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Peter and Terry's Adventures
3rd Feb 2012 - 10th Feb 2012
Pepian and Tikal

Pepian is a meal, Tikal is a place!

Last Saturday I went off to the market with Mary, the maid of one of our friends, and we bought the necessary spices and vegetables to make a typical Guatemalan dish known as Pepian. It is a rich stew made of chicken, pork and beef, and a variety of spices, chilies and vegetables. Mary knew her way around the market so we visited her favourite vendors as she collected chillies (pasa and guaque), seeds (sesame, pumpkin), cilantro, tomatoes, tomatillos, chayote, carrots, beans and potatoes. Back at the house, Mary blackened the peppers in a pan over an open fire, then added water to them and browned sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and cinnamon, then browned the flour. Then sautéed onions, tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro. And then we had to leave! (There was a bridge game on in the afternoon). When we came back the pepian was done and being held warm. Meat had been grilled over the fire, the spices and so on ground and blended, and the vegetables cooked in the broth from the chicken bones. Nine of us enjoyed the dinner and were told it was the very best of pepians. One guest was Guatemalan so we figure he knew. The problem with pepian is that every household and restaurant has a slightly different recipe/process... Some are better than others. But it was a great introduction to tipico Guatemalan food.

The afternoon bridge was at the weekend home of a prominent Guatemala lawyer just outside Antigua. The house was magnificent, the original house built just before the '76 earthquake is a very large round room with bath/bedrooms on the sides, connected to another even larger round room by a long gallery which displayed our host's award winning photographs. A lunch break consumed about an hour, and after that we rested at home until the pepian party began later.

John and Peggy were off birding on their way to Tikal, and Terry went to meet them in Tikal for a day. Peter, who really doesn't like the heat, stayed home and visited with friends, took the walking tour of Antigua and enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Santo Domingo, a huge hotel/museum complex on the north east side of town. Five of us sat down to the "Tasters Menu" which involves 8 small but satisfying courses of the specialities of the restaurant in the hotel. The pictures tell the tale!

John, Peggy and Terry arrived back on Tuesday evening from Tikal, tired but satisfied with their travels.

Tikal is a large site of Mayan ruins that has been well preserved and is a Unesco World Heritage site. John and Peggy drove there, stopping at various spots along the way for birding. Terry flew, leaving Antigua at 4:30 AM for Guatemala City, then taking a commuter flight to Flores, and a hotel van to the park. There he met John, Peggy, and the guide Oliver. The site was a major Mayan city, and has an estimated 10,000 ruins with 3000 excavated, so we only saw a small part of it. We started by climbing to the top of of temple IV (on wooden stairs, not the steep stone steps which have been closed off because tourists kept falling down them), and got a spectacular view of the area. The birders were looking for a pair of Orange Breasted Falcons which often perched on the top of the temple, but they did not find them, despite Oliver's leading us into the closed off area around the back of the temple top.

We descended and toured the rest of the area, seeing more temples and residential areas. John and Peggy climbed one of the other ones, but Terry's acrophobia kicked in and he decided not to climb the quite frightening set of steps. Of course the birders spent much of their time with their backs to the buildings and their eyes glued to their binoculars, looking at warblers and other birds. When we finally circled back to Temple IV the falcons were there, roosting in a nearby tree.

We finished the tour about 1:00, and returned to the hotel area for lunch. We then walked back to the hotel for a siesta, stopping to admire a flock of Ocellated Wild Turkeys. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, doing only a short tour of the pond near the hotels. This is an ancient Mayan reservoir which is still functional after 2000 years. We saw one of the alligators that live in it, just his face peering at us from the edge of the water.

We tried the Pepian for dinner, it was not as good as Mary's version. Then early to bed because the hotel power goes off at 9:00 pm and we were planning to leave at 7:00 am the next day for Yaxha, another Mayan site.

On Tuesday morning we were up at 5:30. The power does not come on till 6:30, so we enjoyed cold showers by flashlight. However the hotel did serve us good pancakes for breakfast, and at 7:00 we were off for the 2 hour drive to Yaxha. A bit more than two hours because we had to stop several times for interesting birds. Yaxha is a more recently discovered, and less developed site, with a 15 km very rough gravel road for access. Oliver told us that in the rainy system you need a four wheel drive vehicle to get in, but there was no problem now, just a lot of bouncing. Our early start paid off because we were the only people there, so the birders did not have to worry about other people scaring away the birds.

We climbed another temple, with a good view of the the big ponds in the area. Then did a long tour through the jungle looking for Oropendulas, a magnificent bird that we could hear calling, and which we eventually saw. We also saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and an assortment of other wildlife. We left the site about 1230, and drove back to Flores for a late lunch. We then did a short tour of the town, which is located on Lake Peten Itza, one of the larger lakes in the country. At 4:00 we drove to the airport, said goodbye to Oliver and the driver, and caught the flight back to Guatemala City.
Of course we landed at rush hour, so the trip back to Antigua was slow, but by 7:15 we were safely home.

Bridge again on Thursday, with three tables of varyingly skilled players, but good fun. Although "IT NEVER RAINS AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR" the afternoon was punctuated by thunder and heavy rain...

Next: Tour de Pueblos
Previous: A Quiet Week

Diary Photos

Ocellated Wild Turkey

Peggy at Tikal

Top of Temple 4 in Tikal

Residential Area in Tikal

Climbing to the Temple Top

Central Square and Cathedral

Across the street from the Cathedral

Yaxha Temple


Fountain in Central Square

Cathedral Ruins

Entrance to a small crypt

Taster's Menu, Santo Domingo


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