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XelaWho by Issue

Xelebrity of the Month – March

Jalapeño Jacobo interviews PacoMax owner Walter

How long have you been in the paca business?

My whole life. My parents owned a paca and taught me the basics. Then when I was ready to spread my wings I used my experience and contacts to start this business – PacaMax.

So where does all this stuff come from?

Everything I buy comes from the US. There are companies up there that sell used goods for cheap. I buy giant crates of mis­cellaneous stuff from them and import ev­erything by boat.

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Trendy – March

We read Guatemalan Twitter so you don’t have to

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.


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Merry Xmas Xela!

Bells are ringing, it‘s freezing out, and everyone finished working for the year about 5 weeks ago, so it must be Christmastime in Xela! And as always, the good folks here at XelaWho HQ have been working hard on our guide to surviving Christmas Xela-style so you can make sure the only turkey this Christmas is the one on your plate. If you’ve been in town for a little while, you may have realized that Xela goes kinda nuts from mid-September on. Kicking off with months of marching band practice in every school in town through Independence Week and then finishing up with Christmas and the New Year — this is certainly Xela’s craziest time of year. So if you don’t dutifully fly home to see your Trumploving family for some stimulating uncle rants about how The Poor waste all their money, grab an octavo of Quetzalteca‘s finest blanco and enjoy the holiday season here in Xela!

This time of year, there is an endless series of unfathomable celebrations every weekend to celebrate this, that, or the other. If you can work out when stuff is going on with any precision, please let us know and send us a job application. From fireworks by ye ol’ Gallo tree, to Christmas tasty paches (spiced potato cakes that are steamed in banana leaves — basically the tastiest treat you’ll find in Xela) and piles of singing Christmas tree lights blaring out of time – a.k.a. the most irritating thing on the planet – it’s a magical time of the year.

Every year, most workplaces will also put on a convivio, the Guatemalan equivalent of an office Christmas party. Usually lavish affairs, many workplaces splash out of their convivio to appease the board of directors who take the convivio as their chance to be thanked for having not resigned since the last convivio. So if you’re lucky enough to get invited to one, make sure you starve yourself for a few days beforehand so you can take advantage of the smorgasbord that your nonprofit probably spent 30% of their annual budget on and hit the open bar so you can impress your boss with all your incoherent rants about the moral complexities inherent to the development sector.

And as we do every year… the traditional recounting of that time Alex ruined Christmas… A couple of years ago, yours truly decided that a Santa-shaped piñata was the perfect addition to Christmas in Xela. After 20+ friends at various stages of inebriation and coordination tried to stab Santa open with a big spoon (tip: piñatas last longer if you use a spoon not a baseball bat) and not a single piece of candy had come out, one bright-spark realized that your faithful editor had forgotten to fill Santa with candy (in Guatemala, piñatas don‘t come with candy, you need to put it in yourself). Even 6 years later, the painful memories remain of a flaming Santa being shot with roman candles in the street by an angry mob of tipsy big-kids who missed out on their Xmas candy.

And if you’d like to go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him how bad you’ve been, head down to McDonald’s by Parque Central and check out Santa’s December tour dates. A happy meal (Fun Fact: invented in Guatemala), Santa, commercialised Christmas, what more could you want?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Xela!


About a year ago, Xelawho ran a story about the upcoming Utz Ulew mall — a gilded tower we called a “behemoth” and predicted would compete with Walmart for the title of “sparkliest, most vacuous place in Xela.” Since then, we’ve compared it to the tower of Babel and speculated more than once on whether it’d ever be finished.

The moment might finally be here. After a year of furious palm-greasing, corruption-charge dodging, and extended lunch-breaking, Utz Ulew is nearing completion. The new guys are putting in the final windowpanes while their coworkers stand around trying to look busy as we write this.

Mallrats of the Xela, celebrate: no longer do you have to take a crowded micro all the way out to Walmart to stare at your phone in the food court and gossip about boys. Now, you only have to get out to La Democracia. Gallo, we’re sorry: your ugly Christmas tree is no longer the brightest, tallest, or gaudiest abomination to tower over 4a Calle. We hope everyone remembers to drink your pisswater anyways.

Is Xelawho happy about this? Good question. Having an English-language cinema within walking distance of Zone 1 will literally change our lives, as well as our movie section – we may have to review films that are “good,” instead of the worst things dubbed into Spanish that we can find, which could change the whole editorial direction of the magazine.

On the other hand, the fawning coverage in Voz de Xela, Prensa Libre, and other publications makes us roll our eyes – if the future of this town is a bunch of sleek, soulless towers packed with retail that 95% of the population can’t afford, we might as well all move to the capital.

