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The Magic Formula

Portada XW117 smallTake a trip to Lake Amatitlan near Guatemala City & you’d be forgiven for thinking upon first sight that its almost radioactive green colour must be due to some sort of volcanic phenomenon. Upon closer inspection, however, the lake reveals itself to be a grotesquely polluted green sludge that washes up on the shores with oil, chemicals, rubbish, faeces and you-probably-don’t-want-to-know what else.

14 municipalities share the lake but, in a classic case of the tragedy of the commons, none of them assume the responsibility to look after it properly. Consequently, around 2.25 million pounds of rubbish are deposited into the lake each year, together with huge quantities of sediments and waste from nearby communities and factories. The lake loses about a meter of depth each year, now down to less than 18 meters deep from its original 33 depth of meters. It is estimated that within 25 years Lake Amatitlan will be no more than a swamp, in what is sure to be one of Guatemala’s worst environmental disasters in history.

Enter the Guatemalan government to save the day! Well, not quite. Last month it was announced that AMSA, the institution responsible for “caring” for the lake”, together with the ludicrous but always entertaining Vice-President Roxanna Baldetti, have decided to invest in a multi-million dollar project which will supposedly clean the lake within 10 months and that is so shady it could almost pass for something straight out of House of Cards, if it wasn’t for the sheer incompetence of it all.



P o p p i n g

Youth Consciousness

Social Media was filled with outrage as an image of someone vandalising the Chocoyos bridge in Zone 1. As a result a group of masked youths surprised the locals of Quetzaltenango when they erased the graffiti on the bridge, which was built in 1822. The youths, who belong to a group called Gix, are design students at a private university. “We were concerned to see the image of  someone vandalising the bridge and nobody did anything about it” said one of the masked youths. Users of social networks have demanded that the authorities investigate what happened and give a future solution, because the bridge is part of the history of the Quetzaltenango. A video of this amazing act can be found online. Simply go to youtube and search Limpieza “Los Chocoyos”- GIX

Adams Family (“Hermaphroditical”) Elections

by Richard Brown

Election season is coming up in Guatemala, so it’s important to remember that election mudslinging isn’t something new to the media age, and in fact some of America’s beloved founding fathers were pros.

Take the election of 1800. Thomas Jefferson secretly hired a media consultant, journalist James Callendar, to dish the dirty. Soon, publications accused President Adams, up for reelection, of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ campaign fired back that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father,” in other words calling him part black, part Indian, and part slut all at the same time. And since Jefferson fought for separation of church and state, loved the French, and was a Deist, which means he believed in a Creator but not necessarily in the God of the Bible, the Adams camp warned that Jefferson would create an atheist, Robbespierrian nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will openly be taught  and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” A prominent minister called Jefferson “a decided, hardened infidel.” A Yale President and supporter of Adams said in a speech that “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution” under Jefferson. Meanwhile, reports said that Adams would definitely launch a bloody, costly war against France if reelected, and that Adams had said so many things in support of monarchy and aristocratic rule that in trying to top them “all the words of our language, nay, all the ideas of the human mind, would be vainly applied.”

Reading Sets Us Free at Flex

by Julio Urizar

Reading sets us free. It seems commonplace, but with this slogan the Xela book festival FLEX will celebrate its third year.

In Guatemala reading is not a common habit. When reading is a tool that allows each individual to actively participate in their self-education, shaping collective horizons of dialogue, critique and understanding, it is regrettable that few show an interest in opening a book.

The love of reading is typically cultivated in childhood or youth. A girl or youth who develop creative and critical thinking through reading are individuals that have on their side the powers of memory and imagination to think and reinvent their contexts through any professional discipline they choose. Teachers and parents are responsible for promoting reading, but society must also allow spaces to invite you to read and where reading is a pleasure.

Experiencing Guatemalan Street Food

by Diana Pastor

For many people from other countries visiting Guatemala, eating street food can bring to mind one of two things: a cheap, filling and ridiculously cheap culinary experience or a nasty surprise that leads your stomach to send you running to the bathroom. But how can one know whether a particular bit of street food will sit safely in your stomach and which kinds will leave your calling to God on the big white telephone. It doesn´t sound very each to guess between them, but some basic tips can help you choose wisely which type of street dishes you should go for and which ones you should avoid, as well as what steps you should take if you decide to take the risk with one of the more suspect street food dishes.

