Once again, my tour group set out on a nine-hour journey from Peten, Guatemala on to Antigua, Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’ve only been in Antigua for a little while, but it is already my favorite stop so far in Guatemala! The architecture is resplendent, richly detailed, and intensely colorful. The rooftops are constructed of brick red tiles and the streets are paved entirely with bumpy gray cobblestone. In order to protect the city’s grandeur and charm, the Antiguan governing body has restricted the use of motor coach buses throughout the city. Fancy coach buses are only permitted to drop of tourists and their accompanying luggage in the city, but then they are directed to leave. This idea is what the Guatemalans would call fantastico!
Our hotel in Antigua is a 5-star luxury resort called the Porta Hotel. Antigua was founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, and our hotel is made up of familial compounds that were bought out and attached by the Porta in the last few centuries. After all, the Antiguan government forbids the construction of new buildings in the city, once again, in order to protect its magnificence. As soon as I walked into the Porta, I knew that I was prepared to have an exquisite stay.
The hotel has a charming green courtyard and several gorgeous fountains throughout the property. In fact, the Porta was voted one of the top 10 hotels in Central and South America by the renowned Conde Nast Traveler magazine! The hotels in that high-end publication are always expensive, so I am honored to be able to stay in one!
Throughout our 9-hour drive to Antigua, I was able to observe the karsts throughout the Guatemalan terrain. Karsts are volcanic geological formations that look like giant mounds or hills. They are a really stunning, beautiful site to see. Throughout the drive, I was also able to observe traditional agrarian Guatemalan life. Many people do their laundry right in the rivers, and do the cooking for their meals right on the side of the road.
In fact, our tour guide educated our group on the traditional agrarian Guatemalan diet. It is largely similar to the food of nearby Mexico. Food here is not expensive at all, and the rural diet is high in starches and carbohydrates.
For breakfasts, the Guatemalans typically nosh on eggs and fruits like papaya and watermelon. The diet for rural Guatemalans is pretty monotonous, but it is nonetheless appetizing, filling, and delicious.
For lunch and dinner, the food is pretty much the same. Fathers do agricultural work with their sons, while mothers and daughters participate in largely domestic tasks, like cooking for the family. Every day, the Guatemalan family prepares corn tortillas to go with every meal. It’s like their version of bread and butter rolls. Today, I had these thick tortillas called “Gorditas” and they were the best thing that I’ve eaten the entire trip! I love the doughy texture and flavor.
Rice, also inexpensive, is consumed with every meal. Many varieties of beans also exist here: black (most popular), pinto, fava, kidney, etc. I’ve had refried beans (mashed black beans boiled twice over) with almost every meal, as they are popular Guatemalan fare. Beans are fibrous, so it would make sense that the people in these rural areas eat them everyday. Beans are also prepared with onions to make an even more flavorful side dish. A typical meal is about $1.00 per plate. And Guatemalan families are usually made up of 8 people (as in Mexico and Italy, family members have close relationships), so you do the math.
Vegetables are also an important addition to the daily meal. Most popular are candy sweet local varieties of squash and pumpkin, along with piquant peppers and, of course, tomatoes. Tropical fruits serve as snacks, such as the world-famous avocado (high in fat and good cholesterol) and other fruits that were brought in from the Old World during the Columbian Exchange (i.e., watermelons). Fresh fruits and veggies are available on every corner.
Chicken and beef are also extraordinarily popular in Guatemala. And guess what? The meat is all grass-fed and organic! That’s right – you won’t really find any factory farms here. The meat isn’t fattened up like it is in America to be sold to the masses. In Guatemala, many families own their own animals, so they do not need to rely on massive factory farms for their nutrition. There is some usage of sustainable aquaculture in Guatemala as well, specifically with Tilapia fish. Tilapia is clean and easy to take care of, so they are great fish to raise in sustainable seafood farms.
Our tour guide told us that in the United States, tilapia is fed animal feces, corn, etc., all sorts of comestibles not native to their diet. I believe that meat should be eaten, but also that animals should be sustainably raised and humanely treated. It makes for healthier meat higher in many vitamins, nutrients, and minerals! And organic meat is free of dangerous growth hormones and antibiotics! I quite like this Guatemalan style of eating.
Unfortunately, Americanization is playing a big role in destroying the traditional Guatemalan diet. For example, food corporations like Nabisco and Kellogg’s now sell Ritz crackers and Lay’s chips at low prices to the natives. These food products are cheap to manufacture because they are made from totally ersatz ingredients not found in the natural world! Now, Guatemalans are suffering from diabetes more so than ever, and the country has to spend much greater amounts on healthcare than it’s ever had to! Issues like these inflame me very much, because I believe that everything boils down (pun intended) to the way that we eat. Americanization of traditional diets is a sad but true reality throughout the world.