Posts Tagged ‘XelaWho’

How To Throw A Despedida

This article originally appeared in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.”  To see the original article, click here. December, 2010.

Xela, also known as “the voluntourism Mecca of Central America,” hosts its fair share of medium- to long-term travelers. It’s a good place to spend a few months learning Spanish and helping out at one of the many worthwhile NGOs in and around the city. Consequently, the despedida (goodbye party) has become a local tradition.

If you’ve lived here for more than a few months, you can’t just leave without saying goodbye. A despedida is in order. It’s the best way to bid your collective “que te vaya bien.” Here are a few planning tips:

1) Choose a theme

Goodbyes can be heavy, and themes lighten the tone of a gathering. In Xela, there are used clothes “pacas” on every other block, so costume items are abundant. A few suggestions: a hat party, a moustache party, a wig party, a pajama party, an Adam and Eve party, an ABC (anything but clothing) party, an ugly sweater party, or a tacky tourist party. Color theme parties always look good on camera.

Mallorca despedida

My Mallorca despedida theme: fire and drums

2) Make it a giveaway

Somehow, even living in a place for a short amount of time, people accumulate a lot of stuff. Not all of it will not make the final suitcase cut. Extra clothing, books you’ve finished, a nice umbrella, or whatever else isn’t quite worth its space in your bag could mean a lot to the people you’ve met here. Bring your excess to your party for your friends to dig through.


If everyone brings their own drinks and snacks, then a despedida doesn’t have to be a big expense. Feel like cooking? Make it a potluck dinner. Or just tell everyone to meet at your favorite bar.

4) Plan it for the VERY last night

If you make your despedida too early, then there’s the risk of bumping into someone you’ve already said goodbye to, an awkward situation I like to call “the double goodbye.” Avoid this by making the despedida as close to your departure date as possible.

5) Let yourself cry

A despedida is a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of people who you might not see again any time soon. Have fun and keep your composure, at least for the first few hours. Late into night of a despedida, some boozy reflection may set in. This is an overwhelming moment for anybody — you’ve just added some experience abroad to your life. You’ve been living in this heightened, extraordinary state, and that’s about to change. Laughter may turn into tears. For ladies: be sure to go with the waterproof mascara.


12 2010

Earthship Spotting in Guatemala

This article originally appeared in XelaWho.  To see the original, click here.  March, 2009.

Earthships have invaded various places in the U.S. such as New Mexico, and now these remarkable structures can be spotted all over the world. An earthship is a house or building that employs alternative construction methods and recycled materials. The reasons to build an earthship are many: they’re especially trendy right now, they look cool, and most importantly, they’re intended to leave a lighter ecological footprint than standard building processes.

Long Way Home: aqueduct of trash-filled bottles

Long Way Home: aqueduct of trash-filled bottles

In San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, the non-profit organization Long Way Home (LWH) has completed their pilot earthship structure: a small round home made mostly of rammed earth-filled tires and trash-filled plastic bottles. Through its recreation park, LWH has engaged the community of San Juan Comalapa in its alternative methods. Those who want to enjoy this community space must either pay a small admission fee or come with a trash-filled bottle that is already packed and usable for construction. The deal works out well for everyone — the community gets to play soccer, the organization gets building materials, and the environment gets less litter and a little more care.

The completion of the small tire house was just the beginning for LWH. On a piece of land close to the park, the organization has broken ground on what will be a vocational school for the community. The school, which is being built using the same methods and materials as the earthship home, will teach local Guatemalans vocational skills such as accounting and business, carpentry, masonry, and alternative construction. The project is still in its initial phases, and continual funding and labor is needed to fuel the construction.

Long Way Home's earth-filled tire construction

Long Way Home's earth-filled tire construction

For anyone wanting to participate in the building of the school, even small donations go a long way. For those traveling with more time than money, LWH has an excellent volunteer program. Volunteering on a project like LWH’s earthship school is not only trendy and cool-looking on Facebook. It’s also important work to be doing. Since these construction methods are labor intensive, the project is counting on high volunteer participation over the next few months and even years.

Way to practice environmentalism and humanitarianism at the same time, Long Way Home.

Visit for more information.


11 2010

Eco Review: Ecohotel Las Cumbres

This article originally appeared in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.”  To view it, click here.  March, 2009.

