Cayalá at Christmastime

With the arrival of December, it meant two critical things: 1) Christmas season was fully upon us here in Guatemala; and 2) Jeffrey was back from his time in the States. The two go hand-in-hand, because with a more experienced Alis and the return of a lead baker, that means some of the heavy burden of the bakery can come off my shoulders. It also meant that not only did I not have to get started at 6 am everyday to bake the bread and start the next day’s bread dough, but also that I could step away from the bakery as needed, or desired. I could run errands during the day, instead of after we closed. I could go to the city. I could relax. I could stay in bed a little later. I was so excited about what this meant for me!

The view from my bedroom, on the first morning of December.

Challah baked in pans, perfect for French toast.

As the business evolves and the menu grows, we are trying to adapt more to our customers’ desires. People unfamiliar with challah have asked what it is, and what it’s used for. After telling people repeatedly that it makes great French toast, I realized that the freeform braided loaves didn’t get tall enough for suitable French toast. So…into the bread pans they went. Just a few loaves each week, but enough so that French toast-lovers can have a better time with this.

Another great evening view.

December began the same way November ended: slowly. With business dragging and many expats leaving town for the holidays, I decided I would close the bakery on the upcoming Tuesdays. It seemed silly and wasteful to go through all the effort to be open with few people passing through. Five days a week should be enough for the early pre-Christmas period and we’d reopen for a sixth day as we got closer to the holiday.

Once that decision was made, and I ended up free for the day, the Hardisons decided to turn their 9:30 am appointment at the US Embassy (for passport business) into a daylong funfest and invited me along. We got going on the early side to allow for time stuck in traffic. It’s no fun to head into the city during the morning rush hour, and it took us close to two hours to get in, but we finally arrived.

The Hardisons walked to the embassy from our parking lot, and I headed to House & Green. This place, which I’ve blogged about before, is a restaurant or bakery owner’s Disneyland. What kept me from going completely wild, however, was that I needed to walk back to the car with whatever stuff I bought. It was only a few blocks away, but it kept me from going too crazy. (Full disclosure: Paul and Bethany said they’d be happy to drive me when they were done. But I figured that made for a more expensive morning for me. So I exhibited some discipline in my shopping!)

Fueling up with coffee – and curly fries.

With my shopping done and their embassy work completed, we headed off on our adventures. We were hoping to squeeze in both bowling and a movie, and considering how quickly their appointment went, we had plenty of time to do both. The journey began with a coffee fuel-up for the adults and then some curly fries for all of us to share.

Before bowling, Bethany spotted a small grocery store (maybe she’d been there before?) that specialized in organic food. In Guatemala, a store that described itself as a healthy food shop usually carried items that we are used to seeing in the States but that are harder to find down here. Sure enough, it was a gold mine! I bought barley and Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice (not the cider, the juice), while the Hardisons found all manner of fun stuff.

After checking out Dollar City (I was on the hunt for 8″ pie tins, to match the ones I used for Thanksgiving orders), we headed to the bowling alley. It was part of a large, new(ish?) shopping complex across from Cayalá. In addition to the bowling alley, there was a driving range, food court, a bunch of smaller and larger shops, and more food.

Paul aims for a strike at Astro Bowl.

We paid for an hour on one lane, and it worked out nearly perfectly. As we neared the end of game two, Paul was able to convince the desk attendant to add five minutes to our time so that we could finish up. I think everyone had fun, and I enjoyed it even though my competitive side didn’t enjoy losing to A both games! He had an amazing day – rolling over 170 in each game, and I believe he’d never been over 130 before.

What I had never seen before, however, was bumpers that were programmed ahead of time to rise only for the appropriate player (in this case, E) and set back down for the next one. Very cool! It was nice that the five of us could squeeze in two complete games before moving on.

The final totals after two games – A was the victor.

Post-bowling group selfie.

With the bowling wrapped up, it was time to hunt down some lunch. Most of the options there were fast food, which no one was particularly inclined to. We hopped back into the car and headed into the Cayalá complex, which was where we were going anyway for the movie.

I had never imagined I’d see a shopping center in Guatemala like this one. It looked like a cross between something you’d find in Spain or Greece. Bright, white plastered walls, red tile roofs, stone walkways. It was gorgeous – and looked like nothing else in the country.

The beautiful concourses of Cayalá.

We wandered through the wide streets of Cayalá, looking at our various lunch options. We had it narrowed down to a few before deciding on Italian, where everyone’s various food needs could be met. After placing our orders, Bethany and I headed down to the KitchenAid store. She’d been there before, but I obviously hadn’t. While fun to look at it, it wasn’t a shopping experience by any stretch of the imagination. Everything there was super expensive, including a refrigerator that cost over $10,000!

Outside the KitchenAid store.

Bethany can’t decide which color is the best.

