Tuesday, July 24, 2007


It´s been two great, and very fast, years. We´ll be back after a week of driving through Mexico with new material about Guatemala published from our new headquarters in the U.S. and other exotic ports of call.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Of the Medio Maraton Las Rosas

Your correspondent's dedication to aerobic exercise while in Guatemala has been a bit spotty. Guatemala isn't really an ideal location for running or biking, although that doesn't seem to stop some small portion of Guatemalans who are out running or biking in full regalia as if they were doing the Boston Marathon or the Tour de France, except on busy highways with no shoulders and clouds of diesel fumes everywhere. As such, there are occasional tests of athletic skill, such as the recently contested "Las Rosas" half marathon in Antigua.

Several co-workers of The Lovely Katherine decided that this would be a fantastic team-building opportunity to do the half marathon together, allowing everyone to participate by walking if they wished. Your correspondent agreed to participate as well, under some delusion that such a goal would motivate him to actually get some exercise to run the race. That delusion dispelled after a month of no training of any significance, your correspondent decided to go ahead and walk the race with the rest of the group.

It turns out that the idea that one might want to walk in a half-marathon race is foreign to many Guatemalans. The race started in a tight pack that took a while to thin out, so even the people who hoped to be running couldn't. But before long the runners sped ahead, putting some distance between themselves and the walking participants. And by "walking participants," I mean The Lovely Katherine, about six of her co-workers, and your correspondent. Through the early going, we enjoyed a symphony of honking horns as cars grew frustrated that the race route was still closed despite the fact that there didn't seem to be any runners on it. Before long, the gap between us and the main pack grew too great to ignore, and they reopened roads to traffic and we moved to the shoulder. A healthy crowd had turned out along many populated sections of the route, and reactions to our efforts were mixed. The majority of observers cheered us on, clapping and yelling "animo!" In the early going, some observers offered kind encouragement, saying "You've just started - you can keep running!" Others were more direct, with "cheers" such as "What are you doing?" or "You already lost!" One kindly woman listening to a radio report told us that we should take the shortcut to the town square, lopping off the last six or seven miles of the race, because the winners were just about to get to the finish line anyway.

Your correspondent will admit that he just about died of embarrassment in many of these stretches. Fortunately, the enthusiasm of the staff photographer for wandering through some of Antigua's outlying neighborhoods in a large group with a mostly understanding crowd won the day. We carried on through the full 13 miles, minus a couple short shortcuts, and returned to the main square to find that they had long since disassembled the finish line timer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Plenty of Egg, Needs More Nog

The Holla offices are getting a bit hectic as we pack up our reams of meticulously filed notes from various field studies, the presses, the massively disorganized payroll department -- everything -- so we can decamp for Washington in a couple weeks. We of course have a few vital research items to accomplish. Last night, we hosted a going-away party, which the Spanish-speakers of the world, with uncharacteristic efficiency, simply call a "despedida." It was a fantastic evening, with solid representation from chapines and gringos alike, from both the Embassy and Common Hope (where The Lovely Katherine works).

Of course, in our relentless quest to uncover every bit of inside knowledge Guatemala has to offer, and pass it on to you, the loyal reading public, we knew this was our moment to finalize a long delayed task. Guatemala has many legitimate claims to fame, but the sad truth is that their culinary prowess is not among them. But even the cultures with the least enticing cuisine manage to come up with unique potent potables. Some time ago, your correspondent was dispatched to the Highlands of Quetzaltenango and Huehuetenango. In reaching Quetzaltenango, one must pass through the smaller town of Salcajá. There are many towns this size through the country with nary a bibulous product to their name, but somehow, Salcajá is famous for producing two different varieties of distinctive local booze. Your correspondent returned with a bottle of each caldo de fruta ("Fruit Stew") and rompopo. The latter seems the more dangerous, as its primary ingredient is -- no joke -- eggs, which provide its distinctive yellow hue. There are several signs in town advertising rompopo for sale, and after choosing the sincerest rompopería to be seen, your correspondent entered to find a simple room with two glass cases filled with bottles of the vaguely nog-like product, a picture of Jesus, and nothing else. However, the caldo de fruta was sold at the same establishment, but the customer had to specifically as for it, prompting the employee to disappear into a back room and bring out the fruit-filled crimson bottle. In the end, your correspondent could not be sure if he purchased illegal moonshine caldo de fruta or legal moonshine caldo de fruta, but we applaud his willingness to take the risk in the name of journalism.

In the end, the purchased beverages were a bit too vibrantly colored and, in one case, a bit too eggy, to tempt our tastebuds on any given evening. That ended last night, when we shared with our guests/victims the two delicious concoctions. (The rompopo actually says "Delicious Rompopo" right on the label.) Despite the fact that they had languished for about a year in our liquor cabinet, several brave souls stepped up to give them a try.

