Tortillas (Dolores, Guatemala)

Corn.  Corn is everywhere it seems.

 

All day I kept seeing small “milpas” of corn everywhere I looked.  Right on the side of the road, someone had planted a small plot of corn.  Big fields… small fields… corn, corn, and more corn.

 

And then we asked a family if we could pitch our tent in their yard – and I saw exactly what happens with all that corn.

 

“Almost everybody around here grows their own corn,” Marta Elena told me.  “A few people buy it, but not many – we all have small fields where we grow corn and beans.”

 

In the corner of her kitchen Marta Elena had a big corn crib where she stacked all her corn – all dried with husks still on.

 

“When we want to use the corn, we take the kernels off the cob, then soak it overnight with cal – the cal makes the skin soft and makes the corn very white.  In the morning, we’ll wash it really well to get rid of the cal, then boil it for 30 minutes or so.”

 

“And then you grind it?” I asked.

 

“We don’t grind it here,” Marta replied.  “We take it to the mill where they grind it into masa using a motor.”

 

That explains why I’ve seen kids walking around with a bowl of masa all day – I couldn’t figure out why they took their masa for a walk.

 

“When we get the masa back here, we make tortillas over the fire.”

 

For some reason, I’m fascinated with this whole tortillas thing.  In Mexico tortillas we made from corn flour, and most people simply bought fresh tortillas for each meal.  Machines turned out thousands of tortillas in a short period of time, and there were tortilla factories every few blocks.

 

But here in Guatemala the tortillas are made directly from corn, and they are all individually made by hand in each household.

 

Yesterday I wanted to buy some tortillas so I went across the street to where a sign said they sold them.

 

“We don’t have then on Sundays,” they told me.  “But you can get them around the corner.  Just go past the tire store and into the very next door.”

 

So I headed that way and found a door open.  I made my way down the hallway, squeezing past the motorcycle parked in the middle of it.  And then I found myself smack dab in the middle of someone’s house.

 

“Do you have tortillas here?” I asked, feeling very much like I’ve just barged into someone’s living room.”

 

“Sure do!” came the response.  “How many do you want?”

All the tortillas had been carefully crafted by hand and cooked over a wood fire before being placed in a cooler to keep them warm.

 

They dished out my twelve and put them in a plastic bag.  I handed over my $.30, and was on my way to lunch with fresh, hot tortillas.

 

Kilometers today:  82

Kilometers to date:  12423

A typical house in northern Guatemala

A typical house in northern Guatemala

We hit the mountains about midday,

We hit the mountains about midday,

I think I like this practice of a siesta during the hottest part of the day!

I think I like this practice of a siesta during the hottest part of the day!

Every once in a while we pass a big ol´tree that has all kinds of interesting stuff growing in it.

Every once in a while we pass a big ol´tree that has all kinds of interesting stuff growing in it.

Marta Elena shows off her kitchen

Marta Elena shows off her kitchen

The corn crib.  In the blue pot they are soaking corn in cal to soften the skin and make it white.

The corn crib.  In the blue pot they are soaking corn in cal to soften the skin and make it white.

Our home for the night - Marta Elena´s veranda.

Our home for the night – Marta Elena´s veranda.

 

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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3 Responses to Tortillas (Dolores, Guatemala)

  1. Norman Avila March 31, 2009 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi, I like the way you narrate your adventures, beware that this time of the year is really Hot in Northern Guatemala, you will likelly cool some in Rio Dulce, but will hit 100F temperatures in the area of Los Amates down to El Rancho passing by Zacapa in Guatemala, then hopefully will enjoy springlike weather in Guatemalan Highlands.

    Have a nice and safe adventure

    Regards

    [Reply]

  2. Jen April 5, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    I thought it was interesting that you translated most of the conversation about how the corn is made into masa, but not “cal”. Did you know that “cal” is lime (the mineral, not the fruit)?

    [Reply]

  3. nancy April 9, 2009 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks Jen!! I thought it was lime, but wasn’t completely sure so decided to leave it in Spanish. How’s that for reasoning??

    Hey Norman! We’ve discovered how hot it is – blistering hot!!

    [Reply]

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