Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm waiting for hummingbirds

In these mild winter days, on the last day of January, I'm thinking about spring.

I gathered up some organic compost to enrich my vegetable beds, cleaned the beds up (of dead greens and parsley), admired the leeks of various sorts (some looking wan, others - the perennial ones- looking more robust), clipped back some perennial stems, and thought:  I'm waiting for spring.

It's still way too early, I know, but there are daffodils in flower around the corner.  And tulip foliage is emerging, too, in spots I've tucked former Valentine's Day bulbs in, to overwinter.

I'm remembering hummingbird visits some years ago (we saw lots in Guatemala recently, primarily visiting feeders, but also in gardens).

Here was a great sequence of photos on a venerable Campsis at the Biltmore Estate, some years ago.

A hummingbird coming in to visit a Campsis flower: click for a larger view.
Day 7 #challengeatnaturephotography

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Back home on a mild winter day

Beaver Lake in late January

Missing the big snowstorm in the eastern U.S. while traveling, we were glad to catch a bit of the snow and remaining ice, too, on one of our favorite spots in Asheville, Beaver Lake.  Day 6 at #challengeonnaturephotography.

Ice on Beaver Lake 

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Market in Quetzaltenango

All over the world, markets have distinct characteristics; they're full of people, local favorites, and often surprises.

This one, near the bus station, in the highland city of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala, was distinguished by lots of prepared vegetables (an unusual market offering).

And this goat was unusual, too (she was providing milk, perhaps on demand? according to the "leche" sign).

This will serve as Day 5 in #challengeonnaturephotography.

The vegetables and fruits fall into that category, I think.  Hmm, of course, now I've just realized that I already posted about this!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Growing organic vegetables

Day 2 at #challengeonnaturephotography

These are photos of growing plants organically, and creating a "kitchen garden" in a country (Guatemala) where it's most unusual to have an restaurant serving organic food, much less from their own garden (on the hotel's grounds, in a very modest, non-tourist town on Lake Atitlan).

Jose with Swiss Chard, kale, and other greens

To these gardeners, it was definitely about living in harmony with their year-round growing season.

Banco de similar (seed storage shed)
Jose showing Tim their saved seeds

Nature comes in guises both familiar and wild; both are worth celebrating.


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Monday, January 25, 2016

Sleeping dogs and organic gardens

In a town that's the poorest of any we've seen in Guatemala, there are still dogs that look reasonably content and well-fed.

And the schools seem supported, and the children there wear smart uniforms, maybe thanks to the non-profit that's carrying on a long-term American priest's work here in this town, which has made a significant difference over the last 50 years, helping this town avoid the worst of the Guatemalan civil war.

These dogs were near the market; we disturbed the one on the right, who got up to check on what was happening.

The local folks found us amusing, paying attention to these dogs....

We're staying in the only "tourist" hotel in town. It's very nice, even if smoke from the neighbors' cooking fires is wafting down into the hotel's lovely gardens, which include a remarkable organic vegetable garden, probably an acre in expanse.

It's full of various kales, broccoli, lettuces, fennel, herbs, amaranth, carrots, arugula, etc.

Amazing for this part of the world, and the head gardener and his assistant deserves to be proud of their work, which supports the hotel's restaurant, and by extension, the outreach missionary work of the non-profit nearby, who have discounts for staying here or for meals.


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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

Looking towards town, the two volcanoes (Toliman and Santiago) rise to the left.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Volcan Pedro at sunset

Friday, January 22, 2016

Market in Quetzaltenango

Heading back towards Lake Atitlan, we took a "chicken bus" from Quetzaltenango to San Pedro.

Xela market, goat with milk

Getting to the Minerva terminal took us through a major market, perhaps the main one for Xela (Quetzaltenango). It was packed. It was full of surprises, including this goat, whose milk was for sale.


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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Growing vegetables in Guatemala's Western Highlands

We've been in a relatively small area of the Western Highlands, between Antigua and Quetzaltenango, and haven't been officially farm visiting, so I'm commenting as an interested observer....but most of the fields we went past on the bus, and near the villages and towns that we stayed in, were largely devoted to corn (currently brown), grown as dry land crops.
In the area around Quetzaltenango, where spring water was abundant, the fields were green with cool season crops of all sorts. Water seems to be the key ingredient, along with the rich soils, and these fields were being intensively cropped.

