Sunday, July 26, 2009


The Orden del Quetzal is the highest non military award given by the Republic of Guatemala. It was created in 1936 by General Jorge Ubico to be given to people for outstanding services internationally, civic services or notorious merits in the literary, scientific, artistic or humanitarian field. Later it was allowed to also be given to institution to be carried on their flag.

In a trip we did to Bentonville about 4 years ago, we stopped by the Walmart visitor center , which is full of history and memorabilia of the Walton Family and their American Dream story. My eye is keen to see any Guatemalan connection and sure enough we found on display the Orden del Quetzal awarded to Helen Walton in 1992 by President Serrano Elias for her interest in education through the Walton International Scholarship Program.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I am currently in Colorado. When we came back from Guatemala we found out we had new neighbors, very nice ones I may add, during a quick visit at the pool 'she' shared with us her mom's dad was Guatemalan.

Today I was pleasantly surprised when there was a knock on my door followed by an invitation to meet her mom. We got talking and I found out her mom's 'tío abuelo' (granduncle) was a famous Guatemalan musician: Maestro Oscar Barrientos, consequently this post came about.

Maestro Oscar Barrientos was born in Guatemala and learned music from talented musicians such as Rafael Alvarez (composer of the Guatemalan National Anthem), Santiago Coronado and Alfredo Pinillos.

He was a music critic for the newspapers of the epoch: El Imparcial and La Hora. He was one of the founders of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, were he worked for 50 years until 1982. During time he was the assistant director of the Orchestra.

He was also professor at the National Conservatory during 35 years. He was the first president of the Guatemalan Philharmonic Association and served as president for three terms.

He represented Guatemala at the International Contest of Orchestra Directors, he was selected on the top five amongst 80 participants from all over the world.

The plot thickens in this story, I am almost sure that Maestro Barrientos and a member of my family, also a prominent Guatemalan Musician, met about 6o years ago. This post will soon have a sequel were I will write about the men from my family I am referring to and my findings on if they actually worked together with Maestro Barrientos. I am so tickled to think that three to four generations ago my neighbors family and my family met and about 60 years later in another country the two families coincide again!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I have already shared with you the spiritual and historic side of Esquipulas, now I will share the folkloric side.

The trip usually goes like this (when by car):

Leave Guatemala City at about 5:00 am.

Stop on the way to have breakfast. In the 70´s we used to pack a pic nic and stop on the side of the road. The picnic which I still make fun off, consisted in hard boiled eggs wrapped in aluminum foil, panes con frijoles, wrapped in napkins and placed back in the loaf's plastic bag and juice. During the 80`s when safety became an issue and cars were faster ate in the car on the way, during the 90`s until today that we have more into our bourgeois ways (jejeje) we usually stop at at a Restaurant along the way (not that there are tons of choices), usually Sarita, Atlantico or Longarone. -although if it were only for me I stop at a tortillas con loroco stand on the road-

Arrive just in time to participate at 11:00 in solemn mass.

Stand in line for the blessing. This is also very typical, if you have had the chance to buy suveniers before or you have brought water you can have it be blessed. You can also just stand and get the blessing yourself with Holy Water.

Take a picture in front of the temple. (You can see them in the Esquipulas Part 1 post)

Visit El Señor. To follow this tradition is better to go during the week, during the weekend you can stand in line for hours to be able to go right in front of the image of El Señor de Esquipulas.

Buy Sombreros de Esquipulas and colorful decorations for your car. I am not sure we ever did this but we did it this last time. To show that you have done the pilgrimage people come back with "Sombreros de Esquipulas", hats adorned with string, knick knack, stamps of the Christ, pipe cleaners, etc. For the car or bus you buy colorful pipe cleaners that go curled on the antenna or anywhere you can wrap them around.

I do have to stop here to say that I had never thought about them as pipe cleaners until I met Tom and he came to Guatemala. I happened to have bought a new car, so I said to him we will go to Esquipulas to get it blessed (the obvious thing to do). I will never forget the puzzled look on his face and also how sweet and politically correct he was when he asked me to further explain this. Many Guatemalans (my family included) have followed the tradition of getting our car blessed in Esquipulas (in reality what is blessed is not the car but the passengers and its travels). Tom not ever having heard of such a concept, said ok I can understand you want to bless the car but why do you have to travel 300Km instead of doing it at the local Church. I had no real answer to that other than: TRADITION, TRADITION, TRADITION! -note: I am singing the Fiddler on the roof song-. Well, off we went to Esquipulas for the first time with Tom on the way I was explaining about the decorations, I said they tie this multicolor, fuzzy, prickly strings, that are weaved in bendable wire, bla, bla, bla. When we got there and saw them he said: Oh, pipe cleaners! Since then the experience really has not been the same although my devotion to the Cristo the Esquipulas and the favors we have received are ever growing.