At XelaWho, we do our part environmentally by passing the buck to those who are doing their part. With so many lodges, restaurants, and other tourist services claiming to be “eco” this and “green” that, our team of investigative journalists asks industry operators all the tough questions.

Ecohotel Las Cumbres is an amazing geological gem just outside of Xela. The hotel is built over the geothermic reserve of Zunil, so all water is heated naturally by the volcanic activity under the ground. Each of the country-style rooms has a fireplace and a jacuzzi, and some rooms feature private saunas of volcanic steam. The unique location of the hotel keeps its guests toasty warm without using fuel for heating.

Las Cumbres sauna, Quetzaltenango Guatemala

The cuisine at Las Cumbres is also ecologically friendly. All the vegetables used in the restaurant are grown in the garden on the hotel grounds. They’re organic, so no chemicals are used at any point in their production. The coffee is organic and produced on the owners’ land as well. The drinks are natural, and an herb garden is available for guests to pick their own seasonings. All the food is unprocessed and prepared on site. Because the hotel focuses on health, no alcohol is served.

Las Cumbres has been open for about 10 years. The owners are from Xela and are always present and active in the management. They originally bought the land for the production of mushrooms, and they were going to use the natural vapor for mushroom cultivation. The local market for mushrooms was weak, so they decided to convert the mushroom production into a restaurant and sauna. After a few years, they converted their storage buildings into the first hotel rooms.

INGUAT, in cooperation with a French organization called Getes, awarded Las Cumbres status as one of ten hotels in Guatemala with local ownership and great personal service to its clients. These ten hotels form a network of healthy tourism promotion in rural areas, along with forty other hotels in Central America. To receive this distinction, all hotels must maintain European standards of operation.

New developments include about ten more rooms and a wedding garden. Las Cumbres has already hosted 27 weddings. For an escape from the cold of Xela nights, Las Cumbres offers natural warmth and homestyle comfort. Way to be resourceful with the earth’s natural geological features, hotel Las Cumbres!

For more information, visit the website at or call 5304-2102


11 2010

Eco Review: La Casa del Mundo

This article originally appeared in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.”  To see it, click here.  January, 2009.

At XelaWho, we do our part environmentally by passing the buck to those who are doing their part. With so many lodges, restaurants, and other tourist services claiming to be “eco” this and “green” that, our team of investigative journalists asks industry operators all the tough questions.

This month, we visited lakeside resort La Casa Del Mundo in the small town of El Jaibalito, Atitlan. The lodge doesn’t even advertise itself as “eco” but does claim to be “Guatemala’s most magical hotel”.  A walk through the beautiful gardens and terraces expose both its magic and its eco-responsibility.

La Casa Del Mundo, Lake Atitlan Guatemala

If you’re lucky, you’ll run into Bill, the American who founded the hotel alongside his Guatemalan wife Rosy. They began building in 1988 and after 9 years of construction, the hotel opened for business in 1997. La Casa del Mundo now boasts 16 bedrooms overlooking the lake, and employs 38 Guatemalans.

Ask Bill about environmental self-sustainability, and he’ll tell you his hotel is “the greenest place on Lake Atitlan.” He can also show you why this is true. La Casa del Mundo is the only place around Atitlan that disposes of waste water without dumping into the lake. Bill designed a $30k water system that filters waste water, then pumps it upward and away from the lake each day. The water is safely expelled into the ground, where trees now thrive.

What happens to all the muck in the filters? It gets emptied into the compost bins, and the compost gets used to fertilize the hotel’s abundant gardens. In fact, nearly all the hotel’s waste is recycled. Organic waste goes to compost, and plastics are recycled in Panajachel, where Rosy serves on the recycling committee. In the course of a month, the entire hotel generates a mere three trash bags of unusable waste. That’s what I would call resourceful.

Additionally, the hotel has invested heavily in solar power. The hotel relies on twelve solar panels to heat the water. During the rainy season, the solar heating must be supplemented occasionally by about 5% propane heating, but in the dry season, solar energy is more than sufficient. Bill envisions a day when solar energy will be efficient enough to provide both electricity and hot water for the hotel. Way to be stewards of the earth, Casa del Mundo.