It's a labor intensive process growing vegetables here in Algohongo and Xunil.

There weren't any mechanical devices to be seen, outside of pickup trucks, water hoses, and an occasional set of irrigation sprinklers. We spotted one small water pump, but largely watering was done with wooden water "scoops," using water from the ditches surrounding each field.

Cultivation, planting, watering and harvesting were all done by hand. We saw both onions and carrots being harvested, cleaned, and gathered up for market.

The soil looked rich and deep; here was one spot where additional mulch/compost was apparently being added. Recently harvested fields (where dusting of lime was apparent) had me wondering about the pH of this presumably volcanic, but VERY hard working soil.

The mild spring-like climate, even here in the Western Highlands, allows growing of crops continuously, at the what we can "cool season" vegetables in the SE U.S.

Hoop houses seemed to provide enough additional warmth for tomatoes and maybe peppers, although I think most were coming in to the markets from more lowland areas.

But my take home was just how labor intensive in these commercial market gardens. I'm familiar with the process as a vegetable gardener myself, and know what hard work it is; the vegetables looked beautiful, and were carefully cultivated. My guess is that they were reasonably prosperous compared to the dry land farmers; I hope they're finding good markets for their vegetables. The guidebooks say these are prosperous towns, and they certainly look the part, compared to many others.


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Vegetable growing in Almolonga and Xunil, Guatemala

Vegetable growing hasn't been a common sight in places we've been so far in Guatemala, but two exceptionally fertile valleys, encompassing two towns near Quetzaltentango, have been extraordinary. Blessed by abundant water from springs and rivers, along with rich volcanic soils, these fields were patchworks of greens: chard, broccoli, carrots, beets, onions, cauliflower, parsley, and potatoes.

This plots apparently are owned by individual families as well as by larger landholders, but it seemed to definitely a commercial enterprise, with plots harvested all at once.


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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Old town Quetzaltenango

None of the guide books talk about an "old town" in Quetzaltenango, but that's what this part of town looks like. Moving to a new lodging found us among low colonial-style buildings with faded paint on stuccoed walls.
We've seen buildings like these in La Candelaria (in Bogota, Colombia), Antigua, and elsewhere, but didn't expect to find them here, in Guatemala's second largest city, even though it has significant historic buildings around the Parque Central and elsewhere.

It's been a good city to visit. It's not on the tourist trail, at all, and we've been pretty solitary as tourists visiting the vegetable growing towns nearby and the Fuentes Georgina hot springs (other posts to come).


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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Vegetables and coffee drying in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Morning view from Santa Cruz La Laguna

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Santa Cruz La Laguna

Lake Atitlan is dotted by Mayan villages along and above its shorelines. Settled in the 1500's, all have persisted and changed, most remaining solidly Mayan (in modern guise); others becoming more tourist and expat-centered. All benefit from a remarkable setting and lovely climate, and suffer from catastrophic rain events, flooding, and periodic algae blooms. (Click on the photos for a better image; the blogger app didn't resize them like Blogsy does, but is a bit easier for posting with iPhone based photos on an iPad!)

Lake Atitlan in the morning

Lakeside view beyond Santa Cruz La Laguna

We were interested in the CECAP initiative that helps encourage skill building in young local people: carpentry, culinary skills, sewing, etc.  In a country where ~50% of the Mayan population lives below the poverty line (for Guatemala), expanding opportunities for young people who otherwise might not be able to stay in school because of financial needs of family (needing their help in the fields and elsewhere).

They're surrounded by a non-profit based in Seattle, and seem to be doing good things.

This was typical of the house in the Mayan town, with electricity and running water, but most houses using wood as their source of cooking fuel.

An exception was the lovely kitchen in the non- profit cafe, where the students in the culinary program cook delicious food for breakfast and lunch.

The entire program (all skills) has had over 600 students from the village over the 6 years.  The cafe and workshop space is expanding this year.  They're doing good work.

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