Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ringing in the New Year in Guatemala

Lunch at Pollo Campero

We had never visited Humberto, Paulina, and the family in Guatemala around Christmastime before. This year we decided that we would spend New Year's there. As two of the girls have birthdays in the first week of January, this would also allow us to be there for their birthday party.

We flew down on December 27th. Paulina, Vanesa, Yasmin, and Eddy took the 3 hour ride to Guatemala City to meet us at the airport. It was very nice to see them as soon as we arrived. We stopped at Pollo Campero for lunch. Eddy and Yasmin enjoyed the huge indoor play area. Eddy kept slipping and falling down in his stocking feet, so he took off his socks to give himself better traction. We enjoyed the fried chicken, cole slaw, french fries, rolls, and "American doughnuts."
Steph and Aracely
We drove to Panajachel, and the other kids were waiting for us in the driveway. Aracely surprised and delighted us by greeting us in English. She is in her second year of English language school. The progress she had made in the past 6 months was unbelievable. We are very proud of her! We greeted Paola, Yoselin, and Humberto, as well as other neighborhood cousins Neli and Josue.

Humberto showed us around the property. A lot of finish work had been completed in the past 6 months. He had planted a garden around the perimeter of a small courtyard separating the house from the guest rooms. There was a small Christmas tree lit up on the center of the courtyard. Humberto mentioned that it had been in the dining room, but had to be moved for space. Exterior walls had been stucco'ed and terra cotta tiles finished off the tops of the walls. It looked lovely.

Steph, Eddy, and Craig
Steph, Aracely, and Craig

The next day we took Yoselin, Aracely, and Eddy for a walk down to Lake Atitlan. It was a beautiful, sunny, clear day. This time of year seems to be a lot less humid than it is in July. The direct sun is hot, but once you are in the shade or when the sun goes down, it cools down considerably. The sky was clear and the volcanoes were visible. Aracely said the very astute, "I am hot. Ice cream is cold" in English.  Hint, hint. She is so cute! So we bought chocolate cones for the kids and a strawberry cone for ourselves. The girls dunked their feet into the water. The water became quite rough. We learned later from Humberto that this was due to the xocomil, a wind that is stirred up on the surface of the lake around midday. The wind gets its name from the Mayan words for "take away" and "sin." They believe that the winds come and carry away the sins of the villagers.

Steph, Aracely, Eddy, and Craig at Lake Atitlan
The next day, the kids wanted to go back to the lake. Today we took Yoselin, Yasmin, Eddy, and Aracely. They wore shorts since their pants had gotten so wet last time. Even Terry the dog followed us to the lake! Yoselin and Yasmin are total fish and went straight in for a swim. I kept ahold of Eddy and walked him along the shore and onto the dock.  Aracely attempted to just put her feet in, but some of the erratic, xocomil-induced waves splashed her and wound up getting her pretty wet.  She became cold and wanted to go home. When the other girls got out of the water, they were cold as well. There were no requests for ice cream today!

Eddy, Steph, and Aracely at Lake Atitlan
The next morning we went to do errands with Paulina, Aracely, Eddy, Yasmin, and Yoselin. We went to a barber shop near the market to get Eddy a haircut. The barber laid a wooden plank between the armrests of the old-school barber chair for a makeshift booster seat. Eddy was very patient and stayed completely still while the barber trimmed him with clippers, scissors, and even a straight razor ( ?! On a three-year-old?!) Eddy looked all handsome with his new haircut.

Eddy gets his hair cut

Next we went to the market, which had expanded into some of the neighboring streets with holiday vendors. Paulina bought fresh vegetables and chicken, and we rode home crammed into a tuk-tuk. After lunch, the kids wanted to go back to the lake. Today we took Yoselin, Yasmin, Eddy, Aracely, and Josue. Paulina told the kids not to swim; just to dunk their feet. Yoselin and Yasmin stretched the rules a bit and  laid down on the jetty. The waves broke over the jetty and doused them with water. They also dunked their heads into the water. They ended up getting just as soaked as if they had gone for a full-fledged swim. But at least we had remembered to bring towels today! We got creamsicles from the ice cream stand as the girls soaked up the last warm rays of the sun, and then we headed for home.
Yoselin, Aracely, Eddy, Steph, Yasmin, and Josue at Lake Atitlan

The next day was New Year's Eve, and we all woke early. We headed to the market at 9:30 to stock up on food and supplies for the New Year's Eve party that Humberto and Paulina would be hosting. We stopped to buy a huge bundle of pine needles from a local Mayan family on Rancho Grande. These would be spread on the ground and floor as part of the New Year's offering; and they have the added bonus of making the house smell like pine.

Buying pine needles for New Year's Eve

We continued on to the market. Stalls of fireworks were set up in the streets. Paulina bought all kinds of fruit, as well as beans, vegetables, and beef. She bought the girls each a new pair of earrings to start off the new year. It was warm in the sun and Eddy led us all over to a milkshake counter. We had delicious milkshakes flavored with fresh strawberries. After getting all the food that we needed, we stopped at a clothing stall and Paulina bought some new outfits for the girls. We rode another overstuffed tuk-tuk home with all of our purchases.

Paulina and Paola at the market
Vanesa prepares canteloupe to make ponche

Later in the afternoon Humberto's mother came over. She, Paulina, and Vanesa cut and prepared the various fruits for the traditional warm punch ("ponche") which they would be making. The New Year's Eve party was going to be a pot-luck. Paulina was making chili con carne, and guests would be bringing other dishes. In preparation for the party, Humberto and the kids scattered pine needles on the floors of the hallway and guest rooms, and on the ground. They hung up red and green streamers and green balloons. They positioned a row of tables with chairs on both sides down the middle of the hallway. Someone brought over a grill.

