AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Seven

Out for breakfast this fine Saturday morning – to Valhalla Macadamia Farm, near San Miguel Dueñas.  Wikipedia states (and this I learned in school): In Norse mythology, Valhalla (from Old Norse Valhöll “hall of the slain”) is a majestic, enormous hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Chosen by Odin, half of those who die in combat travel to Valhalla upon death, led by valkyries, while the other half go to the goddess Freyja’s field Fólkvangr. In Valhalla, the dead join the masses of those who have died in combat known as Einherjar and various legendary Germanic heroes and kings, as they prepare to aid Odin during the events of Ragnarök. Before the hall stands the golden tree Glasir, and the hall’s ceiling is thatched with golden shields. Various creatures live around Valhalla, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún, both described as standing atop Valhalla and consuming the foliage of the tree Læraðr.  What has this to do with Guatemala and the Macadamia Farm? I would have liked to think that the founder was from Scandinavia, but nope!  He came from California, with a very Scandinavian or Germanic name!  I’m including the link to his webpage because there is so much of interest in the uses and benefits of the Macadamia Tree and it’s nut http://www.exvalhalla.net.  Breakfast is served outside, under the trees -most pleasant.  The Macadamia pancakes are to die for, made with macadamia flour and nuts, and go so well with that rich Guatemalan coffee!


After breakfast, and admiring the plant and flower filled restrooms, we took the tour.  We learned about the origin of the tree and it’s uses and saw the nut sorting and processing machines.  Some of our group took advantage of a free (tip appreciated) facial with macadamia oil, while others of us just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, and visited with a group of tourists on a cruise from Australia, whose ship berthed at Puerto Quetzal in the early morning and who arrived by coach.  We purchased enough Macadamia tree saplings for each of us to plant at the farm tomorrow, as well as some for family members.

Next we drove to La Azotea, Cultural Center and Coffee Farm.  Last time here, a year ago, I didn’t buy any of their Coffee Liqueur, but this year I had it on my list!  Mmmm,  mmm, good!  The tour took us through a series of dioramas showing all aspects of coffee production, from planting to harvesting.  We were told the history of the original owners, and admired displays of antique and vintage coffee pots, cups, and photos.  Then we went across the drying yards to the plantation itself, saw the wonderful composting operation, and the garden center.  And, of course, the gift shop!!!  That was good exercise to walk off the effects of the Macadamia Pancakes, but it was almost lunchtime already.


We ate a leisurely lunch in a beautiful setting at a restaurant in Antigua, Epicure, across from Mercado Artisanal de Carmen’s outdoor Saturday market!

Time to go home – while we were gone there had been a hail storm and a tree came down on the power lines – no electricity!  Supper and a family birthday party by lantern light – a perfect ending to another perfect day.
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AMGC & Friends go to Guatemala 2017: Day Five

After all the hustle and bustle with the kids’ programs yesterday, we started a little later this morning.  First stop after breakfast was a visit to San Jose vegetable farm and greenhouses, next door to Xejuyu.   Acres of carrots were impressive, all in different growth stages.  The variety grown here is “Triton” which, after experimentation, has been the best performer.  No machinery is used to harvest any of the vegetables, which are all hand-washed.  This is not a certified organic operation, but chemicals are kept to a minimum.  20-20-20 granules are used in a drip system “fertigation”!!!  Beans were growing under tunnels, variety Serengeti.  Some of the problems they have there are whitefly, thrips, powdery mildew and rust.  They expect the workers to harvest 2 1/2 baskets of beans per tunnel, which takes half an hour.  Lovely bright orange sweet peppers (unable to read my notes for the variety) are grown for export to Germany, which owns the rights to this variety.  We were given a big box of them to take home for supper!

The plan for this farm is to go into full  time hydroponic operation; last year we saw the ground being prepared and this year the buildings are up but not yet functional.

Next on the agenda was a trip up the mountain on four wheelers to take in the wonderful views over the town and countryside (including looking down on San Jose greenhouses where we had been), to check on the new plantings of Cedar trees, and take pictures among the coffee plants.  The dogs love going on these excursions, running, running and running until they have to try to get in the vehicles for a rest!  While stopping for coffee pictures we met two local ladies loaded down with baskets on their heads carrying lunch to the farm workers.  They were gracious enough to stop and pose for pictures!

 

In the afternoon we went up the road again to visit with Tio Paul and tour his wonderful gardens.  All kinds of bromeliads and orchids grow in the trees, huge colorful blooming shrubs and small trees show off the under-plantings.  Fruit trees of every kind were loaded down with ripening fruit, as well as bananas, plantains, and even pineapples!  Vegetables were thriving in the rich volcanic soil, and the greenhouse contains a huge vanilla vine.  The beautiful view over the valley was a little obscured by cloud which just added to the mystique of the volcanoes!

