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Central America

    Central America  --  Food & Drink

    Guatemalan Cooking Class in Beautiful Antigua

    Food and Culture Around the World

    Location: Antigua Guatemala

    I just sat down and counted up how many cooking classes I have taken in my travels and I come up with a total of 17.  It’s one of my most favorite things to do when I am in a new country.  And the Guatemalan cooking class I took last week in beautiful Antigua was one of my all-time favorites.

    (Note – if you are interested in the recipes read all the way to the end.)

    Okay, so I usually say that after every cooking class.  But I just loved it.  There is nothing that brings a culture to life as well as food and cooking with local people.

    Tortilla maker at the market

    Antigua

    First of all let me tell you what a lovely surprise Guatemala has been, and particularly the gorgeous, historic city of Antigua.  Colorful and alive with cultural events and history, Antigua is a perfect place to experience the best of Guatemala from art, history, religion and museums, to food

    Fresh and local at the market

    and scenery.  It’s perfect little package and I really enjoyed our time there.

    Searching online before we arrived I found the highly rated La Tortilla Cooking School offering several options for classes.  I signed up to do a morning market tour, followed by the full cooking class with six courses.  On arriving I learned I was the only student on this day! Wow.  It was the holiday weekend marking the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and most people are busy with other events.  So luckily for me, I was the center of attention!  So much fun.

    To Market to Market

    Julio met me on arrival and was my guide to the market and my translator throughout the day.  Julio is from Costa Rica and is the manager at the cooking school.

    Julio took me around the beautiful city and showed me two historic locations for the local market before taking me to the bustling market center.  Since it was a Saturday morning, it was exceptionally busy.

    La Tortilla Cooking School

    Local people packed the market and I only saw a handful of tourists.

    The very authentic market runs seven days a week but Saturday is the busiest day.  Vendors wearing traditional Mayan clothing were selling everything from beans to squash, flowers to pots and pans, dog food to chicken.  Anything you might need can be had at this sprawling market.  I surely would have gotten lost except Julio knew the way.  We purchased a squash for our class and a candied yam to try.

    Time to Cook

    Back at La Tortilla we welcomed a couple from Belgium who have just arrived to serve as volunteers for

    With Chef Sonia

    the next two weeks.  I then met Chef Sonia who would be my teacher today.  Sonia speaks no English and I speak no Spanish and so Julio served as our interpreter throughout the class.  This actually helped me learn a bit more Spanish too!

    Over the next two hours we made six traditional dishes, combining traditional Mayan dishes, Spanish dishes and Guatemalan dishes.  Most of the recipes were simple and all used local, fresh ingredients. Here is what I learned to make;

    Atol Blanco a warm drink made from corn flour is one of the most Guatemalan of all Guatemalan dishes.  Guatemalans drink this more than coffee.  It can be served sweet with sugar and cinnamon or savory with salt, lime juice, chile and roasted ground pumpkin seeds.  I loved

    Atol Blanco

    the savory one!

    Beet Salad was made by boiling the beets with the skin on, then removing the skin and dicing with onion and lime juice, thyme and salt.

    Guatemalan Rice has its roots in Mayan culture but also was influenced by the Spanish who brought many staples to the region like spices and peppers.  Our version included onion and carrot.

    Pepian was the most complicated of the dishes we created. Considered the national dish of Guatemala, this delicious spicy meat stew (chicken or pork usually) uses roasted vegetables and spices to create a rich and flavorful base for the stew.  It was my favorite thing of the day.

    Rellinitos Julio had promised me a surprise ingredient in our dessert and sure enough I would never of thought to include BLACK BEANS

    Spices for Pepian

    with chocolate, and wrap mashed plantains around it.  But that is exactly what we did for our delicious Rellinitos, a favorite Guatemalan dessert.

    Tortillas of course a cooking class in Guatemala would include tortillas and I learned that this favorite

    Making tortillas

    items of only two ingredients (corn flour and water) is a lot harder to make than I thought.  Rolling a ball with your hands and flattening the tortilla to the  perfect size and consistency took a bit of practice.  So delicious fresh off the fire.

    Such a feast

    Time to Eat

    Being the only one in the class I was left to enjoy ALL THIS FOOD by myself as the volunteers and Chef Sonia cleaned up and got ready for the afternoon class.  I hardly made a dent on the quantity of food they set before me so they kindly packaged it up and sent it home for me to share with Arne.