Recipe of the Month: Platano en Gloria

by Simone Riddle

If there’s one fresh fruit you’re guaranteed to find in any ‘tiendita’ it’s plantain. Guatemalans love them and no desayuno chapin would be the same without it. Don’t let their over-ripe appearance put you off. That’s when they’re at their best! So whether you can’t face walking further than your corner store, or you were persuaded by the amazing deal of ‘10 por Q5’ at la Democracia and now have no idea about what to do with your platano surplus, then this is the recipe for you! Eaten as a mid-morning ‘refa’ or as a dessert with un poco de crema fresca, this will satisfy even the sweetest tooth.

Grow Your Own: Growing an Orchard

by Juan Jardinero

“We are star stuff harvesting sunlight.”
? Carl Sagan

The cold season is coming to end, and we couldn’t be happier. Though seasonal changes have become irregular around the world, we are now in what we could call a short spring. The sun is bright, the humidity is starting to accumulate in the mountain tops, and soon, rains will come to replenish the earth so seeds hiding in the soil can grow and greenify all our surroundings. But maybe in the meantime you´ve been growing your garden, regardless of the frost and crazy changes in temperature that occur from early morning to noon, if this is the case, perhaps your getting close to harvesting some delicious veggies from garden.


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.

The end of February brought us another round of the jaw-dropping, batshit crazy Guatemalan politics that we’ve all come to know so well. After serving just two years of his sentence in the US for laundering $70 million of Guatemalan money through US banks and accepting illegal bribes from Taiwan, ex-president Alfonso Portillo made his triumphant return to Guatemala. Triumphant in the sense that he was greeted by a crowd of fanatical supporters who were beyond excited to see the #LlegadaPortillo and were promptly treated with a speech that signalled his effective re-entry into Guatemalan politics. Portillo laid out his #PropuestaPortillo for the country with the much-loved recipe of meaningless populist rhetoric, including proposals to carry out “major surgery” on the country, seek out “agreements” for the good of Guatemala, create a “democratic front”, combat illegal trafficking (although we´re assuming  his definition of “trafficking” doesn’t include money laundering), reform the State, rewrite the Constitution and even (cringe alert!) to combat corruption.

Not for the Faint Hearted

XW 116 smallAs you may have cottoned onto after being privy to the experience of being on a chicken bus that has been stuffed to at least three times its maximum capacity, or witnessing an ayudante whack out his huge wodge of cash, chicken buses can bring in rather large sums of money, especially by Guatemalan standards. Couple this with a huge government transport subsidy program that is poorly supervised and a country that is rife with organised crime and you can quickly get to grips with why extorting money from Guatemala’s transport companies has become such a regular practice that transport company owners have come to see it just as a cost of doing business.

This doesn’t mean, however, that this state of affairs does not have dire consequences for many of Guatemala’s bus drivers. Being a chicken bus driver in Guatemala has been named one of the most dangerous jobs in the world – on a par with professions such as loggers, miners and deep sea fishermen but without a decent salary to match the risk.

Anyone who’s had the experience of a white-knuckle ride on a chicken bus could easily be led to believe that this high level of risk is down to crashes and accidents that buses incur on route. And we’d forgive you for thinking that: let’s face it, chicken bus drivers do drive like maniacal, wannabe rally car racers.



P o p p i n g

Let’s Go Bowling

Being a culture and nightlife magazine, we’ll be the first to tell you that Xela’s a great hotspot for culture in Guatemala. However, for those evenings when you feel like going out and doing something but aren’t in the mood for being cultured and civilised your options are pretty much limited to drinking beer, drinking tequila, trying to bust some moves on a dance floor or drinking beer (although, frankly, we see no reason to complain about this state of affairs). Fortunately, we now have another option to add to the “fun things to do in Xela” list: the city’s first bowling alley! Located in Paseo las Americas commercial centre (across the road from Walmart) it sports an impressive 12 lanes  that, to our pleasant surprise, appear to all be functional. So we would have to concur with a man, much wiser than ourselves, when he once said: “f*ck it dude, let’s go bowling!”