Later we gathered in the kitchen back at the farm and “helped” prepare supper – well, we watched the preparation of a tasty dessert made from chayote.

Tomorrow would be Independence Day, and we were all looking forward to watching the parade in Antigua!

 

 

AMGC & friends go to Guatemala, 2017: Day Three.

The weather looked like it was going to hold on this Tuesday morning; we left at 6:30 a.m. for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Lake Atitlan.  After a couple of stops along the way to take pictures of the magnificent views of volcanoes and to stretch our legs, we arrived in Panajachel.  We took a “comfort break” at the Hotel Porta del Lago, which had towering vertical gardens growing on either side of the main entrance.
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Our boat was ready, and soon we were speeding across the lake towards the village of San Marcos la Laguna.  This village appears to have only one main street, pointed upwards!  Very picturesque, lots of beautiful flowers climbing over the rock walls and in the courtyard gardens, and artisan street vendors.  A bakery was selling the best “chocolate bread” ever, and we were allowed to walk around the grounds of The Pyramid, a well known center for meditation.

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We munched on the bread while waiting at the dock for our boat to take us back to “Pana” and the Hotel Atitlan where we were going for lunch.  It really is a beautiful ride across the lake, especially on a sunny day.  Many beautiful homes are dotted along the shoreline, with no apparent way to get to them.  They all have private docks, of course, but there must be a road somewhere for most of them!


Arriving at the Hotel’s dock, we had time to wander through the Botanical Gardens belonging to the hotel, and admire beautiful plantings of flowers, shrubs, trees and topiaries.  For the shoppers among us, we made straight for the gift shop after lunch, and then out in the parking lot we were delighted to see three colorful Macaws high up in the trees.

 

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After a brief stop to take photos at the waterfall  “La Vela Belleza” that crashes from a great height down to the road, under the road and on down to the lake, we headed for home before the rains set in.  We stopped at Tecpan’s Pueblo Real in the hope of more shopping, but the courtyards were empty of vendors, probably because of the rain!

Our evening was spent assembling materials for our Children’s activities tomorrow.  Another busy day ahead!

 

AMGC & friends go to Guatemala, 2017: Day Two.

The day dawned (early) and clear – there had been rain during the night, but we had expected that since it was the rainy season!  Everyone had slept well, and some went for an early morning walk as soon as it was light.  The altitude here is “up there” at a guess, 6,000 – 8,000 ft. depending on if you are “up the mountain” or “down the mountain”.  Xejuyu means “at the foot of the mountain” in the Kaqchikel Mayan language.  Breakfast (saqawa’in) was always a great start to the day, along with Guatemalan coffee and fresh fruit juices or Horchata!  (Might post a recipe for Horchata at the end of the 9 days!)  Made to order, sometimes scrambled (or other) eggs, black beans, plantains, fruit, Guatemalan oatmeal, pancakes, bread ……. totally yummy!

So off we went, up the mountain in 4-wheelers, to the village of El Durazno (the Peach) to the school.   These kids are such a joy to be around, and it was great to see that the garden we helped them establish last year was still maintained and producing.  Some of the programs we use in Guatemala are listed on our website under the tab “mini jardineros”.

 

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A bit “weedy” but the caterpillars appear to have loved the cabbage!!!

 

We walked back “down the mountain” to the farm, gathered what we needed, and set off for Tecpan, to see the Maya Ruins at Iximché.  Clouds were closing in as we stopped for lunch at Katox (the hut?).  Such good food!
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Leaving the restaurant, the rain was really coming down.  We went on up to the ruins anyway, but they were closed.  I am so glad I was there last year, but sorry for those who missed the experience this year!   Iximché is “user friendly” (not world famous like Tikal) – not much is written about it but it was a very important Maya City in its time.  The guides are wonderful, and very knowledgeable.  So, off we went along the roads through towns and villages that were familiar, until we arrived in Antigua.  We stopped at Hotel Antigua for coffee/hot chocolate and shopped at one of the indoor artisan markets nearby.  You can never get lost in Antigua as long as you remember a few “rules” – the Volcan Agua is always to the south, Avenidas run north-south, and Calles run east-west.  Parque Central and the Cathedral is in the center!

Big “tourist” day tomorrow, weather permitting  – one of my favorites!

