Saturday, March 15, 2014

Guatemala Smells

Someone asked me yesterday what Guatemala smelled like.  There are some who might think this a strange question or perhaps derisive, but I actually had a scribbled page in my pocket notebook about Guatemala smells.

Morning snack at PLQ
There are the food smells like the smell of bread wafting from the panaderías.  Bread was the snack served during morning and afternoon breaks at Proyecto Lingüistico Quetzalteco de Español. Bread in all different shapes and tastes with that wonderful yeasty smell.  Panaderías were equipped with fabric lined baskets with attached tongs so customers could load up on a wide variety of bread including recado, xeca, empanada, molletes Guatemaltecos, and many varieties that I cannot identify.

Rosario in her comedor
Rosario's diner was always a mixture of fried plantains, tortillas, sopa, Pepián and chuchitos. Savory meats and cooking vegetables from street vendors on almost every corner tempted me repeatedly in Guatemala.  Having been warned by several sources not to eat from street vendors, I resisted.  Reluctantly.  It always smelled so very good.

The smell of freshly roasted café beckoned me daily in Xela and Antigua.  With the purchases made at Casa de Fe on behalf of church members, I was able to bring that smell home with me.  My clothes still carry that rich, mouthwatering aroma.

Courtyard from my room
Note washboard/sink and cooker
There of course were household smells.  The smell of shampoo and soap in the bathroom at Rosario's house greeted me on those chilled mornings.  The scents were fruity and made me think of washing Jessica's hair when she was a pre-teen with her long locks. The sweet soap smells often were mingled with the smell of whitener from the freshly laundered clothes hanging on the line.  Each morning I awoke to the sound of Rosario scrubbing the clothes and linens, by hand, and the washboard before hanging them to dry.  Finally the acrid smell of smoke from the outdoor cooker where Rosario slow cooked the frijoles or maiz. The cooker was homemade from the wheel of a tire on a rickety stand with large hunks of charcoal for fuel.

Street traffic/exhaust
Unpleasant smells included sewer smells that leeched up from the storm sewers near Rosario's.  It is the same in most cities in the U.S.  Urine smells in corners along sidewalks where men relieved themselves.  Public urination is not uncommon, especially when there are few or no public restrooms.  And the exhaust.  Belching black diesel and gasoline exhaust from decrepit older cars, buses of various sorts, and swarms of motorbikes.  I was not the only one who had to cover her face when winding my way up towards Parque Central.  My asma was not impressed.
Courtyard at Hotel Casa Antigua

There were the smells of Reu - tropical and agricultural smells:  The fresh, peaceful smells of afternoon rain storms.  The smell of rich loam in wooded area or by recently turned soil.  The sweet smells of honeysuckle and exotic flowering plants.

Guatemala indeed smelled.   It smelled different and familiar.  It smelled inviting and repulsive.  It smelled savory and forbidden.  It smelled and I miss it. 


  1. Guatemala huele a tortillas, pan y tamales, a hospitalidad, y alegría, pero también huele, lastimosamente, a pobreza y egoísmo. Excelente post!