    I would highly recommend La Tortilla Cooking School if you visit Antigua (and you should).  I know I can take what I learned and prepare these dishes again.

    Would you like the full recipes?  All you need to do is leave me a comment IN THIS BLOG BELOW (not on Facebook) with your email address and I will send you the PDF file I received from La Tortilla.

    I am happy to share so you too can savor the wonderful flavors of this magical, colorful country of Guatemala.

    Muy Bien!

     

     

     

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.

     

     

    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.

     

    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.

     

     

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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America  --  Inspire

    “No Problem” Kayak, Camp and Fabulous Women

    Adventure Travel in My Fabulous Fifties

    Location: Belize

    It was convenient, since I was already in Belize.  When I heard about this kayak, camp Belize trip I asked Arne if he thought we might extend our time in Belize so I could go on this trip?  He said sure.  So it was really easy.  With the push of a few buttons I was onboard to kayak with a group of women coming to Belize from the USA.

    I didn’t  give it a lot of thought.  I just thought it might be fun.  But when all was said and done it was much more than just fun.  It was many things unexpected and rich, and more than anything, it was a fabulous adventure with fabulous women.

    No Problem

    Our amazing guide Eric became notorious for saying “no problem” for any question we asked or problem we posed.  He was amazing and made the journey so simple. Eric’s tour company Belizean Style (recoronald@gmail.com), was contracted by Kayak Belize to guide us through the week.  Bainbridge Island, Washington based Journey for a Purpose was the lead organization, who pulled together 12 women to experience this together.  The 12 of us, aged 30-72, came from many different backgrounds, places, professions and experiences.  And yet we fit together like a beautiful puzzle.  It was fate.

    Beautiful

    Sometimes I am hard to impress, given the amount of territory I have covered.  But this place – the cayes off the coast of Belize – is almost indescribable.  Azure blue, turquoise green, golden-yellow, royal purple.  These are the colors of the world-famous reef and seas.  Jungle green, sandy pink, cocoa brown, chalky white.  These are the colors of the tiny private atolls.  So much beauty everywhere you turn.

    Empowering

    I’ve had some amazing moments in my life that have empowered me, when I’ve found myself doing things I might otherwise turn to Arne and expect him to do for me or with me.  Everything from setting up a tent, riding my bike across the state of Washington, walking 487 miles on the Camino to climbing a mountain.  On this kayak journey, I found myself figuring out the logistics of equipment.  Paddling the single kayak without Arne’s help. Finding private time when I needed it.  As much as I adore my husband it’s always a good feeling when I’m left to my own powerful decision making.

    Difficult

    We had some big winds and some tough paddle days.  My back hurt and my arms felt like jelly but I made myself endure.  The high winds and rain also surprised us early one morning and our tents flapped and threatened to sail away.  But it was amazing how everyone worked together.  How Mr. No Problem Eric was there to help.  How we laughed about it after.  We were strong. Invincible. Fierce.

    Inspiring

    As a group we spent time each day in “circle”.  Here we practiced the art of listening, more than telling. Each woman had time to talk about herself, her background, her greatest challenge, her greatest achievement.  While each spoke the others listened intently with acceptance and support.  It’s not something I am usually comfortable with, but the format made me so.  It was open, acknowledging and welcoming.  It was real and refreshing and full.  It was inspirational.

    Peaceful

    The atoll we were camping at is Moho Caye.  It is about 13 miles out on the reef from Placencia. From 10am-3pm day trippers can visit the island.  Some days as many as twenty people might show up, while other days perhaps only five.  But from 3pm to 10am we had the entire island to ourselves.  We all agreed it was spectacular.  It was a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Castaway.  A remarkable opportunity to relish the beauty of a private island to ourselves.  We sung around the campfire and skinny dipped in the ocean.  This was our island and we embraced it and it in return it showered us with lovely memories.

    Hilarious

    There is absolutely nothing in the world so wonderful as belly laughing.  Laugh yourself silly.  Laugh yourself happy.  Laugh yourself healthy.  It’s cleansing and exhausting and wonderful to laugh fully with abandon.  And we did.  We laughed over stories. We laughed over songs.  We laughed over games.  We found so much to bring smile and laughter to our time together, even though we had known each other such a short while.  It was a happy and full experience of genuine spirited female fun.

