Monday, July 20, 2009

Guatemala II: Flores

Dinner in Flores was complicated, but the short version is that after walking in circles for probably close to an hour, a group of ten of us finally wound up at a small, only a little bit touristy restaurant called something like La Plaza de los Mayas, where I proceeded to order baked armadillo. The only other adventurous one in the group was Hope, who ordered jabali (wild boar), so I clearly won the prize for the most exotic meal. Armadillo meat was an interesting experience, but one I probably will not repeat intentionally. I can’t describe the taste, because it wasn’t really like anything I’ve ever tried before, but two other people who tasted it agreed that it was similar to quail. That seems odd to me, but never having eaten quail I can’t really offer an opinion.

Wild boar, if you’re curious, just tastes like very strongly flavored pork.

But the highlight of the meal was the variety plate of meats that Maite* ordered for the table to share. There was more armadillo, [I think] more wild boar, gibnut (a large rodent, the local name for which I couldn’t spell if I tried), venison, and something I can’t recall. Of the five, only the venison could be told apart by sight. I tasted two or three of the ones that were left, one of which I recognized as armadillo. I never did figure out what else I ate. The venison, however, might have been the best piece of meat I’ve ever eaten. At the end of dinner when we noticed the meat platter was still largely intact, Tabitha and I set it between us and ate the entire piece of venison, while repeatedly wondering aloud why we hadn’t been smart enough to order that for ourselves instead of what we did have.

I also ordered a glass of white wine, which I thought was surprisingly good, but then again, I seem to have pretty poor taste in wine. I also proceeded to drink Hope’s wine because she didn’t like it (which was sad because it was her first alcoholic drink ever), and a third glass that the waitress (God bless her soul for waiting on ten decidedly not bilingual tourists) brought by mistake. All of said glasses had a little bit of ice in them (remember, this is Guatemala, where we have been warned not even to brush our teeth with tap water), to which I basically said “Meh” and trusted the alcohol to kill anything unpleasant. And I was fine, so either that worked, or the ice was made with purified water, which is fairly likely in a tourist town (although it is generally a good idea to ask first).

After dinner it was already relatively late (considering we’re accustomed to getting up at dawn) so Tabitha and I went to an internet café next door to our hotel for a few minutes and then went up to shower and go to bed. We set alarms for 5 a.m., planning to go out and try to hire a boat to take us out to watch the sunrise, or, failing that, to watch it from the lakeshore. That idea came about because we’d been told that a sunset tour around the island was popular, but it was still overcast from the rainy afternoon, so we didn’t bother. Well, we woke up at 5 to a still-pretty-dark sky and decided we could sleep a little bit longer. I reset my alarm for 5:30, at which time Tabitha went to the window and said “The sun’s up.” I said, “No way,” and looked out. It was definitely getting light out, but there was pink in the east, so we got dressed and went out, but we had indeed missed the most interesting part of the sunrise. But the early-morning sun over the water was still pretty.

Unfortunately, as it was Sunday, there was absolutely nothing open that early in the morning. We followed the sound of church bells and glimpses of white bell towers through the winding streets up to the old Spanish mission on the hill, which is pretty much the only interesting thing to see in Flores. When that was accomplished, there was still nothing open that might serve breakfast, so we bought snacks at a tiny convenience store and went back to the hotel. The third floor, where our room was, is open to the street, kind of like a built-in balcony, with a small sitting area next to the rail. We sat there and ate cookies and drank juice and waited for sounds or smells that might indicate breakfast to come up from below. After an hour or so we smelled toast and headed out.

There still wasn’t much open, but we settled on a tiny little café/diner type place that seemed (to me) to attract locals as much as tourists, where the most patient waitress in the world brought Tabitha an enormous bowl of corn flakes and me a giant plate of platanos con crema, which I thought meant “bananas with cream” but was in fact fried plantains with butter. Admittedly, I do not know which is the correct translation for “crema,” but “platanos” definitely means bananas. And I am rather perturbed that it can also mean plantains, as it seems those are things one would like to make a distinction between. I know I would, as I find fried plantains to be slimy and mushy and altogether unappealing. My café con leche more than made up for them, though. I later heard some people complaining that it’s hard to find decent coffee in Guatemala because the best is exported, but my coffee that morning was to die for. And I tipped our lovely waitress well, because Tabitha literally doesn’t know a word of Spanish other than gracias, and I obviously lack the vocabulary to speak for one of us, much less both. There was a lot of menu-pointing and repetition of questions involved in ordering breakfast.

After breakfast came shopping, and lots of it, and after some ATM drama on my end, Tabitha and I both spent far more than we’d planned. But things are cheaper in Guatemala than in Belize, so it was probably good in the long run. Most of the shopkeepers spoke at least a little English, so though I tried to use my pathetic Spanish, there were a lot of mixed sentences going on in my interactions with people. We managed. What was great was when someone didn’t speak English, or chose not to, and Tabitha looked at me to translate for her, and I just stared blankly. I had to use “No comprende” a few times, and there was a lot of smiling and nodding and saying “Si” when someone tried to tell me something that didn’t seem immediately important to whether I was going to purchase the item in question.

Once we’d cut ourselves off, we did hire a boat to take us around the island, and even though it wasn’t a special time of day it was still pretty and fun. Our driver didn’t say much because it was clear we didn’t speak Spanish, but he did stop the boat at one point and indicate a forested area of the island and eventually make clear to me via Spanglish and repetition that it was a nature preserve full of wildlife and there was a hiking trail that would take about an hour to walk. He asked if we wanted to stop there, but disappointingly, I was forced to say no because we were running out of time. Back on the mainland, we found another hole-in-the-wall restaurant to get lunch from, where we shared a plate of four beef tacos for something like $2, and had gigantic smoothies for just a little more. The owner of the restaurant, who served us, was very nice and I actually managed to have a coherent, mostly Spanish conversation with him. He asked if I was from France, which I thought was interesting, since I’d accidentally mixed French and Spanish a few times that morning but definitely did not do so when I talked to him. Is my Spanish accented? That would be odd, since my French accent when I speak French is terrible. But whatever. I told him we were American, and ordered our food, which we managed to discuss in Spanish with only minimal confusion. He only completely lost me after our meal, when I think he was trying to say something about a special or a discount or something. What I definitely understood was “tomorrow”, so I said “We’re leaving today.” I didn’t know how to say that in Spanish, so I pointed to the bridge as I said it, which he seemed to get.

So, we went back to the hotel and got our things and got back on the bus and that was the end of our Guatemalan adventure. I suspect the remainder of the evening was unremarkable, as I seem not to have remarked any of it.

* who is Mexican and thus served as our indispensable, unwitting but fortunately completely willing interpreter

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