Field Study in Guatemala City

The capstone assignment for the MBA program was a team-based global business project. For our project, our client was a private equity firm that invests in companies with growth potential primarily in Latin America. Our charge was to develop a country expansion strategy for one of the companies in their portfolio. To accomplish this, we spent a week in Guatemala conducting a field study. We interviewed key stakeholders – the CEO, CFO, clients, partners, third-party administrators, vendors and others in their supply chain. It was an immersive week where we learned a tremendous amount and were able to apply the concepts learned in our MBA courses.

My husband accompanied me on the trip and we arrived in Guatemala City a day early so that we could take in some of the sights before my busy week began. Here are my impressions of Guatemala City.

First, there’s the foliage. The city is lush and green, and the leaves are huge!

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These are the very large leaves of a monstera deliciosa (otherwise known as the swiss cheese plant).

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My husband and I stayed at a lovely boutique hotel called La Inmaculada. The ambience, service and food were wonderful. I took these photos in the inner hotel courtyard where we had most of our meals. The rooms were not as fancy as some of the big-name hotels, but they were clean and had everything we could possibly need.

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Guatemala is renowned for its coffee – and it was delicious. We drank freshly ground coffee in the courtyard every day. Here, a late-night craving for sweets – a warm latte paired with fried plantain covered with cinnamon and a dab of fresh cream.

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We took an excursion to the Mercado de Artesanias La Aurora, a beautiful arts and crafts market next to a rose garden. We practically had the place to ourselves.

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Coffee beans growing in the garden.

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At the market, we were overwhelmed with colors and textures from all the hand-woven textiles and crafts.

 

We bought this little hacky-sack turtle for our puppy. It didn’t last long. I managed to get it away from him before he destroyed it. Now the turtle is missing one leg.

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We brought home several textiles including these cloths to place in a basket with bread or tortillas.

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This queen size textile will serve as a light, cool bedspread during the summer.

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One of my favorite parts of travelling is street food, and Guatemala did not disappoint. There were snow cone vendors all over the main plaza in the historic district. I had one with tamarindo and pineapple – yum!

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The smell of freshly baked bread permeated the air.

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As we walked through the historic district, families outside a church were selling these handmade tamales. I did not resist.

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This gentleman was leading his goats through the downtown area. For a few quetzales, you could have a fresh cup of warm goat’s milk.

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Dinner consisted of a chicken breast covered in an exquisite cream sauce with loroco – a wild vine of edible flowers. Restaurant: Café Kacao. My husband’s meal was smothered with an anacate cream sauce. Anacates, or chanterelle mushrooms, were in season. One night, I had a traditional mole dish.

 

You can’t visit a country in Latin America without visiting churches. The baroque Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint James dominates the city center.

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That particular Sunday was the feast day of Santo Domingo. My husband and I joined the jubilant procession through the streets.

 

 

A few blocks over we passed Rectoria Santa Clara, a Catholic Church in the historic district. Construction of the church was completed in 1734.

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The streets had so much character.

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During the week, while I was busy with the field study, my husband took a side trip to Santiago Atitlán, one of several Mayan villages surrounding beautiful Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is in the Guatemalan Highlands at an elevation of 5,105 feet (1,556 meters). Three volcanoes are situated around the lake.

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(Source)

Part of the reason my husband selected Santiago Atitlán was to visit Cojolya for me. Cojolya is a cooperative of 30 artisans, 25 of whom are women, who weave beautiful and intricate textiles using the traditional back-strap loom. My husband took a photograph of one of the women, descendants of the Mayans, weaving a vibrant textile.

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While the women weave on the back-strap loom, the men weave on large foot looms.

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My husband said he had a great time talking with the weavers. He also enjoyed the serenity of the town by the lake surrounded by mountains. Being the amazing husband that he is, he brought me back these items he personally selected – a gorgeous scarf hand embroidered with local birds, an intricately woven catch-all bag, and an exquisite blue woven scarf. He bought them straight from the women who created them – what a treat!

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I had scheduled this post before I heard the news of the volcano erupting near Guatemala City. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones.

 

To Spain or Bust

Another knit hat is off the needles. Simple pattern with reliable results. This hat is intended for a gentleman my husband met on his trip to Spain last year.

Another Beanie

On his walk along the Way of St. James, he stopped for the night in León in northern Spain. There, he befriended the owner of the Taller de Grabado y Estampa. He spent a few hours talking with the owner and artisan, José Holguera, in his engraving and stamping studio. My husband came home with these beautiful limited edition lithographs of the Catedral de León and a pilgrim’s staff imprinted by Holguera on his lithographic press.

Holguera Lithograph Catedral de León

Holguera Lithograph Staff

Over the holidays, an envelope stamped with Correos España arrived. It contained a beautiful lithograph of a modernist starry night.

Holguera Lithograph Star

As a token of appreciation, my husband wanted to send his friend a gift – so he asked me if I would hand knit a hat. The hat needed to be special, even in its simplicity. I went through my stash and selected the yarn I brought back from my trip to Colombia. It is 100% hand-spun wool in natural, undyed hues.

Natural undyed wool 1

I used the darker brown. The photo of the finished hat was taken under different outdoor lighting conditions so the richness of the brown does not come through as in this photograph.

Natural undyed wool 2

I was concerned it would be a bit scratchy but it is soft and warm. I doubled the yarn as I knitted to make it especially cushiony. It seems fitting somehow – 100% undyed, hand-spun wool from Bogotá, Colombia, hand-knit in Texas, for a friend in León, Spain.