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This year our A&M Garden Club visit was a month earlier than in 2015, in October, so we could work with the kids in the schools before the end of the school year.  And this year we were glad to welcome three members from Violet Crown Garden Club in Austin, TX, and some Brazos Valley Master Gardeners.  Upon arrival in Guatemala City we did a quick tour of the main sights and sites, including a park with a huge relief model of the country, the National Palace, and beautiful flowers in the Kakao Restaurant.

 

Next day we visited Iximche Archaeological Park near Tecpan.  Iximche was the pre-conquest capital of the Kaqchikel; a beautiful exposed site with plunging ravines on three sides, and surrounded by pine forests.

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After lunch at the Pueblo Real, we visited the Bazar de Hortalizas – a vegetable and fruit garden where produce is grown both for the restaurant and for the public to come and buy.  All kinds of herbs, fruits and vegetables were growing there.  Notably, all the Criolla corn we saw growing all over the country was literally “as high as an elephant’s eye”!!!   In front of the restaurant were gardens filled with flowers and a water feature with aquatic plants.  All this was enhanced by great food, artisan gift shops, and a live Marimba band playing in the courtyard.

Next day we traveled to Jocotenango (Kaqchikel Maya for “Place of the Jocote”, a delicious small native plum.) Here we visited La Azotea, a coffee museum, coffee growing area tour, a nursery, and beautiful flowers.  We were also treated to a cinematic overview of various Maya dances according to region, and a Maya musical instrument museum, coffee tasting and gift shop.  How about that Jade Vine seen below!!!

At a “Seeds for Life” site, La Escuela de San Felipe de Jesus, we met some of the children in the classroom and did a few activities with them before going to visit one of the SFL gardens created by and tended by one of the boys.  He is growing Swiss Chard and herbs, and built a fence around the plot to protect it from the dogs!

After lunch at the Hotel Antigua, we had time to wander around the beautiful gardens to admire the plantings and talk to the Macaws sitting in the trees, and on the way out of the city we stopped at the Cerro de la Cruz, an enormous cross high on a hill overlooking the city of Antigua.
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The highlight of the next day was visiting one of the villages on Lago de Atitlan (San Pedro Laguna) by boat, and returning along the lakeshore past beautiful homes and gardens, until we arrived in style at the dock of the Hotel Atitlan for lunch and to wander around the spectacular botanical gardens belonging to the hotel.  It is so hard to choose pictures for this blog!

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So many beautiful trees and plants, both in the wild and in cultivation!  We were privileged to enjoy a guided tour of the Guatemala City Botanical Gardens, which were small, but full of exotic and interesting plantings.  That same day we also visited the Paseo Cayala Gardens, complete with the statue of the bashful recumbent Giant!

Next day was a major school activity at another SFL site at La Escuela El Durazno, where we conducted many activities with the kids, including planting a vegetable garden and discussing composting, having them make small flower arrangements to take home, making “sombreros” and learning parts of the plant, Fruit and Veggie Bingo, making healthy recipes with fruits and veggies.  All in Spanish, English and Spanglish!

That same evening we visited Finca San Jose Greenhouse near “our farm” home, and saw fairly large production of beans, peppers, strawberries and other vegetables being grown for export to European countries.  Alyssum and Cosmos flowers are also being grown here as trip crops to control Thrips and Whitefly.  There is a huge area being prepared for a structure in which to grow strawberries hydroponically.

Breakfast at the Valhalla Macadamia Farm just outside San Miguel Duenas was another “highlight”!  Pancakes made from Macadamia Flour, drizzled with melted Macadamia butter, topped with blueberry jam and coffee with honey for sweetening – all home grown and prepared!!  This was followed by a tour of the farm and the opportunity to experience a facial with Macadamia oils.

Next stop was a visit to the Museums and Gardens of Santo Domingo in Antigua – beautifully landscaped ruins of what was once the largest monastery in Antigua, and which included artisan shops and crypts and skeletons!

From there we took the shuttle up to Tenedor del Cerro for lunch in a park setting, overlooking the city and mountains on the other side of the valley.
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On the final day we stayed close to home, with early horseback riding, followed by another kids’ activity session in the pavilion for the farm workers’ children.  So much fun, doing the Sombrero program, exercises, eating healthy, Fruit & Veggie Bingo, etc.  Another special treat awaited our group later in the afternoon, when we paid a visit to neighboring Finca Enon for a tour of the gardens to see orchids and bromeliads in the trees, all kinds of  tropical plants and trees, fruit trees laden with lemons, oranges and grapefruits, roses and flowering vines, and vegetables, with a spectacular backdrop of mountains across the valley.  And so ended another memorable visit to Guatemala, and even if I haven’t recorded all this in exactly the right order, I’m already counting towards next year!!!

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