Humberto and Craig
Craig and Paola, New Year's Eve
Fun with sparklers
The kids played with sparklers. At around 10:15, Carlos, Vilma, and Elizabeth arrived. We sat with them in the living room and drank a locally-produced fruit cordial. It was bright red and very sweet, in a Johnnie Walker bottle. We all drank a toast. As it approached 11 o'clock, other guests began to arrive. Humberto's brothers and their families, nieces and nephews, Humberto's sister Juana and her daughter Rocio, and Humberto's mother. They were grilling sausage and steak on the grill. As an appetizer, there were warm fresh home made tortilla chips with fresh guacamole. The tortilla chips were satisfyingly crunchy and really hit the spot. Some of the older kids were acting as dj's, using Humberto's computer and a set of speakers. Aracely danced in front of the Christmas tree.

We could tell when it was midnight due to all of the fireworks that went off simultaneously around the city. Some were professional grade and visible from a distance, but most people just lit their own around the neighborhoods. Humberto lit off some which created a shower of sparks, and others which twirled around on the ground. Everyone hugged and wished one another "Feliz Año." Humberto wore a pair of glittery 2012 sunglasses that a client had given him today. After I photographed him in them, he gave them to me. It became my mission to try to photograph as many guests as possible wearing the glasses. That was good for quite a few laughs.

Feliz Año, Paulina!
Craig, Rocio, and Steph ring in 2012
New Year's Eve buffet
By 12:30, the food was ready and the buffet was open for business. By this time, we had already lost a couple of the younger kids to sleep (Yoselin and Eddy both fell asleep in their chairs and were carted off to bed). Everyone piled their plates with chili con carne, sausages, blood sausage, chicken, rice, etc. And we drank rum and orange juice. The food was delicious. Paulina's chili con carne was fabulous. It was our first time ever trying blood sausage, and we were surprised at how spicy it was. We all sat around chatting and enjoying one another's company late into the night. Families said their goodnights and took kids home. Humberto and Paulina's kids went to bed with the exception of Vanesa, who was still going strong playing on the computer. We did a double-take when, at 4:15 a.m., Eddy came stumbling out of the house. I intercepted him and held him on my lap, where he promptly fell back to sleep. After a few minutes I brought him to his room (where Aracely and Yoselin were already asleep), tucked him in, and turned off the lights. Craig and I took that as our cue to call it a night. We left Humberto, Paulina, and three other guests to finish off a bottle of XL Extra Light Rum. Since the party was literally right on the other side of our wall, we didn't really get any sleep until the party ended at 5:30.

New Year's Eve buffet

New Year's Eve dinner

Eddy and Steph at 4:15 a.m. New Year's Day
The next day got off to a slow start, given that we had all been up so long the night before. Craig and I didn't emerge from our room until almost eleven o'clock. We helped to clean up the mess and Paulina made us a lovely light breakfast. Today was Yasmin's eleventh birthday. Although we knew the kids wanted to go to the lake today, we knew that there would be a joint party for Yasmin and Paola (whose thirteenth birthday is the 5th), so we needed to try to keep them distracted. At around 4 o'clock, Vilma, Carlos, and Elizabeth arrived, soon followed by other guests. There was a lovely birthday cake. Humberto brought home a large rabbit piñata, and the family filled it with hard candy, lollipops, and gum. The children (and even some of the adults) got plastic bags ready for candy-gathering. Yasmin got the first swings at the piñata, as some of the men pulled on ropes to make the piñata swing back and forth on a wire. Paola was the one who really demolished it. With her blindfold still on, she grabbed it with one hand to stabilize it, and whacked the thing apart with the stick in her other hand. Candy showered down and the kids gathered it up. Before anyone could get hurt, Humberto stepped in and shook any extra candy out of the piñata.
Eddy, Chino, Aracely, and Diana at the birthday party
Filling the piñata
Yasmin with the piñata
After that, it's time for the cake. We all sing Happy Birthday to Yasmin and Paola in Spanish. That is followed by a second verse with the words "Queremos pastel" ("We want cake"). The guests then count to 11 and 13 and the birthday girls blow out the candles. Then the girls are supposed to each take a bite of the cake without using their hands. They bend forward and attempt to take a dainty bite, but Humberto and Junior push the back of their heads and they end up with facefulls of frosting. Cake is served to guests, along with tostadas with salsa and cheese on top. We have ponche to drink.

Yasmin and Paola's birthday cake
Later that night, Humberto opens a bottle of wine that a colleague had given him for the holidays. Humberto, Paulina, Craig, and I toast the upcoming year, and we thank them for another wonderful visit. Eddy rides around on his little plastic tricycle holding a sparkler, and inadvertently sets some pine needles on fire. I quickly stamp it out. Juana, Rocio, and Humberto's mother come over for what Humberto calls "The Last Supper." We eat the delicious leftover chili con carne from last night's fiesta. We all go to bed early; two parties within twnety-four hours have worn us all out.

Eddy plays with a sparkler
 We get up the next morning and pack up our things. We say goodbye to Humberto. It is his busy season, and he has to work every day while we have been here. Paulina and all of the kids make the long drive to the airport with us to see us off. That is so sweet of them (especially since some of the girls suffer from motion sickness) and it means a lot to us. This allows us to spend an additional 3 hours with them, and it allows them to get more familiar with the city and do some errands after dropping us off. Our driver Adrin gets a photo of us all together at the curb at the airport. We wave as they cross the street to get back into the van. Eddy keeps looking over his shoulder for us. He doesn't remember the goodbye ritual from past trips, so he doesn't understand that we are on our way back home, and that we won't be seeing them again for another six months.

Dropping us off at the airport