Instructables

Handy Tricks From Guatemala

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Monica and her brother Cristobal Jesus guide us up the side of volcano "Agua" near Antigua, Guatemala.
The trail is steep. People have dug many pits along the trail and at the end of each row of corn.
In the rainy season the water runs into these pits instead of washing the trail away.

I'm visiting Guatemala with my mother, hosted by an amazing NGO called Common Hope
 
 
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Step 1: The Birthplace of Corn

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Monica and her brother are ethnic Maya, like most Guatemalans..
The oldest archeological evidence of maize cultivation, 3000+ years ago, is found here in Guatemala.
Their family has grown it ever since. The corn has already been harvested in this field but the beans are still growing. The vines climb up the cornstalks. The cornstalks were tall, ten feet or more. To harvest the ears of corn they cut the stalk with a machete overhead. That made the top fall over so they could reach the ears.
The corn depletes the nitrates in the soil. The beans put nitrogen back in with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules. Beans supply the diet with amino acids lacking in the corn. It's a perfect system.
In this photo smoke issues from the summit of active volcano "Fuego". "Acatenango" volcano is to the right of Fuego.

Step 2: Tump Line

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We met this gentleman named Senso Seis coming down the trail.
He's carrying his corn in a net bag with a "tump line" over his forehead which is their traditional method.

Step 3: Ceramic Griddle

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Monica makes tortillas on a hot ceramic platter called a "Comal". The pat-pat-pat sound of flattening tortillas is one of the domestic sounds of Guatemala. They grew the corn for these tortillas right here, halfway up this volcano.

Step 4: The Freshest Guacamole

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We are sitting under an avocado tree. They are making guacamole from avocados right from the tree. They also brought refried beans from home along with the tortilla dough.

Step 5: Greasewood Kindling

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Their father, Don Filiberto, shows me the pitch-pine sticks he used to kindle the fire.
Lots of us in the "modern world" could learn very much from these simple things!
triumphman1 year ago
The people are so happy! They have literally nothing compared to the "spoiled" people here in the USA. But they are down to earth, real and not phony like some people here! I would love to help them with solar power for electric and clean water filtration. But maybe that would be wrong and change their whole economic structure. I should leave them be. Happy and unspoiled!
Ole bally3 years ago
Miaze... scientific name Zea Mays !!:)
Wasagi4 years ago
 Adventure?
Thank you very much for sharing this.
i love guatemala. i'd love to live in antigua one day. i went once and now i'm hooked.
tacamaral5 years ago
Must appreciate the irony of a volcano named "Agua" (water, for non-Spanish speakers). : ) Great text.
"Volcan de Agua", is called that because it is been extinct for so many years (hundreds, thousands?) that it has a lake in the cone. So it's not an ironic name so much and an obvious one.... but you have to know about that lake for it to make sense.
d9944475 years ago
important note, you're supposed to place the tumpline on top of the head just back from the hairline, not on the forehead but above the forehead.
chuckr445 years ago
Question about processing the corn. Am I right that the woman does the lime process with the fresh corn, which results in wet corn, then takes said wet corn to the grinder? Doesn't wet corn turn to mush instead of getting ground into pieces?
TimAnderson (author)  chuckr445 years ago
It's mature corn dried in the fields on the cob. Then it's soaked in lime water til the kernels puff up and the skins crack and start to peel off. The grinder is made for the wet corn. Yes it turns to mush, or tortilla dough. Before they had mechanical grinders they used to do it by hand on a metate. The metate still gets a lot of use for grinding chilis and other stuff.
JAYBLES5 years ago
Comals are very important for many latin cultures. I myself of mexican descent and i can't remember not having one in the kitchen. Of course it's not huge like the one in the picture here. I've only seen cast iron comals and they are for stove tops.
Flashflint5 years ago
Was the part of guatemala you were visiting Son Lucas Toleman by any chance?
firesketch5 years ago
I like the Tump Line.
And I love the name!

My dad might 'preciate some of these, he lives out there.
Johenix6 years ago
Non-reactive means not aluminum. Aluminum reacts strongly with both acids and alkais (like lime)and quickly developes small holes. The lime adds calcium to the diet. The alternative wood ash (Potash)is associated with a higher rate of stomach cancer. Back on the farm (Minnesota, 1950's) we used corn cobs for stove kindeling.
This is cool! Right now I'm in Antigua Guatemala myself!
i have to admit with carpespasm, this is very very cool stuff.
carpespasm6 years ago
very very cool stuff.
kill-a-watt6 years ago
This looks like a pretty good step by step for making masa flour, although it does seem to be a commercial site.

That site states that the pot used to "nix" the corn be non-reactive. What type of pot did Maria use?

Also, the "masa as a staple" is just one part of the protein equation, can you show us how they prepare the beans? What kind do they grow?

We don't have particularly hard water around here, but I could never get my beans completely soft and ready to eat, even after simmering them for hours. All that changed, however, when I started using a pressure cooker. Under pressure, most pinto, red, or black beans are soft after around 45 minutes, no pre-soak needed.

Also, it's interesting to hear that they use power grinders.

Sometimes I'll pick up a "back to nature" type book such as this one, and it will advocate "stone ground" grain as being better for some reason. Then I recall visiting a New Mexico Anasazi site and learning that many of them died at the ripe old age of 40 or so because the stone particles in their staple corn wore down their teeth and exposed the nerve, making chewing too painful to endure.
I'd never thought about the reasons behind "hominy" and now I know, an interesting article Tim.