By Susana Raymundo
Nebaj is one of the towns in the Ixil región of the Quiche department. The Mayan culture continues to be strongly prevalent there, as in years past. The town is surrounded by huge mountains which serve to protect it from natural disasters. The following is a translation of one of the folk stories from this region (originally told in Ixil, the dialect spoken in the area).
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February is known as el mes del cariño (the month of love / affection), and so what could be more appropriate than dedicating this month´s edition of XelaWho to our greatest cariño: our beautiful city of Xela.
Sure Xela´s not without its problems – there can be mountains of rubbish piled up in the cobbled, pot-holed filled streets, piles which are promptly torn to pieces by hoards of mangy street dogs; the traffic can be so bad that it´s often quicker to walk to your destination than to be crammed into a mini bus holding about 10 more people than its maximum capacity; there’s the occasional mugging or robbery (but, then again, what place in Guatemala, or indeed Central America, is safe from that?); and during several months of the year you are very likely to encounter a river flowing through what used to be a road. Xela may not be as immediately pretty as Antigua; it may not have as many shops, malls, bars or amusement centres as Guate; it doesn’t have a coast with some idyllic beaches; and there’s no huge Mayan temples in the middle of jungle to be found here.
But any extranjero that has been sucked into the black hole that is Xelan life, will be the first to tell you that there is just something about this place. The story’s a common one, and one that won’t take you long to encounter if you’re a newcomer to this city: they came here only planning upon staying for a couple of weeks or months, perhaps only to take a few Spanish classes before moving on, with grand ambitions to travel the rest of Latin America or to return to their jobs in their home country. But one thing led to another and several years later Xela is now their home and they have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Perhaps they fell in love with a charming Quetzalteco/a, or they found a rewarding job with one of the many NGOs or Spanish schools here, or perhaps they’re not doing much at all and just spend their time soaking up that distinctive and unique Xela vibe. But whatever their story – one thing binds them together, and that is they arrived here and very quickly realised that they didn’t want to leave.
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P o p p i n g
There’s just something about snow that gives it an uncanny ability to turn even the most mature and responsible of us into excited little children – itching to go out and play, build snowmen with carrots, scarves and buttons, go sledding recklessly down the steepest hills you can find and launch snowballs at unsuspecting passers-by. Those Canadians out there, or others that come from ridiculously cold countries, may laugh at all the newspapers reporting on the “high levels” of snow in San Marcos when it only amounts to an inch or two. But snow in Guatemala is a pretty rare occurrence – 2009 was the last time Guate experienced any snow, and that time it only reached the high points of the volcanoes. So let’s let everyone enjoy it whilst it lasts (which let’s face it, will probably only be a day or two). And to the people of San Marcos: build some snowmen for us here folk here in Xela, who will still be freezing our nuts off at night-time, but without the added prospect of being able to throw snowballs at each other.
F lo p p i n g
Poor start for Guatemalan football
2013’s Central American sporting season (and by sporting season we mean football season, since that is the only real sport that exists for the majority of people here) got off to a kick this January with the biennial Copa Centroamericana. Well, it got off to a kick for the rest of Central America, but not so much for Guatemala, who performed rather abysmally. Guatemala came second to last in their group, consisting of Costa Rica, Belize and Nicaragua. They didn’t manage to win a single match, but instead drew all of them: 1-1 with Nicaragua and Costa Rica (with Contreras and Espinoza scoring one goal each) and 0-0 with Belize. They then went on to play Panama for fifth place in the tournament, but ended up losing 3-1. So overall Guatemala came 6th out of 7 in the tournament, outperforming only Nicaragua, which isn’t exactly much of an achievement given they are the only country in Central America where baseball is more popular than football. Come on chaps, you can do better than that!
By Diana Pastor
Oh February… the month of love! Soon, thousands of couples will be more in love with each other than ever: in the streets, the cafes and parks. And now, increasingly more widely, in the tourist sites too. We are in the midst of experiencing a boom in intercultural relationships. It’s not a joke. The number of European and U.S. folk in relationships with Latin people has launched into truly impressive figures as of late, and Guatemala has not been the exception. To cite an example, I can quickly count how many of my own friends and acquaintances are soon to be married or are in a serious relationship with an extranjero/a (foreigner). Nine. This might seem like a small number, but these are just amongst my circle of friends (which is a really small circle). It would be interesting if the Guatemalan government, amongst the “wonderful” ideas that is has, would fund a “love census” to determine the approximate number of such couples in the country.
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For travelers new to Xela, or those “savvy” long-termers who stick to the Wal-Mart-owned Dispensa Familiar, the experience of heading up to the Minerva or Democracia markets in Zona 3 can be a bit daunting. Grocery shopping sin your debit card takes a bit more time, sure, but you could save more than the cost of one of those fancy iPhone apps you used to get there (and sometimes you’ll even score a complimentary bunch of parsley or an inexplicable wink, depending on the mood of your preferred veggie vendor). From bartering with the crazy cheese señora, to resisting the hypnotic mating calls of the tortilla ladies, or negotiating the mystifying melee of locals stocked with latest array of household cleaning supplies trying to shove you out of the way, these markets can be challenging but can also one of the best experiences in Xelatown.
