By Diana Pastor
It’s 4.30 in the morning on August 9th, and in Joyabaj you can hear the fireworks announcing that the show has begun. There aren’t many people in the central square, but the traditional dances begin to flow through the streets of the town. One of these dances, called the flying bat, is one of the oldest traditions in the municipality. A depiction of it is on the municipality’s coat of arms, which depicts two men descending from the air, tied with ropes from a giant wooden stick.
Patron saint festivals, or fiestas patronales, are yearly celebrations dedicated to a patron or saint and are held by most towns in Guatemala, and Joyabaj is one of the most famous. Joyabaj is a municipality in the department of Quiché, located 4 hours from Quetzaltenango. Although it is a bit far from Xela, it is certainly worth traveling to during its fiesta patronal which runs from the 8th of August to the 15th. We recommend visiting Joyabaj during the first day of the fair, which is when an interpretation of the pole-stick dance is performed, along with many other colorful dances. The traditional dance of this area has ancient origins, and requires quite a bit of preparation which must be done days in advance.
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By Jalapeño Jacobo
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 Sophie Anastassiades, who was raised near the city of Marseilles in France but now works for the organization Alterna here in Xela.
So what brings you to Xela?
Five years ago a good friend of mine told me that Xela would be the perfect place for me, but I didn’t finally make it here until September 2013 when I arrived for a fellowship position at an organization called Alterna.
How long were you originally planning to stay?
Well, my fellowship position was only supposed to last for four to six months but from the very beginning I knew I wanted to stay longer. I was looking for a place to settle and I immediately loved Xela and the work Alterna was doing.
And what is it about Xela that made you stay?
Xela is the perfect balance of so many things. It’s a big city but it feels like a small community, there’s a balance between local authenticity and businesses that cater to foreigners, and there’s a balance between urban life and nature. I also love the cute little gangs of street dogs, and how beautiful the moon is here.
What does Alterna do?
Alterna is the first social innovation and entrepreneurship center in Central America. Our mission is to help people create and grow social businesses. We also serve as a platform to help local social business owners network and learn from each other.
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By Alex Mac
XelaWho’s ear-to-the-suelo correspondent, Alex Mac, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month he spoke to Mayra Perez Oxla, proprietor of the famous Tienda Mayra y Rosy Venta de Pupusas (aka the “Parque Central pupusa ladies”). Right on the corner of the park, locals and foreigners alike line up for ages every night of the week to taste Mayra’s pupusas .
So where are you from Mayra?
I’m from here in the center of Xela, pura Chiva toda la vida!
How long have you been selling pupusas here in Parque Central?
The store has been here about 15 years. My mum Maria Louise Oxla used to run it while I was growing up but since she passed away I’ve been looking after the stand.
If you’re pura Chiva, how come you sell a typical Salvadoreñan dish?
We don’t sell Salvadoreñan pupusas, we make them with a different recipe and style that’s popular in Xela. So they are pupusas but Guatemalan pupusas not Salvadoreñan pupusas.
Every night I see huge lines of people waiting to buy pupusas at your stand but other stands are empty. Why are yours so popular?
We’ve been here for so many years so people really know us and trust the quality of our delicious pupusas.
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By Auntie Dolores
Dear Auntie Dolores,
A week ago I met a girl. I want to ask her to go out but before I do that I want to organise have the perfect first date. We both live in Xela. She’s a gringa and I’m from France. Neither of us know the city very well so I need some stellar advice on what to do. However, there is a small detail that I have omitted thus far which may turn out to be a problem during our first date and our future together: she loves Donald Trump! I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to deal with this. I like her a lot so I want to be able get over this obstacle and get to truly know the girl underneath. Help me Auntie!!!
Trapped by Trump
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Cantinas… ever been to one? We’re not talking about your Brooklynite hip nightspots where your man Sergio sorts you out with the best $15 cuba libres you can find while listening to authentic South American classics like Justin Timberlake’s “Señoritas.” (Fun fact: a cantina in your faithful editor’s hometown Sydney, Australia has a candlelit shrine with photos of Jesus below a giant iron statue of a pig… because that’s Latin American, right?)
No, we’re talking about the salt of the earth bars/room-with-a-fridge-in-it you find all over Xela. If you’re looking for a real Guatemalan experience, you can’t go wrong chatting up the usually colourful crowds you find in these local institutions. As always, we here at the XelaWho HQ have got you covered with a guide to Cantina-land here in the fine city of Xela.
You can’t walk a few blocks in Xela without running into a cantina usually blasting Trova (local sad guitar folk music with hits like Tristezas Quetzaltecas) from a classic jukebox surrounded by tables of men enjoying a Quetzalteca Blanca or seven. The crowds are usually (read: always) all male and can get pretty rowdy after a few drinks, but you’ll hear some pretty wild tales of local folklore if you join in the fun. Word of warning: cantinas can be a bit rough so keep your wits about you and if you feel unsafe at any point, it’s probably time to move on.
The are some pretty famous cantinas in Xela. None more than El Carmen just opposite Mercado Central. Established in 1954, the same year that Guatemala’s President Jacobó Arbenz was assassinated in a CIA sponsored coup, Doña Ana Maria and her mum of El Carmen have outlasted the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, Guatemala’s civil war and the Rolling Stones. Surprisingly enough, while most cantina regulars are male, the proprietors are usually pretty tough ladies who don’t take schtick from anyone making a ruckus in their establishment. Doña Aura Violeta of the Super Chiva Cantina up near La Democracia market remembers passing many jovial Christmas Eves with her regular crowd of festive cantina dwellers who affectionately call her Abuelita (granny). So if you don’t have any plans for next Christmas, we’ll see you at the Super Chiva to neck back some quetzaltecas with granny.