Light candles for everyone that has asked you to light a candle for them in your visit. It used to be that the candles were lit inside the temple, of course deteriorating all the interior. After the restoration the area for burning candles was moved to the outside of the church.

Buy Toronja and other triglyceride raising goodies. Toronja is grapefruit but THE toronja of esquipulas is a typical candy fudge like made out of toronja and sugar. It comes in a green color block.

We hardly ever stay the night anymore so after all these we head out and have lunch/dinner on the way back.

I hope you enjoyed the pilgrimage!


Saturday, July 18, 2009


Today we went to the Denver Art Museum, beside enjoying the day I was hoping to find some Guatemalan pieces so I could come and tell you all about them. Even though this is not a post about the collections at the DAM, I would not do justice if I didn't say I was impressed by the quality of the collection ( a Murillo, two Monets, 7 Picassos, various Matisses, 1 Boticelli, 1 Hicks, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, pieces from the Ottoman an Mughal empires, to name a few)

Around 4.3o we made it to the Pre Columbian Art. Even though I know most of the non private collections of Mayan artifacts are outside Guatemala I didn't expect to find too many pieces. Well, I was in for a surprise!

Here is what I found:

On the main area there were on display selected pieces from Mexico all the way south to Argentina and Chile; in the pictures below, the ones from Guatemala:

Incense pots

Masks and Figurines

Then I turned the corner and a room full of cases arrange by location overwhelmed me. Although I have seen Mayan pieces in most museums I have visited around the world it did surprised me vast collections in Denver of all places.

The moral of the story is visit your state or country art museum, you might have a lot of Guatemalan History closer to home than you think! (if you do, make sure to tell me about it)


ESQUIPULAS is a town located in eastern Guatemala near the place where Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala meet. Esquipulas is, to many, including me, a sacred place. Hundreds of thousands of devoted pilgrims travel from Central America to Esquipulas every year to visit the Cristo Negro de Esquipulas at the Shrine of Esquipulas.

The Cristo Negro de Esquipulas was sculpted by Quirio Cataño in 1594 and brought to Esquipulas in March 1595. The Christ know as El Cristo Negro (The black Christ) gets its name from the skin color of the image. During restoration processes it was determined the wood was not as dark originally but it turned that way with the smoke from the candles burnt by the pilgrims. (more pictures here)

Before the coming of the Spanish the area was populated by the Chorti, conquered in 1525, taken back by the Chorti and reconquered by the Spanish in 1530, by the year 1570 the Spanish city of Esquipulas was established.

The Cristo Negro was venerated at the Parochial Church of Esquipulas for more than 200 years. Around the year 1740, when the small church hardly was able to fit the amount of pilgrims, the newly installed Bishop of Guatemala, Fray Pedro Pardo de Figueroa, payed a visit during which he turned ill. He ask the Cristo de Esquipulas to help him trough the illness and after being cured he promised to build a temple for the Black Christ. In January 1759 the new and actual temple was dedicated to the Cristo Negro.

In 1961 Pope John XXIII elevated the Shrine to Basilica. In 1994 the church and image underwent major renovation preparing for the year celebration of the 400 years of the Christ of Esquipulas. The celebration culminated with a Solemn Mass celebrated by John Paul II in his third visit to Guatemala.
These pictures are pictures from a coffee table book our friends Ceci and Fredy gave us for Christmas 2005

That same year as proof of one more miracle of Christ the peace agreements, which started inside the Shrine in 1986, were confirmed and peace was signed during that year.

Pictures from our 2009 pilgrimage.

Friday, July 17, 2009

N is for NANCE

N is for nance. Nance is a very small fruit, just over the size of a marble. Half of the fruit is its pit so to me even though I like the taste they are a bore to eat. The texture is very 'meaty', with a different flavor is like and olive, it has that texture and you have to work it off the pit.

You can eat it raw or en dulce (in syrup). It can be purchased fresh in the market or in a jar in the supermarket, you might be able to get them in the US at the Mexican stores. The childhood memory I have of nances is a glass gallon bottle filled with nances, sugar and distilled rum fermenting for a year to make nance liqueur. (I do have to say for my parents sake, who are reader of this blog that that is a very out of character memory to have of the family)

You can also make your own fruit bars out of it. Those ones I would recommend to start with a milk base nance smothie and then freeze. Using the nances in a jar would make it easier to work the pit off. The ice cream in the picture is not a bar but a sombrilla (umbrella). This one I bought at an Helados Sombrella kiosk but you can find this type of fruit ice cream (very folkloric kind) at most corner store in neighborhoods. They are made with aluminum molds sold at markets or supermakets and with a rough wooden stick.

