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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.


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.
Guatemala loves a good football game, and they love one football game in particular —the annual faceoff between Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, known asEl Clasico.This event is awaited with breath that’s not so much baited as it is perfumed by a healthy intake of Gallo. On a recent Sunday, Pasaje Enriquez was packed with jersey-clad aficionados who had come out to cheer and drink before noon on a Sunday.
On Twitter, the event made big waves —Guatemalans were tweeting under the hashtag #elclasico, but also signaling support with#viscabarcaand #halamadrid. Some took the occasion to poke fun at Guatemala’s fascination with soccer. “All I’ve seen today is #viscabarca and #halamadrid,” wrote one user. “No wonder Guatemala’s a developing country.” Others tweeted memes poking fun at players on both team or took wholesome selfies of themselves with their partners, dressed in their team’s colors and tweeting from the couch.
Holy Week awoke a spiritual fire in the hearts of Guatemalans, and near the middle of April #alabanza —praise —trended on twitter. Most of the tweets were earnest, simple, and stuffed with hashtags, including #dios, #jesus, and #domingo. Twitter can often seem like a godless place, so there was something earnest and healthy about seeing all that fervor expressed on the internet. No word on whether God uses Twitter, although the Pope certainly does.Genuine Guatemalan home-grown superstar Richard Arjona set off a minor firestorm on twitter when it was announced that he would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Latin Music Awards.
Arjona is a bit of a national hero —he’s done more than perhaps any Guatemalan musician to shape the landscape of Latin Music and has a long history of chart-toppers to his name. Arjona fans expressed their appreciation with #Arjoniemosunrato, celebrating the singer and his achievements. Most of the contributions under this hashtag were lyrics from his songs, many of which are too saucy to translate here. With the Arjona mania, however, came the Arjona backlash. #arjonaverguenzamundial was a space for people to talk about how much they hated his music. Some were ridiculous —”he uses subliminal messages.” Others were hyperbolic —”Hitler wasn’t as bad.”
Xelawho doesn’t have any strong feelings on Arjona one way or the other —the only music we need is reggaeton remixes featuring Daddy Yankee and the entirety of R. Kelly’s hip hop opera “Trapped in the Closet.” If anyone can make sense of the Arojna/Hitler comparison, however, send us an email. We’re genuinely curious. Oralé Xela!




Pupusas are delicious

Xelawho would like to give an old-fashioned shoutout to thepupusa —that delicious Salvadorian grease dumpling that will steal your heart before clogging it with merciless efficiency. A good pupusa is often followed by another, and then sometimes by a third. Don’t think twice about putting down your shot at a long, healthy life as collateral so that you can get a heart attack’s worth of fried masa in your stomach.

Live fast, die young, and eat pupusas. That’s an epitaph you can see that epitaph on many marble mausoleums under the pepper trees of Calvario. It’s no coincidence that some of the best pupusas in Xela are on the far end of the triangular park that fronts the cemetery. Pupusas make life worth living; they also are hell on the circulatory system.

Make Guatemala Wait Again

17546858_10155269212099914_9139887215637117051_oIt’s rush hour in Xela, and the city is still as the grave. Cars on 4th calle stretch bumper to bumper from Parque Central to Calvario and beyond. The micros on 14th Avenue crawl at a snail’s pace up the hill to the signal on Rodolfo Robles, which itself has vehicles at a near-standstill stretching clear to the other side of Demo. Avenida Las Americas—an area of the city that, unlike the center, is designed for cars rather than horse-drawn carriages—is a slow-moving glacier of tail lights and idling engines, with time itself bending past the event horizon at the dreaded underpass. So for our wiley navigators of Xela’s roads, here’s XelaWho’s patented guide to surviving Guate’s ailing infrastructure.

Xela’s fleet of tricked-out beaters, numbering 200,000, is projected by some to double by 2020. The traffic isn’t just inconvenient; it threatens the livelihoods of the drivers of delivery trucks and taxis, and the lives of those who need speedy transport by ambulance to the hospital. Various studies and transit plans from the municipality have produced neither the funds nor the coordination nor the vision needed to address this problem. A traffic light here and there, along with the occasional traffic cop tooting their whistle, are basically cosmetic solutions.
Xela’s problems are small potatoes compared to Chimaltenango, however. The gateway to western Guatemala is a sprawling, clogged mess of whorehouses and pinchazos that adds a full hour to drive along the Pan-American highway from Guatemala City to Xela. During rush hour, or in the event of a parade or accident, that six kilometer stretch slows to a slog that can last two and a half hours or more. The construction of a 15 kilometer bypass that skirts Chimal rather than running through the middle of town was supposed to finish up this year; it’s over budget and behind schedule and somehow opposed by the people of Chimaltenango, who fear the loss of daily standstill traffic will leave their whorehouses and pinchazos short on customers.

Shakshuka Style Eggs

La Salsa Inglesa

Writing this recipe I had trouble deciding whether it’s best described as shakshuka or ’huevos rancheros’. The chili and the coriander give this breakfast dish a Latin American feel but without a typical roasted tomato sauce, fried eggs or black beans it doesn’t quite constitute as ‘huevos rancheros’ in my book. This is an ideal weekend brunch recipe. It requires little effort to cook, it’s low in fat (the eggs are steamed not fried), comforting and extremely nourishing. Add a handful of peas or spinach to add extra goodness. Shakshuka is a wonderful dish to share. When in good company place directly on the table to eat collectively straight out of the pan, but only do this with Chocolate and avocado potsthe most intimate of friends. Serve with tortillas or pita bread. Serves three hungry mouths, or six as part of a larger collection.