Popping & Flopping



We´re So Sorry

Popping this month is you, our readers— you‘ve survived another year of our bad puns, endless typos, terrible jokes, and crass commentary on life in this strange and wonderful city. We love you, and we‘re sorry. Feliz navidad! Here‘s to you.

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Trendy – December

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.

:: Trendy :::
Guatemala’s national police force, the PNC, take a lot of stock in appearances — they spend an inordinate amount of time shining their boots, practicing their scowls in the mirror, and standing around with their hands on the butts of their pistols (or the stocks of their oversized assault rifles) while scowling in their shiny boots. #Operacionrelampago, or “Operation lightning,” was in keeping with that focus on appearances — a cascade of photos and tweets meant to cast a light (get it?) on their efforts to fight crime. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hold a gun and frown in an intimidating way while tweeting, so people got a bit sassier than usual. One tweet asking for citizen help and announcing when and where they were patrolling brought a mess of responses. “Don’t publish this!” one tweeter advised. “Publish after you’re done. By publishing this you’re sending all the thieves into hiding.” Another used stronger language to express the same idea: “By publishing this you’re not gonna get a single son of a whore thief, don’t be dumbasses, be sneaky or surprise them … haven’t you seen a single cop show on TV before? When you’re ready to not be so stupid I’ll help you out.” Clearly, Twitter’s new 280 character limit wasn’t wasted on that guy.

It wasn’t all dunking on cops on Twitter this month, of course. Atmosphera Radio’s Los Tres Ratones — a sort of annoying, sound-effect heavy “comedy” show in the vein of grating Guatemalan classics like Moralejas – asked people what they’re hoping to never do without with #ATMQuenuncamefalte. Many of the responses were sappy lovey-dovey nonsense in the worst kind of romantic way – “Your kisses and text messages,” read one. “Your voice,” read another. Several said, “your love.” Spare us — it’s not even Valentines day yet. Others were a bit cheekier – “beer,” “weed,” etc. Some were pandering — “Los Tres Ratones,” “Headphones to listen to Los Tres Ratones.” Twitter really is a vast wasteland; we’re guessing there was some kind of giveaway associated with this trending hashtag. Nothing like the way that brands dominate the #conversation in this lovely country.

Speaking of branded promotions — it wouldn’t be Christmas without a heavy corporate presence, right? Pollo Campero, not to be outdone by Gallo’s massive Christmas tree, hosted a fireworks show right here in X e l a — the #Lucesdecampero. Most of the tweets, unfortunately, were an unironic celebration of the inaguration of Christmas by Guatemala’s leading brands. Others were wishes — one Jimmy Morales parody account wrote “I hear the wish of all the people in Xela is that I step down.” Speaking of – what’s going on with #pactodecorruptos? A massive Santa piñata protest outside of Congress, denunciations of Guatemala City Mayor and cast-off skin of a lizard person Alvaro Arzu’s son (creatively named Alvaro Arzu Jr.) ascending to the head of said Congress, and widespread denunciations of the new Junta Directiva in that selfsame Congress – what one Twitter user called an “impunity dreamteam.” Shit’s still bad. We’ll keep you updated. Until then … Orale Xela

Dr. Sabelotodo – December

Dear Dr. Sabelotodo, I’m spending Christmas with my host family but I don’t know how to behave or what to expect. Any advice? — John Jacob Jingle Heimer Shmidt

Hey John, you sure picked a great place for your Christmas blog post. Christmas in Guatemala might not be perfect, but it‘s definitely not boring. All the action is at midnight on Christmas Eve, but the buildup starts a couple hours earlier. At ?around 10,? your host family‘s relatives will start to arrive at the house and it will be a downright jolly affair, but you and I both know that you‘re bad at Spanish and that you‘re dreadfully awkward in social situations. Just accept that the lead up to midnight is going to be painful and get the most you can out of it by bringing up interesting conversation topics such as el matrimonio gay, el comunismo, or whether or not Harambe deserved to die. You should also be saying yes every time someone offers you a drink so that you‘re good and drunk by the time the festivities really start. A couple of uncomfortable hours later, you‘ll go outside and watch the celebrations begin. The nano-second Christmas arrives, the people of Xela express their extreme love for Jesus Christ by enveloping the city in a terrifying display of pyrotechnic decadence. Every man, woman, and child shoots off fireworks with reckless abandon; shrapnel falls from the sky; the air smells of gunpowder; street dogs huddle together, saying their ?I love yous? and wishing they had time to say more. It‘s awe-inspiring chaos and it‘s the best ten minutes of the year. After that tremendous display of firepower and a few deep breaths, you‘ll go back inside for Christmas dinner. You should still be tipsy and you shouldn‘t have eaten beforehand so this part is going to be awesome. Guatemalan Christmas dinner is always tamales. There will be savory tamales and sweet tamales, and they‘ll probably all contain prunes presumably due to Guatemala‘s appreciation for both the elderly and explosive diarrhea. Friends and family share tamales so even if your host mom isn‘t a good cook you‘ll still be able to find something delicious Once everyone is done stuffing their faces with cornmeal, there will be a gift exchange, so be sure to have something ready for your host family. It might be hard to know what to get them, but you can‘t go wrong with a simple classic: something like flowers, an ornament, or a fruit cake. When you open your gift, be sure to thank them and sob uncontrollably so they know you love it. Then everyone leaves, and Christmas starts to winds down. The ending is what really makes Guatemalan Christmas great. You‘re probably used to opening gifts, eating a family meal, and then the whole thing just kind of ends with no clear conclusion. You probably spend some time playing with your new fidget spinner or trying to connect with your family, but ultimately nothing fills that deep void and nothing ever will. But, in Guatemala, just as the festivities end and that feeling of existential dread begins to set in, you crawl into bed and pass out into a peaceful drunken abyss. You‘re done. When you wake up on Christmas day, just nurse your hangover and watch reruns of Acapulco Shore as if it were any other day.

