Adam writes on 2014-01-08:
So here we are Cobán kicking back for the day. Having made guacamole in our room, we spent the remainder of the evening hanging out with a couple guys from Germany, as well as a new friend Drew who is super friendly, very laid back and interested in shamanism and the the like. We were spectators during several intense chess matches.
We both had a pretty strong sleep and definitely made use of our down sleeping bags as it is pretty chilly at night. We had a lazy morning which involved eating the economy breakfast at a Cafe Fantasia and then headed back to the hotel for a little a nap. I am not usually an afternoon napper, but this cold is still lingering and I think that I need the rest.
Having slept for a bit, we emerged from our hibernation with the intention of finding some grub and a nearby museum of Mayan culture. There are various interesting things to do around Cobán which we have read about and heard first hand reports. The coffee tour and flower nurseries are supposed to be worthwhile. While we have been on a coffee estate tour in Boquete, Panama in the past, this one is supposed to assist with palate differentiation between different hardness of coffee due to altitude and other specifics. The local gardens are suppose to be amazing and home to numerous types of orchids – perhaps 650 different species. There are supposed to be some caves nearby which I also find interesting, but this cold has made the prospect of doing anything major unappealing at the moment. We might consider hitting some of these after we return from Tikal as we will, no doubt, be staying here again.
Yes. It may be kind of strange to discuss things that we haven’t done, but wait, there’s more. We spent a significant amount of time today trying to find the Museo el Principe Maya. We even used Google Maps on Jenn’s phone with wireless internet having pulled the SIM card from our new wireless modem. After asking around repeatedly, we found that it was back in the Parque Central area which we had past through several times already. It sounds like the museum has been moved and we unknowingly walked past it more than a few times over the last couple of days. We did find it after it was closed, and it is not exactly well signed.
As part of this day, we went to eat “pupusas” for our late lunch/early dinner. Drew had suggested a place but we didn’t fully grasped the directions. With a little help from internet sources, we believe that we found the one he recommended. It seems that the main strip including the Parque Central and main Cathedral and built on a high area and all rights that run perpendicular and very steep. We walked down the steep grade to find Cafe El Merendero, “the best pupusas in town”, or so “they” say. We entered the humble and empty cafe and began the process of ordering this food we hadn’t had before, or seen been eaten – only photos. In the process of all of this, we both noticed that the entrance of the building which is on the corner, and specifically our table, would be in the complete line of fire if a vehicle were to continue straight down the steep grade and lose control. More specifically, a motorcycle could fit right through the door. Had this ever happened?
We received our menus and stumbled around with our poor Spanish and eventually ordered pupusas. From what I can tell, they are basically “nixtalized” corn, like tortillas – or corn treated with lime/calcium hydroxide. Nixtalized corn is what separates much of the corn eating in Latin America from corn such as “on the cob”, or kernels served up as a side for a dinner in North America. From what was explained to me years ago in an Anthropology class thought by a professor who is an archeologist in Belize, is that the calcium hydroxide breaks the nutrients of the corn down making the nutrients more available, especially when combine with beans or other legumes.
So back to pupusas. They are essentially like two slightly thick soft tortillas – or maybe it is considered a single stuffed tortilla – fried up with ingredients sandwiched inside, such as cheese and beans, chicken or beef. When they arrived, they resembled potato pancakes or something similar with a little crispy cheese around the edges (mmmm, cheese scab). The provided condiments was a savoury but not very spicy tomato based sauce, pickled cabbage, and mix of pickled carrots, cauliflower and jalepenos. It was all very tasty with the pickled condiments and sauce piled on top.
I am slightly surprised to see these pickled condiments as the cabbage is basically sauerkraut. We have heard that there are Germanic influences in Cobán, as well as other areas in Guatemala including Panajachel. In fact, our new German friends explained to us that they were here, at least partially, to explore the German influence of the region. Having seen pickled condiments since we entered Guatemala, I am unsure as to whether this might specifically be of European influence in terms of cuisine, or just an “obvious” form of preserving food. With any respect, the pupusas were delicious and we will surely have more sometime. I believe that they even more present in El Salvador.
