemala is on the same route, visiting the same places and staying at the same hostels (usually those hosting the best parties).
Don‘t get us wrong, we have nothing against the ?Top 10 Places to Visit in Guatemala? that are recommended by all guidebooks: Tikal, Semuc Champey, Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the likes are all epic spots that should be visited by anyone traversing the country. Nor do we have anything against Guatemala‘s infamous backpacker hostels: on more than one occasion the staff here at XelaWho have found themselves necking tequila late at night in their underwear at the bars of said hostels (sorry Mum).
Nonetheless, it is somewhat disappointing that in a country with as much to offer as Guatemala, so relatively few places are visited and so few backpackers get ?off the beaten track? to visit some of the country‘s less known, but equally jaw -dropping, spots.
Perhaps at the top of the list of the most underrated places in Guatemala is the department of Huehuetenango. So in this month‘s issue of XelaWho we‘re here to give you our top tips on getting to and travelling around what is frankly one of the most all-round beautiful areas in the country.
Unfortunately, there‘s still not much tourist infrastructure in Huehue which means that getting there and getting around can be a bit of a hassle. If you can, we recommend hitting up some locals with a car and suggesting that they travel with you (with their car of course, although you should tell them that it‘s their valuable company that you‘re really after). Just make sure that said car is in good condition and will not break down half way there, forcing you to hitch for the rest of the trip — as happened on XelaWho‘s fabled journey to Huehue earlier this year.
An excellent place to base yourself for travelling around is the remote town of Chacula?, which has lodgings called Posada Rural Finca Chacula?, offering a limited selection of private rooms and camping space next to a lake. If you can ?t access a car, then you can get there by taking a bus to Huehuetenango and from there you can either get a direct bus to Chacula? or you can take a bus to Nenton and then from there either get a micro or a pick-up to Chacula?. Once you‘re there, it‘s pretty easy to get to nearby spots, either in your own car, by hiring private transport from the local town (a rather expensive option) or by hitching on the back of pick-up trucks.
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P o p p i n g
Xela CICIG… Ya!
Back in March news surfaced that CICIG, the UN-sponsored commission responsible for all of the hugely successful corruption investigations over the past 18 months, was going to open a regional office right here in Xela. This was excellent news for all those who had long suspected that there have been some pretty dodgy goings-on within municipal and state-level governments in Quetzaltenango. Nearly six months later and the people of Xela are still waiting earnestly for the new office to open and begin its work. This month Iván Velázquez, head honcho at CICIG and the man with the biggest balls in Guatemala, broke the silence at a conference here in the city claiming that the new office is “casi lista” (almost ready) to open its doors. This is great news but should also be taken with a grain of salt, given we’re in Guatemala where “casi lista” is about as useful as when someone tells you “ahorrita llego.”
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XelaWho’s ear-the-ground correspondent, Alex Mac, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month he spoke to Aldo and Rafael, the guys in charge at the world famous late night taco stand “El Quetzalteco” on the corner of Parque Central near the Dispensa Familar. If you’ve been out late stumbling around Xela and aren’t vegetarian these guys have probably saved your life… or at least eased your hangover!
So where are you guys from?
Aldo: I’m from Totonicapan. Rafael is from San Mateo Chiquito in Quiche?.
Wow, so far away. So how did you end up in Xela?
We both moved here for this job a couple of months ago. There isn’t much work back home and this was a good opportunity for us.
What’s it like working at the cart?
It’s great. We really like the work. We make lots of money but it’s a commission of our sales so we have to sell lots of tacos.
Alright, I’ll be sure to tell everyone to drink up and come gets some tacos later on. So who do you work for?
The owner is a guy called Roberto. He’s only got this cart but he’s a good owner, he treats us well.
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Hola Macha. Prefieres hablar en inglés o español?
I’m much more charming in English
Sure.. let’s do that then
Alright. So what brought you to Xela and how long were you planning on staying?
I came to volunteer at Trama Textiles, a women’s weaving cooperative based here in Xela. I arrived in May 2014 and I was originally planning to stay for three months.
So what happened?
I really liked the community here right away. It’s so laid back, you can be working and it feels like you’re on vacation. When I arrived I was actually coming from the United States and planning to move back after volunteering at Trama, but in the end I realized Xela was much closer to what I was looking for.
Definitely. And what do you do here now?
About a year ago I started a smoothie and juice bar called Frutopia which is now located on sexta calle just a block and a half east of Parque Central.
(Editors note: Frutopia is delicious. Jalopeño Jacobo recommends the Del Bosque smoothie but everything’s tasty)
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