11 2010

Eco Review: Finca Nueva Alianza

This article was originally published in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.”  To see it, click here.  February, 2009.

At XelaWho, we do our part environmentally by passing the buck to those who are doing their part. With so many lodges, restaurants, and other tourist services claiming to be “eco” this and “green” that, our team of investigative journalists asks industry operators all the tough questions.

For anyone interested in labor rights, worker cooperatives, organic methods and certification, alternative energy and biodiesel conversion, waterfalls, coffee, macadamia nuts, and fun, Finca Nueva Alianza has it all.

Comunidad Nueva Alianza, Guatemala

Nueva Alianza is a cooperative of 40 families who have struggled over the past two decades to claim the land from its exploitative owner and to manage it democratically. Through investment and support from other organizations, the coffee and macadamia farm has recently gained organic certification and has a number of other fascinating projects underway.

The farm’s ecotourism project was initiated in 2005, when the farm’s former owner’s housing was converted into an ecolodge. Now, the farm receives guests and hosts weekend tours. The ecotourism project is a much-needed source of income for the whole community. In exchange, the tours offer an educational outdoor adventure for eco-travelers.

The weekend tour begins with a hike around the grounds, with explanations of local flora and some of its traditional uses. The guide will also explain the different varieties of coffee plants and the manual grafting process they employ to optimize coffee productivity without using chemicals. Later, the tour group visits the coffee processing plant, which has reformed its methods in order to lessen its ecological footprint. For example, Nueva Alianza has decreased the amount of water needed in the process and filters waste water before releasing it back into the environment.

Lunch and dinner are simple, tasty vegetarian meals served at the lodge. All meals include fresh fruit and, of course, lots of organic coffee. After dinner, one of the community leaders will tell the remarkable story of the land under exploitative ownership and its long hard transition to a cooperative organization. As a cooperative, the community has made a great deal of progress, but debts remain and adequate health services are still lacking.

Day two begins with a warm breakfast and tours of the farm’s other projects. The community purifies its spring water and bottles it for retail sale. Several members build beautiful bamboo furniture. The biodiesel processing room shows how old restaurant grease is converted into fuel suitable for any diesel engine. The farm uses this fuel for its vehicles and for some of its processing machinery.

Finally, the group learns how macadamia nuts are processed, then visitors can bash open the shells themselves and sample the nut inside. After another hike to a nearby waterfall, the weekend is complete. Way to unify and tread lightly, Comunidad Nueva Alianza.


11 2010

Spanish School Dropout Rates on the Rise

This article was originally published in XelaWho, “Quetzaltenango’s leading culture and nightlife magazine.”  To view it, click here.  December, 2008

XELA, Guatemala – According to a recent study by MINEDUC, Guatemala’s Ministry of Education, Spanish students are dropping out of school weeks earlier than they had originally planned. In extreme cases, students quit classes mid-week, failing to attend the graduations held every Friday or to receive their “diplomas.”

xelawho logo

The Spanish school community is alarmed by the study’s findings, which show that students who drop out of school prematurely are less likely to succeed as travelers in Latin America and Spanish conversationalists. Fernando Torres de Garcia, director of MINEDUC, expressed his concern about the trend. “In the highly competitive global market, a Photoshop certificate of Spanish school completion from Guatemala can be a sharp advantage,” he observes. “Why would you throw that away?”

The study identifies several causes of early dropout, including friendship with Guatemalans, time constraints due to volunteer work, unsupportive host family environments, frequent drug and alcohol use, tuition prices relative to private instruction, and general laziness.

Recent dropout Kevin Stein reports that “four hours of grammar lessons starting at 8am was complete overload. It’s just too much for a hungover brain to handle.” Stein claims that his daily three hours of TV in Spanish are just as effective as Spanish class. Another dropout who wishes to remain anonymous admits that she hasn’t told her parents she quit school. “Now that I’m dating a Guatemalan Spanish teacher, I get loads of one-on-one Spanish for free. I love it when he talks to me in the subjunctive tense.”

In response to the recent findings, Spanish schools are developing new strategies to keep students in school longer. One school offers fieldtrips to Bake Shop only for those who are enrolled in the upcoming week. Another school requires all its teachers to be funny, flirtatious, and very attractive.


11 2010