Merry Christmas, Xela!

Recipe of the Month:: Ponche Navideño

It‘s December: ponche time. Ponche, is to the Latinos what mulled wine is to the Europeans. Guatemalan ponche is distinct to Mexican ponche. It uses a mixture of dried and fresh fruit and boiled with spices rather than hibiscus, Guatemalan ponche can be served with or without ‘piquete’, alcohol. You can guess which I prefer. Traditionally prepared for ‘la noche buena’ this drink can be found in most markets and cafes during the run up to Christmas to keep Highlanders warm in the increasingly cold Xela nights. So, if you‘re planning a Christmas Shindig this is a great drink to uphold festive traditions while keeping your guests warm, if not a little tipsy.

Ingredients: One ripe pineapple, skinned, cored and finely chopped

2 apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup raisons (pasas)

1/2 cup prunes (ciruelas)

4 whole peppercorns (pimientas gordas)

2 star anis

1 orange with 10 cloves stuck in

10 cups of water ? 1/2 cup of sugar (optional)

As much rum as you like.


1.Place the pineapple, apple, cinnamon, raisins, prunes, peppercorns, star anis, and the orange in a large pot. Pour over the water, cover and bring to the boil over a high heat

2.Turn the heat down, take off the lid and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Towards the end, taste and add sugar to taste and stir

3. To serve, add 1/2 cup or more of rum to the whole pot or a little drop to each cup as you serve.

Bon appétit, Xela!

My Latin American food blog can be found at

Xelebrity of the Month – December

XelaWho‘s brand spanking new ear-to-the-ground correspondent, Mad Max, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month, Mad Max went undercover to talk to the who‘s who of Xela‘s skate scene.

So, what’s your name, man?

Erwin Barrios.

And where are you from Erwin?

Xela, Zona 5.

I see you’ve got a skateboard (a patineta in Spanish). How long have you been skating?

13 years.

That’s a good chunk of time. How did you first discover skating? I watched that Osiris video, ?Riders of the Storm? in 2001. Wow, it‘s amazing, man. At the time, Xela didn‘t have skate parks or shops, so I couldn‘t go skating afterwards. Around 2004, the first skate shop in Xela opened near Parque Central. I bought my first skateboard and started learning.

Where did you skate back then? In the Complejo by the bus terminal. That area is generally for Olympic sports, but there‘s a flat area that‘s great for learning.

Did you try to skate in the streets? Yeah… but it was difficult for learning since the streets are so rough. We didn‘t have internet and couldn‘t watch tutorials on youtube or anything. We just learned from each other. In 2008, we got internet and things got a lot easier.

And now, who do you skate with? Do you have a “crew”? Oh yeah, the dudes from Maple Board Shop. We all skate together in the streets and parks, especially on Sundays.

Sundays are more popular? Yeah. People don‘t have work, and whenever people don‘t have work, the plan is to go skating.

That’s a rad plan! How do you think all those non-skaters in Xela view all you skaters? As slackers. They think, ?They look homeless? or, in my case, they think, ?He‘s an old man and still with a skateboard!? This is something weird…? They think we must be doing drugs.

And how old are you? 34, but this is my life. I don’t want to quit.

Why is it so important for you? Why not play other sports? For me, skating is a sport, but there‘s also nothing really like it. In football, you grab the ball and go. In basketball, you put the ball in the hoop. I don‘t know, in all those sports, you focus on a single objective, but with skating, you expand your mind and become creative. It doesn‘t matter if it‘s a flat spot, or some random thing, a rail, a fun-box. You have so many possibilities. This is why I like skateboarding.