The Democracia market, or La Demo, is a sprawling mess of vendors between Parque Benito Juarez and Calle Rodolfo Robles where you can find things from the freshest veggies to a ridiculously large selection of plastic colanders at places such as the aptly-named Plastilandia. From sunrise to sundown the market rages on, prices dropping with the sunset and heavy rain. Do: be loyal to your veggie lady for customer appreciation discounts. Don’t: forget to bring a re-useable bag.
Despite the misleading rumors peddled by many Spanish school teachers, the Minerva market isn’t all that sketchy and offers low prices and the widest range of goods in town. Located at the main bus terminal, the Minerva market is an experience in itself with a labyrinth of amazing flower shops, mountains of second-hand clothes, and pretty much every kind of nut you can think of. Do: check here before heading across the street to the more expensive Megapaca. Don’t: head up after dark when the area does get a bit dodgy.
The other two honorable market mentions are the Mercado Las Flores and the Mercado Central. Las Flores is a little neighborhood market just up the road from Chocoyos Bridge where you pay a little more but get good deals on veggies and friendly service. Mercado Central doesn’t have the best range of goods but is close to Parque Central and can be handy if you can’t make it up to Zona 3. Do: frequent these markets when you’re in a rush. Don’t: forget to barter with the initial gringo prices.
We’ve all heard of, or experienced, the hazards of eating various foods in Guatemala. Whether it’s buying fresh vegetables from the local market, accompanying your pupusa with cabbage, or getting your favorite refreshing beverage chilled with a few ice cubes, you’re likely to get sick.. If not once, twice, or like some of us, who see the glass half-full and count the sick-free days. Luckily, your friends here at Xelawho once again have your back, providing you with some tips on how to avoid the dysenteric misfortune some of us have already experienced.
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by Diana Pastor
I’ve said many times and I will continue saying it: I love the diversity of Guatemala; diversity in cultures, diversity in climate, food diversity, diversity in fruits. Who doesn’t like Guatemalan fruit? This country should be declared the fruit mecca of Central America. Although Nicaragua and Honduras have some of the finest tropical fruits, there is so much exotic variety in Guatemala. Still haven’t tried these natural delicacies? Don’t be shy; take the plunge to live a different culinary experience with the following:
Moquillo: Whose real name is Saurauia madrensis. It is a small fruit, similar to a kiwi, whose skin can be peeled back gently by hand, beckoning a sweet, refreshing fruit.
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Here at XelaWho, we take our half-assed journalism very seriously.. Which is why we spend five minutes a month searching for news you can barely use.
Rome, Italy – A group of would-be bandits tried to escape Italian police while robbing a clothing store posing as store mannequins. The three amigos, aged 78, 70 and 55 almost got away with the heist but for one of them sneezing, blowing their cover.
Silverton, USA – 1:32pm December 17, 2012 – Police report, theft: Inflatable snowman stolen.
Pyong Yang, North Korea – A crack team of scientists has finally solved the age old question that everyone asks themselves at one time or another… do unicorns really exist? The answer is yes, apparently. The North Korea team recently found a large rock with the inscription “unicorn lair” on it in a temple built in the Tongmyongan dynasty. The king supposedly kept a stable of unicorns about 2300 years ago.
read more of "The World in Briefs, January 2013"
P o p p i n g
Cleaning up Xelatown
Recycling! We are all aware of the lack of participation in this practice here in Xela, as most public trash cans (permitting they have a bottom) are overfilled with plastic bottles and paper crumples, serving as vending machines for street dogs rather than alternatives to throwing Styrofoam pupusa plates (see “Street Food” article) into the city sewage grates. But think of this as your chance to do your part! Thankfully, there are places to properly dispose of recyclables, right here in Xelatown. Located just a few hundred meters from the Rotonda heading out of Xela on the way to Las Rosas, is a giant playground-like recycling center- where you can bring pretty much anything, and purchase pretty much anything recyclable! Another great spot is located just near Mercado Las Flores, a bit closer to Parque Central on 8th calle. This location can only receive specific goods, but happily take what they can and point you in the right direction of responsible places to dispose of your rubbish. They even pay you to take it!
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December 21st 2012 is the date that is on everyone´s minds this year, not just for us folk in Guatemala, where the mystical date originates from, but across the world. An array of theories and prophesies surround the 21st, predicting everything from the apocalypse, to collective spiritual awakening, to alien invasions. But with the mind-boggling Mayan calendar (or the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar if you want to use the fancy term) lying at the centre of all this speculation, it can be easy to get swept up in all the excitement without really understanding what it’s all about. So in this month’s XelaWho we hope to shine some light on the most important date of 2012 so our readers can enjoy the festivities without having to worry that they have no idea what they’re actually celebrating.
The Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar uses a linear method to track time forward from a mythical creation date, generally agreed to be on the 11th of August, 3114 BC. This day marked the creation of the fourth world, or age: the world in which us human beings were placed by the Gods. Each world in the Mayan calendar consists of 13 b´ak´tuns and the completion of the next thirteen b´ak´tuns falls dead on the 21st of December, 2012 – effectively bringing us into the fifth age. For those wondering what the hell a b´ak´tun is, it´s easiest to think of the Mayan calendar like a tally system that goes up in counts of 20: starting at a k´in(1 day), going to a winal (20 days), to a tun (18 winals), to a k´atun (20 tuns) and then onto a b´ak´tun (20 k´atuns, or 144,000 days). So another 18.104.22.168.19 occurs on the 20th of December, and the 21st marks the start of the 14th b´ak´tun, 22.214.171.124.0, and the beginning of the next age. Phew.
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