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Tres

It seemed fitting to share photos of our visit to La Catedral de Sal on a holy weekend. We visited on our third day in Bogotá. The cathedral is an old salt mine that has been converted into a Catholic Church 200 meters below ground. Mass is held on Sundays at noon.

Inside the mines, long vacuous tunnels show the routes miners took when the mine was active. At different points, you can look over the edges of seemingly bottomless cliffs. As you enter the mines, the tunnels have been converted into the Stations of the Cross depicting  the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion. Regardless of one’s belief system, I think it’s a beautiful representation of a spiritual journey. Each station is hand carved out of the halite and incorporates symbolic properties of the salt and the mines into each stop.

You can even pay a small additional fee and be a miner for the day. They provide hard hats and pick axes and you spend 30-45 minutes experiencing the mine through the eyes of a miner. We passed on this part. The thought of crawling through narrow, low caves made me catch my breath!

We did not get to spend any time in the city of Zipaquira which looked like a vibrant but quaint colonial town. On the way back to the city, we enjoyed the gorgeous views of the mountains and the lush countryside. We passed green fields dotted with grazing cattle and greenhouses nurturing the flora and fauna of Colombia. What a wonderful way to cap off our three days.

The best way to view these is by clicking on the first photo (twice). This will enlarge them and allow you to read the commentary. Hint: You may have to scroll down a bit to see the comments.

Three Days in Bogotá – Día Uno

This was our first visit to Colombia and now I know where all the beautiful people come from. The capitol is nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. The vegetation is rich and green and vibrant with colorful flowers. The people are charming and open and beautiful inside and out. Here is a recap of three wonderful days in Bogotá.

Day One

We walked through the cobblestoned streets of the historic La Calendaria district. At its center is Plaza Bolívar anchored at one end by the Cathedral of Bogotá. The Cathedral was built in the early 1800s (source) and has seen better days. But the church and the plaza were still the heart of the city pulsing with people and activity.

Cathedral of Bogotá

The plaza was taken over by pigeons, hundreds of them. People were buying dried kernels of corn from the street vendors and feeding them. For a moment, I had the sensation that I was in the middle of a Hitchcock movie.

Birds at Plaza de Bolívar

And what’s a plaza without llamas!

Llamas at Plaza de Bolívar

Close to Plaza Bolívar is a very small restaurant called “La Puerta Falsa” (The Fake Door) that has been around since 1816 (source). The first thing that draws you in is the window featuring trays full of these.

Dulces de Colombia

The ones on top are cocadas de arequipe con cacahuates y cocadas blancas (coconut with dulce de leche and peanuts and sugared coconut). The goodies at the bottom are called Marquesas. They are filled with fruits such as guanábana and moro (sour sop and mulberries).

Inside the tiny restaurant, we had a typical Colombian meal of tamales and ajiaco. The tamale was filled with a delicious mixture of cornmeal, chicken, chick peas and carrots all wrapped and tied inside large green banana leaves. To accompany it I had a glass of fresh mulberry juice. My husband had the Ajiaco Santafereño, a thick soup of chicken, yellow potatoes and corn. It was accompanied by rice, avocado slices, crema fresca (fresh cream) and capers.

Tamale Santafereño

Ajiaco Santafereńo

It so happens that “La Puerta Falsa” was featured in an episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. Watch Anthony enjoy a steaming tamale.


Our next stop was el Cerro Monserrate, a mountain in the center of the city. One can hike up or take either a train or cable car. We chose the teleférico (cable car). The cable car took us over the funicular rails below.

Ruta de Funicular

Once up the mountain, from 3,170 meters above sea level, there was this incredible view of Bogotá. The city stretched farther than I could see, possibly due to the smog. According to Colombia’s Official Travel Guide, the city has over 10 million people.

Bogotá from Monserrate Peak

Bell at Monserrate Peak

The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) featured pre-Colombian art hammered out of gold.

Museo de Oro - Gold Funeral Mask

Gold funeral masks…made of the sacred metal…immortalized the chieftains with their symbolic power.

Museo de Oro - Gold Ceremonial Ornaments

During ceremonies, the hanging plates on ornaments twinkled in the light and gave off metallic sounds…

Museo de Oro - Circular Symbol of Time

Time was conceived as being cyclical or like a spiral…

As I turned a corner to the next exhibit room, I saw this.

Museo de Oro - Spinning Exhibit

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 1

The spindle whorls that were used for spinning were fitted to the end of the stick which the cotton thread was rolled around. Fabrics from this region were noted for their fine quality.

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 2

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 3

Museo de Oro - Spindle Whorl 4

Like a metaphor, the weave notion can be seen in the filigree work in earrings…and in other objects… [200 a.C – 1000 d.C]

Museo de Oro - Woven Net

Museo de Oro - Filigree Earring Detail

Cotton and sisal were spun using spindles that were driven by engraved stone whorls…

Museo de Oro - Engraved Stone Whorls

Museo de Oro - Spun Cotton

…and the resulting thread was used for making blankets, caps, bags and nets. [600 d.C – 1600 d.C]

Museo de Oro - Crochet Bag

We ended Day One with a fantastic dinner at Andrés Carne de Res. We went to the city center location; the original is in the suburb of Chia. I can’t tell you more about it because no retelling will do it justice. It’s the sort of place you simply have to experience, like Bogotá.

Roskilde in Pictures

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