    Positive

    Our wonderful leaders Spring and Maria from Journey for a Purpose found a variety of positive ways to bring us together as a group from snorkeling with sharks, rays and turtles to kayaking to singing to sharing.  But in addition some of my most favorite moments were when we all did yoga together on the beach, creating an awareness within us as well as pulling the positive energy into our bodies.  We also spent time making beach art and describing our beach art to each other.  One day we walked around our island and brought back something from nature.  We then spent time with Mr. No Problem Eric and learned something about the items we found.  Then together we shared.  It was great fun as the items collected ranged from a gecko to driftwood, from coral to leaves and branches. Our island shared its deep natural history.

    Affirming

    While on our island, one of the women got the news that her father-in-law had passed away.  As much as she felt she should be home with her family, we became her family that day and showered her with love. We helped memorialize a man we didn’t know, but it was so easy because we were all on the same wave-length.  It was very affirming to me, to feel the love and joy being heaped on our friend and her departed kin.  But for me it was also affirming to my life’s mission of living each moment as if it were my last.  Of caring for myself in a way that gives me the strength to care for others.  And above all, being fully present.  A reminder to center myself and just be. This was a gift.

    Journey for a Purpose

    This is my second experience with Journey for a Purpose and I have loved both.  You can find more information about them at the website link above.  A few spots are still available for their Blake Island, Washington trips this summer.

    I recently stumbled upon this quote, and it epitomizes for me how I feel about my kayak camping adventure as well as my daily life;

    “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no man’s land.” – Pema Chodron

    I was thrown from the nest n this adventure and loved it immensely. Thank you for challenging me and loving me and for my new friends who I hope to meet again someday.  To Spring, Maria, Pamela, Susan, Suzanne, Eileen, Kathy, Nadine, Meg, Katie, Kelly, Ian (our cook) and Mr. No Problem Eric, I salute you.  I hope you find what you are looking for and I wish you joy.

    Fabulous!

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    Central America

    A Taste of Expat Life in Placencia, Belize

    Location: Placencia Belize

    It’s a refreshing change being in a place with people our own age.  It’s unusual.  We always find ourselves with younger people.  But here in Placencia, Belize we fit right in; fabulous fifties, retired, North Americans, English speakers.

    A taste of expat life

    Placencia pier

    Placencia is both a true expat village and a North American snow bird village, where Canadian and American retirees are in abundance.

    I’m really enjoying this colorful little Caribbean village.  My favorite town in Belize.  It has a very local vibe

    A taste of expat life

    Colorful

    despite the expat community.  There are significantly more expats than short-term visitors, but still there are many options for lodging for short-term.  Our Airbnb “Ally’s Guesthouse” is great.

    It’s a perfect chance for us to get the feel for what it would be

    A taste of expat life

    The lagoon view at our Airbnb

    like to settle somewhere for six months of the year or longer – something we see as possible in the future.  I could spend half a year here.  Not much to not like about this place.

    Placencia has the best beaches we have seen in Belize; warm water, white sand and clean – despite the sargasso grass that seasonally washes on shore.

    A taste of expat life

    Says it all about Placencia

    As usual we cook in our Airbnb, but Placencia has a nice variety of restaurants.  Our favorites so far include Mr. Que for BBQ where we had a full meal for $5 USD,  Barefoot for toes in the sand beers and De Tatch for seafood.  Hands down the best meal has been  Rumfish, where I unexpectedly had the most delicious beef short ribs. We also love the coffee at Above Grounds and Brewed Awakening, the ice cream at Tuttie Fruitie, and the cinnamon

    A taste of expat life

    Barefoot Restaurant

    rolls at John the Bakerman.

    Our Airbnb is about a mile from the farthest end of town, but the walk is easy and along the way are several excellent grocery stores, many other shops and all the restaurants mentioned above. Placencia is flat as a pancake, so it’s a great place for cycling, walking and a daily run.  But on the other

    Boardwalk

    hand, not a great place during hurricane season.

    There is a concrete boardwalk that runs the full length of town, set about 100 yards from the beach.  The boardwalk runs through a colorful collection of beach cabanas, shops and restaurants.  It’s my favorite place in Placencia.

    A taste of expat life

    Flat & easy for a run or ride

    Though we have spent most of our time doing nothing more than

    reading and swimming, Placencia has great options for sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and more.  We don’t have a car, and you

    A taste of expat life

    De Tatch Restaurant

    don’t need one unless you want to get out-of-town to the Mayan ruins, waterfalls, hiking or other beaches.  For us, our time here in Placencia is just to relax.