Posts part of the series A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

M is for MAMEY

M is for Mamey a fruit tree native to Guatemala. The outside skin is tree bark like. The fruit is heavy since the consistency is very dense. When you open it, it has a gorgeous yellow-orange color that reminds you of the color palette of the houses in Antigua. To the sight it is silky looking, to the taste it is smooth, you have to bite into it since it has a lot more body than a mango. It's taste is very particular it has a sweet but tangy taste. The flesh in contact with the pit looks bubbly, like that plastic rapper for shipping. the closer it is to the pit the sweeter and tastier it gets.

The mamey is a very guatemalan fruit with a distinctive delicious flavor. Make sure to try it if you get the chance.

An expression that comes to mind, also very Guatemalan is: MAMEYAZO: A hurtful hit, a hard punch or crash. My guess is the expression derived from how much it would hurt if a mamey were to fall on your head, it is comparable to a baseball or softball.

"Hubo un accidente en la esquina, fue un gran mameyazo"
"There is was an accident at the corner, it was a big mameyazo."

"Que paso que estas todo golpeado? -Me cai de la bici -Ala! pero que mameyazo"
"What happened, you are all bruised? -I fell off the bike -Wow! what a mameyazo"

The suffiz -azo is used:
To indicate something is large or intensive: Hoy si hay un solazo! (Today the sun is really beating down)
To indicate a blow or strike: Metio el gol de un cabezazo. (He scored the goal with a head hit)
To express something is good: Guatemalan Genes es un blogazo! (Guatemalan Genes is a great blog!) :-)

Posts part of the series A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I was anxiously waiting to write about the letter L becuase L is for limón and L is for Lima (lemons and lime) and this is a point of contingency in my marriage.

When I ask Tom to bring lemons I expect him to bring what in the US is known as lime. When you order a lemonade in Guatemala you will be getting a "limade" (in the US I have only been able to get them at Sheridan's Frozen Custard).

Lime on the other hand to me evokes a different concept, there is another citrus fruit sold in Guatemala called Lima, it has a bland flavor, not sour like lemons, not sweet like oranges. People eat it as you would an orange, or make juice out of it. Inside is pale yellow and the size is about that one of an orange. (see picture of halved lima)

The yellow lemon, on the other hand, is refered to as limon italiano, growing up I hadn't seen one until my parents took me to Italy and we got the limoncello tour in Sorrento! Nowadays you can find it in supermarkets but not very often in farmer markets.

My friend/cousin Jorge tells me his grandma used to say the lima was given to dying patients since it was of easy digestion and good for keeping patients hydrated.

Below the picture of the lemon tree in my parent's backyard. When it is 'epoca de limones' we have enough to give away to friends and to make lemon ice cubes for future use.

Posts part of the series A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

K is for KUTAN

Kutan is the Quiche word for blackberry, the fruit not the phone. Blackberry grows leisurely in Guatemala.

In our 2003 house we used to have a blackberry bush, we had to compete with the birds for the fruit. During the season it was fun to eat them from the bush to the cereal bowl.

The Moras bought at a farmers market are sometimes smaller and typically harder in texture and less juicy and plushy in sight than the ones typically seen in the supermarkets in the US, I find them more bitter as well, if you ask me they are less "treated" than the one that go to the international market. People use them frequently to have as Fresco de Mora, mora drink: water, sugar and mora. The consistency is a lot runnier than a smoothie.

Helados de Mora

In a blender place the mora, kutan, with water and sugar. Place in ice cream molds. Enjoy delicious mora bars.

Posts part of the series A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.


I have been out enjoying summer with the family.... hikes, pool, fireworks, etc. Also like we say in Guatemala "GRACIAS A DIOS" (and I mean it) work is going well and we have been busy.

I am posting today new letters of the alphabet and have many post on the works. Thank you for commenting on past posts during this last week, I owe a couple of answers to some questions you sent, I will get to them! Thank you again for all your kind words about the blog and Guatemala!


PS. Gracias a Dios is a common expression used with almost every positive affirmation, although I do believe everything is thanks to him, sometimes it feels overrated I have made a point to myself to mean it when I say it:
Como estas? Bien, Gracias a Dios.
How are you? Well, Gracias a Dios.
Que tal los ninos? Pues, Gracias a Dios bien.
How are the kids? Gracias a Dios, well.
A donde se van de vacaciones? Nos fue bien en el trabajo asi que Gracias a Dios nos vamos a Disney.
Where are you going on vacation? We did well at work so Gracias a Dios we will managed to go to Disney.

If you don't say it then the other person will:
- Como estas? -Bien -Que bueno, Gracias a Dios!
-How are you? -Well -Good, Gracias a Dios!