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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.
The end of April saw yet another explosive corruption case come to light in Guatemala, implicating disgraced ex-President Otto Perez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti once again. In the #CasoTCQ, the pair is accused by the anti-corruption crusaders, CCIG, of leading a criminal organisation that pocketed over $30 million in bribes in return for awarding a contract to build a port terminal on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast to Grupo TCQ, along with a 25-year concession to operate it worth $255 million. Prosecutors allege that Perez Molina and Baldetti received 60 percent of the bribes. Then to add insult to injury, current president Jimmy Morales, who claimed during his electoral campaign last year that “the greatest guarantee of transparency for my government is my mother, because she didn’t raise thieves”, was accused of holding secret meetings with the Maersk company, the majority stakeholders in the TCQ Group. The Guatemalan Twitterverse responded with the #AEscondidasComoJimmy hashtag, with which users tweeted that they #GoIntoHidingLikeJimmy when they “watch Sex and the City”, “come home drunk and my mother is waiting for my with a frying pan in hand” and when they “listen to musica banda.” @_SuperAlejo summed up the situation, tweeting that Jimmy’s government is “as transparent as the waters of Lake Amatitlan.”
On the plus side, things do seem to be looking up on the corruption front: Prensa Libre reported a whopping 398% increase in official corruption accusations since 2014. Throughout May a National Dialogue on reforming the Guatemalan justice system was also held across the country. You can follow the updates with the #ReformaJusticiaGT hashtag.
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Each month our very our investigative reporter Jalapeño Jacobo interviews a foreigner who’s gotten themselves stuck in Xela. This month we spoke to Richard Brown, who was raised in Virginia in the United States but now lives here in Xela and works with EntreMundos, a local NGO.
Sooo Rich, what brings you to Xela?
Well two and a half years ago I was living and working in the US until one day at work I ate half a bag of potato chips and became so ill I had to leave the office. It was the last straw. I knew then that it was time to make a big change.
I knew I wanted to move to a small city where I’d be surrounded by Spanish speakers, and it just so happened that the flights to Guatemala were cheaper than any other flights I could find. So I ended up in Xela.
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By Fathouse Productions
You’d trust a company called Brodway (not a typo) Commerce Inc., right? Well, so did Mossack Fonseca, the money-laundering, shell company-creating, law-skirting Panamanian law firm whose leaked documents are the now-famous “Panama Papers”. The firm saw no problem creating Brodway Commerce as a shell company for Guatemalan entrepreneur Marllory (also not a typo) Chacón, the Queen of the South and one of the most successful female drug kingpins of all time.
It appears that Mossack Fonseca did not even do the least bit of research on the Queen before accepting her as its client and allowed her to launder millions of drug dollars. Guatemala’s corporate sector appreciates that kind of… trust, putting Guatemala 6th on the list of countries home to the businesses that hired the now-infamous Mossack Fonseca (after the other trust-loving corporate havens of Hong Kong, the UK, Switzerland, the US, and Panama).
But Mossack Fonseca’s trustiness and Marllory Chacón’s use of the firm wasn’t the star of the leaks here in Guatemala. It was the lawyer who had hooked up the Queen with Mossack Fonseca: Francisco Palomo.
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By Diana Pastor
I love Catholic churches… both for their architectural value and because they reflect a part of culture. I have always thought that churches near Xela have styles and special features that make them ideal touristic sites for those looking to appreciate local architecture. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most special churches in and around Xela so you can visit them and learn a little about thesevaluable religious jewels from the west.
At the top of the list is the La Iglesia de la Ermita, located in the municipality of Salcajá. This church was built in 1524 and still stands today… without having had any major modifications! It was the first church built in Central America and the first to be named a Christian church in Guatemala. Getting there is easy: you can take a bus to Salcajá from La Rotunda in Xela and it should only take you around 30 minutes.
Close to Salcajá, not in the Department of Quetzaltenango but in Department of Totonicapán, is la Iglesia deSan Andrés Xecul. It is a psychedelic-like monument that attracts many tourists for its bright colors.
To get there, take a bus to go to San Francisco el Alto and ask the driver or attendant to drop you at the stop “La Morería”. Once you’re there, you’ll cross the road and take a pick up or tuk-tuk to take you to the center of San Andres.
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Can an idea change the world? Are dreams worth having?
By itself, ideas are only figments of one’s imagination, concepts of fantasy. Implemented, however, ideas can bring about profound impacts and become the seeds of change. Think about how microfinance has spread worldwide and transformed the lives of millions. Or how a personal idea of yours has changed the trajectory of your life.
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is coming to Xela for the first time in history! Organized by a team of committed volunteers, TEDxPuenteDeLos Chocoyos will bring together the best minds of Xela from a variety of fields for a one-day conference focused on the concept of taking actions for your dreams. The theme of the event is “Ser Nefelibatas, caminar soñando”, which literally means to be a dreamer, but walk while dreaming. The event will showcase speeches divided into 4 main themes: Pequeño a Grande, Jamás pensé, Jamás sonè, Sín Limites and Sueños Unidos. Yes, all the speeches will be in Spanish.
The team has put together 10-12 speakers who are weaved into the fabric of Guatemala. They include Carlos Guzman, the entrepreneur who grew Xelapan from a single store to the chain it is today, JuanCarlos Barrios, the guitarist of the famed Bohemia Urbana, the Xela-famous Bonifaz, who has used theatre to talk about issues ranging from migration to the importance of water, and Luis Grijalva, Xela’s current mayor. It is our hope that their stories will inspire the audience to start taking actions for their dreams.
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