    A taste of expat life

    Yummy coffee and shakes

    The locals are a mix of Garifuna, Maya,and Spanish descent.  Placencia population is about 3600. Everyone is friendly and helpful.  It’s a very laid back and casual culture.  Not a day goes by that I have not been offered to buy marijuana.  ‘Hey Mon – one love for da road, dis day? Sista like da weed?”

    No thanks.  I get high everyday just being on this Fab Fifties Life journey. Thanks for following.

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    Central America  --  Inspire

    Lessons on the Road

    Lodging Failure and Being Flexible

    Location: Belize

    Lessons on the Road. It doesn’t happen often. And in fact, in our nearly three years of full-time travel this is the first time we’ve had a total lodging failure.

    But it happened and we know the importance of flexibility.  Flexibility in My Fab fifties Life. Lessons on the road.

    Lonely Planet rated them well.  And my Central America Lonely Planet Book is current.  They had what appeared to be an up to date website, although I should have had some suspicion when the online booking didn’t work.

    I emailed them months ago and made a “reservation”.  I confirmed via email a few weeks ago.  But when we arrived it seemed no one was expecting us.  The resort seemed abandoned.  And the house we had “booked” appeared to have not been lived in or cleaned for a very long time.

    I tried to “grin and bear it” for the sake of our two sons who are traveling with us. But when we found the dead rodent I said we were leaving.

    And so we spent one restless night and I couldn’t wait to get out of there at first light. We left money on the counter for one night and sent an email explaining how filthy the house was. And even now, five days later, there has been no response.

    Such a weird experience.  Another travel memory to go down in the book.  We learn.  We have adventures.  Nearly 100% of the time it works out.  But this place was an epic failure. A total breakdown of communication.  A filthy dirty mess.

    And so we moved on.  Lessons on the road.

     

     

    Central America

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

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    Central America

    Simply Surprising El Salvador

    See it Before the Secret Gets Out

    Location: El Tunco El Salvador

    We have spent the past two weeks in tiny and surprising El Salvador.  So unexpected; the ocean, the mountains, the people, the food.  Simply surprising El Salvador.

    Why El Salvador

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    The rock at Playa El Tunco

    ElSalvador gets a bad rap.  In the American media you only hear about the bad things.  Currently the bad thing in El Salvador is gang violence.  The civil war is over, but gang violence  plagues certain parts of the country.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    But not everywhere.  Most places are safe and welcoming to tourists, locals are happy to have you here to enjoy this developing country they love.  But most Americans haven’t ventured here…which is unfortunate.  Americans still flock to Mexico, a place plagued with violent gangs, cartels, kidnappings and corruption…and yet El Salvador remains elusive to American tourists. I don’t get it?

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    We spent two wonderful weeks in El Salvador,  a tiny country about the size of Massachusetts, with about the same population (6 million).  It’s the only Central American country without a Caribbean coast (Belize the only one with out a Pacific Coast).  El Salvador’s coastline on the Pacific is about 307km, and the visitors who do find their way here are mostly surfers, drawn to the beautiful warm waters and spectacular swells.

    Fabulous El Tunco

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Surf’s up

    Luckily for us we chose to stay in Playa El Tunco, though we didn’t know much about it. We were looking for ocean beaches, and found them here, where surfing is king.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Welcome to El Tunco

    Even though we don’t surf, we found plenty of ways to enjoy Playa El Tunco and were able to explore further afield from this location.  Given El Salvador’s tiny size, it’s easy to stay on the coast and take day-trips inland and to the mountains.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    layers of ash at Joya de Ceren

    The best decision we made was booking an airbnb room at Balance Yoga Retreat, right in El Tunco and walking distance to everything we might need.  Balance does daily yoga classes, as well as retreats multiple times a year.  While we were here we were one of just two guests staying and I took advantage of yoga every day (read more about that here). We enjoyed the beautiful little oasis with the pool, hammocks and flora. Owners (and Americans) Lindsey and Adrian were wonderful to us and we would certainly come back here again someday.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    San Andreas Mayan Ruins