We also tried a “liquado”, or fruit smoothy which can be made with milk or water – and which Jenn believes are made with a Ghiradelli mix – which would explain their sweetness. Liquados are very popular in Guatemala and seen in most places so far. They are pretty tasty but a little sweet for my regular consumption.
As part of our expedition to find the museum, we did pass a German hotel which only supports the local German theme, and found ourselves in the local market part of town. Having decided to make guacamole again, we wandering into the market which sold many things, in search of fresh produce. It turns out that the part of town we are staying in is ever so more upscale than other parts of town but this is relative.
The market is full of Mayan people selling from street stall
things such as dried black beans, tomatoes, unwashed potatoes, onions, coriander and other herbs, and chayote, a previously illusive fruit to us but have now eaten in “caldos” – soups with very large chunks of food, and in mixed steamed vegetables. Also for sale are various Mayan clothing items, an assortment of shoes with no shortage of imitation Crocs, and various hardware parts including flashlights, tape measures, as well as various medications. We had a short wander through a long tarped area and seemingly got some looks. There are enough tourists around here, but perhaps they don’t wander down to these areas to often.
There is also somewhat of an obsession with cowboy boots amongst the Guatemalan cowboys. Interestingly enough, one shop which is at an intersection at the crest of two very steep hills sells Made in Mexico cowboy boots. While this city lacks cobblestone streets, we can’t imagine that cowboy boots remain popular amongst treacherous narrow sidewalks and often steep roads. Fashionistas!
There was no shortage of avocados, including several rather large rope bags of them – straight from the plantation – no doubt, but they didn’t seem that ripe to use. We eventually bought some from an indigenous lady as she demonstrated that they were ripe. Having picked up six avocados for about Q2, or about US$0.28 as well as some tomatoes and and lime for around the same price.
Having arrived back to our room I began to prepare the guacamole. Lime juice, garlic powder (more straight forward than fresh), chopped Roma tomatoes, and avocados. I started to try to cut the avocados and realized it would be better to crack them open like an egg as had been the way of the various “demo” avocados at each stall. They had a hard skin, thick skin and a big pit. These are definitely a little different than those we are used to buying back home, or even local in Latin America so far. I am glad that I picked up six as there was much less fruit than I am used to, with a slightly stronger flavour, and slightly fibrous texture. My understanding is that the Hass variety is popular in this region but I don’t think these were Hass. After having successfully scooped out our six avocados, the guacamole was served. It wasn’t the best we have ever had but interesting and tasty nonetheless. We usually serve it with tostadas, being commercially prepared round, flat fried corn tortillas, not unlike what we know as restaurant style nacho chips in North America – just not cut. Another way of looking at tostadas is that they are like flat versions of what we know in North America is “hard taco” shells – just flat. The “hard taco”, incidentally, is an American invention and we haven’t seen one south of the US border, to my recollection. Tacos in the Latin American world are soft tortillas (corn or flour), often warmed on a flat griddle.
With any luck, we (meaning sicky me) will be ripe and ready to head up towards Tikal. We are starting to watch our time as we eventually have to transit from Panama to Colombia, and depending on how we choose to make the crossing, we may have a strict schedule or not.
Currently, we are looking at three options: flying, ferry, or yacht. Flying is fairly simple but the most expensive, and lands us in Bogota which would mean we have some backtracking to due to visit the coast. The “Stahlratte” ship is a popular choice but very time sensitive and it runs infrequently at this time of year. Ocean conditions, from recent reports aren’t great and this promises be a rough ride. There are some trickier options involving a series of small boats it comes at a higher risk. There has also been an attempt to run a “roll on, roll off” ferry which should take 24 hours, but their initial runs have been met with bureaucratic problems with landing in Colombia (maiden voyage was supposed to have taken 24 hours and they ended up at sea for 7 days), so we are eagerly awaiting news on this one as it sounds like a promising third option between flying or taking a large yacht.
See the full Cobán gallery here.