The verdict? Caldo de fruta tastes exactly like 80-proof Robitussin. And the rompopo? As the winning smile on the face of our test subject shows, rompopo is an acquired taste. You might be able to come close by mixing egg nog with cream of wheat, blending, and then adding some more eggs. Suffice it to say that while we will be returning to the U.S. with a small supply of a number of Guatemalan delicacies, such as coffee and Zacapa rum, we will not be sneaking any bottles of rompopo across the border.

Special thanks to Todd, who was perhaps the most willing of many who risked their lives by drinking rompopo last night. We hope to see him at work on Monday.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Jugando el Golf

Nearly two years ago, we packed up everything we own and shipped it to Guatemala. Much sporting equipment has languished in our "maids' quarters"/sporting goods graveyard since that time. Somehow, the skis just didn't come in handy. But as the final weeks of our engagement in Guatemala tick away, your correspondent finally found an in to do some vital research on the links of the Land of Eternal Spring.

My co-worker Carlos's family is now a member at the tony San Isidro Club Campestre, which is a really old-school country club. I would guess that they would allow American diplomats of any shade into their clubhouse, but I'm not sure that there has been a test case.

They have a full locker room with wood-paneled lockers and complimentary shaving cream.

They have a bar that is actually, literally called "The 19th Hole," with a sign and everything, and, as near as we can tell, no women allowed. (Women are allowed to be members, and to participate in the primary 18 holes of the facility, but I guess men need to be able to tell sexist jokes in peace over a drink. Maybe there's a women's 19th Hole that we didn't see, decorated in pink or some such.)

They have caddies. Our first trip out, one of the caddies told us we had enough time to play out holes 1 and 2, and then play number 18 back, and then it would rain for the rest of the afternoon. We did as he advised, and literally as we were walking off the 18th green it started to pour. Smart caddie. And since we carried our own bags, he wasn't even getting a tip out of it. The downside of the caddies were a few holes where we saw literally 10 people milling about one green, as four or five guys and their various attendants all shuffled about -- and they had golf carts to carry the bags. I guess the caddies are really just there to let people know how many more holes before it rains.

On the 4th of July, we actually made it out early enough to get in a full 18 holes before the rainy season's afternoon storms ended our day. Of course, daily afternoon downpours left the course in middling condition -- I had a couple nice drives into the fairway that plugged into the dreaded fried-egg formation in the rain-softened ground. No matter; the course was beautiful, set in the rolling hills above the city (which city you can see over the horizon in the above picture), and while our host was not an excellent golfer (which you can see by him missing the ball in the above picture), he was an excellent host.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Of the Kaibiles

Some of our more attentive readers, or perhaps just the emotionally needy ones, will recall that in a previous, slightly jumpy (ok, we admit it, schizophrenic) post about Belize, your faithful correspondents promised you more detail about a contact working on a special assignment training with the Guatemalan version of the Green Berets. We weren't kidding. Upon further reflection, however, we have determined that given certain exigencies of our other, more lucrative, employment, we should not in this forum editorialize about the Kaibiles, or Guatemalan Green Berets.

So, just the facts. Apparently, in training to work as the Defense Attaché in a Latin American Embassy, many of our men in uniform actually go through the officers' training classes of our Latin American allies. Guatemala is one of those allies, and so, a Major friend of ours from the Embassy has spent his months here training with the Guatemalan army. One of their tasks, as it was described to this civilian, involved hanging out in the jungle for a couple days, running up mountains in the middle of the night, swimming down rivers, and such. I would have imagined these to be tasks more befitting an enlisted man, but I will again caveat my complete ignorance of such matters.

Anyway, on our way up to Belize by road, all of four weeks ago at this point, we stopped to pick our Major friend up from his jungle outpost, which happened to be on the way. Said outpost (see illustration, supra) features castle-turret themed guard posts along the perimeter, and a sign that translates as: "The Kaibiles of Guatemala / Respected by their adversaries / Loved by their people / Have a nice trip."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Unusual Visitor

The Holla offices are too busy preparing for our pending return across the continent to be exploring Guatemala as fully as our loyal readers have come to expect. But we did find this guy hanging out on our sixth-floor balcony, flat on his back, creepy little legs waving helplessly. Not unlike previous creepy visitors we're a bit baffled how he got up six floors and then fell over on our balcony. Being lovers of life as we are, we tried to set him aright and let him go on his way, but he promptly flopped back over on his back, apparently suffering from a cramp from climbing six floors up our apartment building. Guatemalan folk wisdom does claim that all variety of bugs try to gain access to human habitations when the rainy season starts, but that was well over a month ago now. In any case, since he was too wounded to wander away, we had no choice but to photograph his predicament in a warning to any other insectoid intruders contemplating scaling our building.