6 organic free-range eggs

2 tbs olive oil½ large onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced1 jalapeño, deseeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp cumin½ tsp smoked paprika1 small red pepper, chopped into thin strips

4 large tomatoes, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp sugar

1 bay leaf

1 handful cooked peas or spinach (optional)

Coriander for garnish


Heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan and begin to fry the onion to soften. Add the garlic and chili and fry for another couple of minutes before adding the cumin and paprika, fry for one minute stirring continuously. Add the fresh tomatoes and pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes before adding the tinned tomatoes, sugar and bay leaf. Season and simmer for 10-15 minutes until you have a rich thick sauce.

Make six wells within the pan and carefully break in the eggs, cover the pan. After a couple of minutes sprinkle over the peas or spinach. Cook covered for another 5-10 minutes until the egg whites are firm but the yokes are still runny inside.

Serve immediately with toasted pita or tortillas and the coriander sprinkled on top. Bon appetit, 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.

The Best Guatemalan Chiles

by Diana Pastor

Guatemalans don’t like spicy food —don’t like it, at least, in comparison to their Mexican neighbors to the north, who are famous for their fondness of tongue-sizzling tastes ranging from the mild but addictive flaming hot cheeto to the nuclear fire of the ghost pepper. Guatemala, nonetheless, is not the Midwest of the United States, where ketchup is sometimes regarded as spicy. Chapines use some spice in their foods, like most of Latin America, and this article will serve as a brief survey of the most popular peppers that you can find in our cuisine.

The chiltepe: This is the classic Guatemalan pepper —an old standby that can be found in markets across the country. If you say that someone is a chiltepe, that means they’re small or short with a personality that’s fiery bordering on explosive. The chiltepe is a small pepper—a tiny red or green bulb on the end of a short stem. You can find them pretty much anywhere and buy a small bag for the modest price of a single quetzal. Pop one in your mouth and bite down, and you’ll experience a small detonation of spice that will quickly clear your sinuses and bring a brief wave of tears to your eyes. Don’t worry; you’ll be okay. It’ll be over soon. Sizzle scale: Three fire alarms out of three


February was another thumb-cramping month on Guatemalan social media. #DiaInternacionalDeLaMujer lit up screens across the nation with bold statements from twiteras chapinas in solidarity with the struggle for gender equality like @la_juventud who tweeted “Yes, International Women’s Day is over but the struggle for gender equality continues!” There were some more unfortunate contributors, however. None more so than @ADios_hi who tweeted “I’m ready to celebrate International Women’s Day thanks to Islam” with the picture shown on the page on the right. Adios @ADios_hi.

The biggest, loudest, rock-y-est, coolest band in Guatemala since Spinal Tap —Bohemia Suburbana—turned 25 last month. Their big birthday concert spurred a tweetstorm on #BS25 bigger than Trump bored in a national security briefing. @sofiataracena said she was “more excited than a kid in a Disney film.” So happy birthday to Guatemala’s favourite rockers—and big fans of Xela’s own Xelita IPA…

On a more somber note Guate’s twiteros got online on #ChuckBerry to commemorate the loss of one of the greatest rockers ever, Chuck Berry. @PublinewsGT said “Chuck Berry broke down racial barriers to create Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Too true @PublinewsGt. RIP Chuck.

Every man and his chucho with a smartphone was out snapping pics of Xela’s freak storm last month. The first storm of the year washes several month’s of Xela’s sins in the form of Lemon Tortrix wrappers down the drains into the sewage system creating blockages and havoc on the streets. Aside from the usual Nuestro Diario-type disaster pics, some Quetzaltecas posted some helpful advice to #InundacionesXela and #TiempoGT?such as @AlertaGt502’s suggestion for a new transport system for Xela on the page opposite.

And it just wouldn’t be social media if people weren’t whining about the traffic on #TraficoGT. In this case it’s not a 2 minute delay on your daily fixed-gear bike commute to your shift at that hip artesinal salt dispensary in Pittsburg (a.k.a Portland of the East), but the permanent car park known as Chimaltenango (see editorial). @chejoSb said “Chimaltenango, your traffic hurts me.” @Estuardinho10 said “Chimaltenango in Kaq’chikel means ‘trafico de la gran puta‘ (DIY translation). @AFS63 resorted to praying “please don’t be any traffic in Chimal” but should take note of @bohemio2k’s tweet “There’s traffic here in Chimaltenango *True no matter when you read this tweet*.

But there is an end in sight —the shiny new bypass in the sky around Guate’s favourite traffic jam will open in early 2018 (see page opposite).

Orale Xela!




La Huelga de Dolores

It’s Lent—that long period of anticipation that leads up to Easter, that special holiday on which all of Latin America absolutely loses their minds. In Guatemala, the Lenten celebrations come with the Huelga de Dolores.

What is the Huelga de Dolores? It’s a tradition maintained by the students at USAC that involves satirical newspapers, a parody of the Holy Week processions, a silly song, and a dancing skeleton—all done while wearing colorful hoods so you don’t get murdered by the government. The huelga is an opportunity to speak out against the state and the church, and to poke fun at their institutions, during the biggest institutional holiday of the year.

There’s a long history to the huelga which goes back to the 19th century. It’s a bloody and depressing one that we have neither the space nor the heart to detail here. If you see USAC students running around in colored hoods—especially on Good Friday —we advise you stop, listen, and attempt to unpick their satirical and foul-mouthed commentary