    Adrian and Lindsey helped us set up a driver for two different day trips.  First we visited Joya de Ceren village.  It was fascinating to learn about this lost pre-Colombian Mayan village, discovered beneath 14 layers of volcanic ash from nearby Santa Ana volcano. The
    site is now an archeological UNESCO site. We continued on to the San Andreas Mayan Ruins, one of several Mayan Ruins found in El Salvador dating back to 900 BC.  The Mayans ruled much of what we now think of as Central America from about 2600BC (oldest finding in Belize) until about 1000 years ago, long before the Incas or the Spanish conquistadors. Archeologists believe the culture died out due to a historic drought that plagued the region for years.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Mural in Ataco

     

    Our second day trip was to the mountainous villages north and east of El Tunco, scattered in the coffee growing region of El Salvador.  El Salvador is known around the world for rich and delicious coffee, and on this trip we made sure to pick up some coffee, as well as several other wonderful locally made crafts for gifts for family and friends.  Three mountain towns (Ataco, Apaneca, Juayua) along La Ruta de las Flores have weekend festivals where you can buy just about anything from socks to ceramics as well as taste a wide variety of El Salvadoran  specialities.  Our favorite food find on this day were the delicious riguas, a corn dough  pancake filled with cheese, wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf and then fried crispy on the griddle. Riguas are a speciality of this mountain region of El Salvador. (see a recipe here).

    Things We Loved

    There are other day trips easily done from El Tunco that we did not do, such as hiking the volcano or swimming in waterfalls or going to a mud spa.  But we actually really enjoyed just hanging out in the tiny village, which has a surprising variety of restaurants and fun things to do.  Our favorites included;

    • Balance Yoga – possibly the best yoga classes I have ever taken and very reasonably priced
    • Exploring the El Tunco caves just south of town at low tide
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      El Tunco caves

      – you can only go here at low tide and we were lucky enough to have some really low tides while we were here. It was so fascinating we went twice.  Just beautiful.

    • Watching the sunset over the Pacific with a $1.25 beer at any of the half-dozen beach front bars.  Our favorite bars were Casa Miramar and La Bocana.
    • Sitting on the rocky beach and watching the surfers do their thing.  It’s like watching a ballet on a freeway…in a storm!
    • Eating pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador at either Nancy’s Pupusa or Christy’s – both tiny mom and pop shops. See a pupusa recipe here.  Christy’s also has a variety of other items on their menu including delicious tacos and sopa de pollo.  You can also get your laundry done at Christy’s! A one-stop-shop.
    • One of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had was at Mopelia, where you can find a nice selection of American and European craft brews
    • Dinner at El Tunco Velos was a nice surprise, where I had a fabulous salad of lettuce, strawberries and feta that was so delicious. Lettuce as usual is hard to find in grocery stores, so I was very happy to find this salad.
    • Lots of little shops cater mostly to surfers, but I bought a t-shirt at Get Up Stand Up, where they
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      Yummy pupusa

      manufacture everything they sell including darling reversible swimsuits.

    • My other favorite shop was La sirena, a hole-in-the-wall gift shop of unique and inexpensive souvenirs locally made.
    • Surf lessons are big, for beginner to advanced.  We didn’t tackle this but it looked fun.  Or try renting stand up paddle boards or take a guided SUP tour.
    • We tried to find a memorial in La Libertad that is dedicated to two US Nuns and two missionaries who were raped and murdered in 1980, a few months before the murder of San Salvador Arch Bishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero.   These murders (by El Salvador National Guards) launched the long civil war in El Salvador.  Unfortunately no one we asked knew where this memorial was, so we did not see it.  The history of these murders and how it launched the bloody war is fascinating.  You can read about it here.

     

    Add It to Your Bucketlist

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    $1.25 beers

    If you decide to come here (and you should) be sure to be in Playa El Tunco beyond a weekend.  The tiny village swells in population on weekends, as El Salvadorans (known as guanacos) come here from San Salvador (one hour) and La Libertad (20 minutes) for the day or the weekend of sun, surf and fun.  From Monday – Friday afternoon the town is mostly local, quiet and serene. That’s when I liked it best.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Sunset

    During our two weeks here I have met so many lovely people, mostly young (20’s and 30’s) surfers from the USA, Canada and a few European countries.  I have met no-one my age or even close.  Which needs to change.  El Tunco and El Salvador really should be on your bucket list, no matter your age, or if you surf.  It’s a wonderful place, a beautiful culture and a friendly country.  Simply surprising El Salvador. We will be back.

     

    See it before the secret gets out.

    Next stop. Belize.

     

     

     

     

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