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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!”

Inventing the World Through Cultural Spaces

By Julio Urizar

Any community needs social and cultural spaces that offer their inhabitants opportunities for exchanges and dialogue. Rather than offering a schedule of various activities, a cultural space should position itself as a platform for action that promotes artistic expression and reflection that is spawned from alternative forms of knowledge to those that are traditionally taught in school.  With special attention to children, a well-designed cultural space can be like a house, a museum, an art school, a gallery, the street, or even the city itself; a place where laughter, friendship, creativity and critical thinking invent the world.

A cultural space can be a place where it´s possible to harness the creative energy and super powers that come with being a child (imagination, wonder, creativity, curiosity and transformation) and that allows these energies to fully develop and manifest themselves.

Celebrate Your Birthday Like A Chapin

By Diana Pastor

If you are living in Guatemala or are just passing through and by chance you happen to have your birthday whilst you’re here make sure you celebrate it the Guatemalan way. You should know that there are three key ingredients for having a birthday that is worthy of being called a cumpleaños chapin: something sweet, something salty and something to drink. If your budget is limited … don´t worry, there is a simple and cheap combination of these three vital ingredients that never fails: enchiladas, Magdalena cake and tea. These are the staple foods that are served at pretty much every Guatemalan birthday party.

If you still haven´t got round to trying enchiladas yet, then let me tell you that they are tostadas (basically large tortilla chips) with refried beans, avocado, beef or chicken mince, cabbage, tomato sauce and… basically any other ingredient that you fancy putting on top of your tostada, as long as it´s salty (we don´t want you going too crazy!).

Recipe of the Month – Rice & Beans

The Caribbean dish ‘rice and beans’ may not be the first food that comes to mind when sat shivering in the cold highlands of Guatemala, yet it is a popular dish eaten along the east coast influenced by the Garifuna culture. The magic ingredient for Garifuna cooking: coconut, and lots of it! Let Caribbean culture infuse your soul and fill your belly with this delicious side dish.

I suggest using tinned beans for this recipe for those of you not lucky enough to own your own pressure cooker. The coconut milk can be bought in larger tiendas in Xela.