Word. Where is there to skate in and around Xela? There are skaters in municipalities around Xela, but not many places to skate. In Toto and the coast, they only skate in the streets. In San Marcos and Salca, there are small but pretty parks. Parque Extremo in Xela is like bowl, bowl, bowl, bowl. Complejo has a nice flat area with some rails. There‘s also a warehouse in Xela with a halfpipe, but it costs Q20 for entry, and that‘s too much. You have to get creative in Guatemala, but it helps you to explore the activity.

What do you think about skating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? In my opinion, it‘s a good thing for skating as a sport, but skating was born in the street, and it must stay in the street. It‘s all good though, the Olympics is just a different form and will allow for more things to be done on the skateboard.

Who are your favorite skaters? Luan Olivera, P-Rod, Chris Cole, Shane O‘Neil. Ummm, Leticia Bulfoni, she‘s pretty. She‘s very pretty. She is very pretty. I hear she just went pro for Nike.

What do you think about women in skateboarding? It‘s great! I hope there are a lot more in the future. There are many female skaters in Guatemala City. In Xela there are some too, but not as many. San Marcos too.

I agree with you, my dude! Anyway, thank you for taking time to talk. Any last words for the people of Xela about the patineta? Only that there is no sport like skating. It‘s not normal. You will like it. You don‘t have to be good, you just need the passion. You can live on the skateboard. You don‘t need drugs or alcohol… but, you do get hurt often. You give a lot to the skateboard because the skateboard needs 100%.

That‘s all. 

Hue Hue Don’t Tell Me

So you’ve been to Tikal, Semuc Champey, Atitlan and (for some strange reason…) Antigua. Onya!  If you’re looking to step of the beaten track you might want to spare a thought, and a weekend, for the next big thing in Guatemala: Huehuetenango, pronounced “way way tenango.”  A hue hue (get it?) from the snazzy organic-falafel-serving hangout you’re probably reading this in, Huehue is the real up-and-coming tourist destination in the Maya heartland. But before you start searching for your trusty North Face jacket, XelaWho has got the goods for you on Huehue’s must-sees and the troubled fortunes of its indigenous communities facing off against a dramatic international mining and hydro-electric expansion.  

XelaWho’s hard hitting reporters traveled to Huehue last year to bring you an ear-to-the-ground perspective on the best Huehue has to offer and to have a nice Semana Santa jumping into pristine cenotes (see August 2016 XelaWho edition). There isn’t much in the way of tourism there yet, but boy is there a lot to see. Beautiful cenotes (big holes in the ground sometimes filled with water), lakes, mountains, and the drunkest horse riders this side of Russell Crowe on the set of Gladiator.  


The local governments and peoples of Huehue have previously been very anti-tourism due to fears of foreign companies taking over indigenous lands. Recently having warmed up to the possibility of those sweet gringo dollars, Huehue has recently opened tourism offices, welcoming some development and foreign visitors – with the exception of international companies developing massive mining and hydro-electric projects and kicking indigenous folk off their land. 

Guatemala has a sordid history when it comes to mining. It goes back a century, but really kicked off at the end of the civil war in the mid-90s with the transition to civilian government under President Álvaro Árzu. Ever the man of the people, Árzu signed Mining Law 1997, which permitted 100% foreign ownership of mining projects and dropped mining taxes from 6% to 1%. Spurred by that and growing demand from Asia, international mining companies rushed to exploit Guatemala’s rich gold, silver and nickel deposits. The mostly Canadian companies (and you thought they were the good guys in North America! tsk tsk) – bumped Latin America’s share of global mining investment from 12% to 30%. They also increased mining permits in Huehue by a 1000% during the 2000s. The results of the vague and unenforceable environmental and indigenous consultation provisions in that law were many indigenous communities persecuted and/or booted from their land. 

Lately, hydro-electric dams have become the new development flavour of the day. While supplying green energy, these projects are often located on traditional lands of indigenous Maya. Communities in Huehue, such as Ixquisis, and San Andres, are up in arms to stop the developments and protect their homes and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the government-backed developers. During a protest in January, their cronies opened fire on peaceful protesters in Ixquisis, resulting in 2 deaths. In the first half of this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received 5 reports of attacks against community protesters across Guatemala, including the assassination of a community anti mining-activist in Jalapa.  

Local Guatemalan law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which Guatemala signed on in 1996) require consultation with indigenous peoples before any such development. One crafty developer found a neat workaround by just saying that there were no indigenous people in the development area, a conclusion that the government readily accepted. The local Maya Achi’ people, who were clearly in the area, weren’t as pleased with this conclusion. 

Community activism against such projects continues, but the prospects for the Mayan communities of Huehue don’t look fantastic as they face off against their own government and powerful international interests. At least you’ll have nickel for that new shiny iPhone and a great time jumping into cenotes, right? 

Happy November Xela! There some bad stuff going on in Guatemala but some great stuff too. So read more, get amongst it and enjoy yourself!