With our bellies full after lunch, we headed toward the movie theater. It was at the other end of Cayalá, and the walk allowed us to work off some of the food. I’d shared a pizza and a salad with A, and it was so good (the pizza) that I couldn’t stop eating it even past the point at which I knew it was wise to do so. Bethany had been telling us all to save room for the popcorn and caramel corn at the movie, but I just couldn’t.

Close to the theater, we did see an outpost of Bite. This is one of those candy shops where you fill up a bag full of sweet treats and pay by the pound. Paul was walking separately to the theater, so he missed out, but the boys and I got a nice set of gummy and sour gummy items. Not that I felt like eating…but it seemed more appetizing than popcorn.

The movie we had agreed upon was Justice League, following the adventures in the DC Comics universe (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman). The movie was screened in English with Spanish subtitles. I couldn’t avert my eyes from the subtitles and found it amusing to see how some English slang and exclamations were translated into Spanish.

It was a great movie, and I think everyone enjoyed it! I ate a little of my candy and a little of the popcorn that had been purchased but I honestly felt sick. I had consumed way too much. There was some comfort that I wasn’t alone in this feeling. We walked out of the theater approaching 5 pm, and no one was even broaching the subject of dinner.

Instead, we did some shopping and waited for the lights to go on.

That’s Paul’s “What are you doing, man?” look.

Both boys got new shoes.

In addition to the adidas store, we stopped in a coffeehouse/bookshop combo to hydrate a bit and gear up for the ride home. The thought of any more eating was still anathema to everyone. We took some pictures amongst the gorgeous lights, people-watched a bit, and then got into the car.

Group shot in front of the enormous Christmas tree.

Cayalá at night.

During our trip, the topic of exercise and general health came up, and Bethany said – perhaps jokingly – that we should start hiking up to the cross above Antigua in the mornings, now that Jeffrey is back and I don’t need to work right at 6 am. So…that night, I texted her and said, “So are we hiking in the morning?” When I’d agreed earlier that it was a good idea, I didn’t realize she took it as a joke. I was serious…and so was she.

View from Cerro de la Cruz.

As soon as Jeffrey got in and was set with the day, I headed out to meet Bethany. It was a little after 6 am, so it was on the cool side but not too bad. The sun had started to rise and we were treated to crisp air and a great view. I’m a bit out of shape from months and months of bakery-only “exercise.” I’m hoping that as we do this more, we’ll both build up our stamina and endurance.

For a while, we just sat and looked out at the view. It was quiet and peaceful, and a great way to begin a day. I headed back to the bakery, and she headed home, but we had started something fun and healthy for both of us.

We’ve got company on our hike.

As it turned out, the boys felt very left out that we went hiking without them. While E is often an early riser, he missed us by about five minutes. Meanwhile, A didn’t want to take anything to chance, so he set an alarm for the next morning.

The next day, we were an early-morning foursome climbing the 330+ steps to the top of the hill. It wasn’t as tranquil a morning as the night before, but that was OK. Every member of the Hardison clan brings something different to the table, and I enjoy it all. And it was still a great way to start the day!

On Saturday morning, we didn’t hike but instead headed to Caoba Farms for breakfast. The Hardisons almost always go there for breakfast during the Saturday farmers’ market, and that’s how I originally met them. With Jeffrey and Alis holding down the fort in the bakery, I could now join the crew on Saturday mornings. It also might mean that I could resume selling from a table there, like I did before I opened, and ALSO have the shop running. More bang for my buck on Saturdays!

It was fun to sit outside, eat great food, chat with people and have a little more time away from the bakery. I think this will be a regular Saturday activity for me, whether or not I’ll be selling at the market. After running a few errands, I headed back to the shop and the Hardisons went on their way.

Sunday morning was another bagel morning, and even with Jeffrey back in town, Bethany has decided to hold onto to her role as Chief Bagel Boiler. There was a lot of bread to bake in the morning, so she held down the bagel station as I managed the oven. Once the bread was out, we could tag-team on the bagels. We finished in plenty of time before Jeffrey and Alis arrived. That way, we could enjoy bagels for breakfast as they got started on their tasks for the day. The rest of the Hardison crew came by for bagels before they all headed to church.

Christmas procession amongst the local Scouts.

That morning, the staff, customers and I heard a ruckus brewing outside and poked our heads out the door to see a parade of kids following Santa in a truck. It’s just another one of those fun things that Antigua (or Guatemala) will surprise you with when you least expect it.

Bethany gearing up for tamale action.

In the afternoon, I headed over to the Hardisons to help Bethany out with a tamale making effort she was engaged with. She was having a large group of people over (maybe fifteen or so, with a large number of kids) for an early Christmas dinner. On our way to Caoba on Saturday, we had stopped at the market to pick up the banana leaves necessary for tamales. While Paul kept the other families busy, we had the kitchen to ourselves.

I’d never made tamales before, but Bethany is a good teacher and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. It was a fun role reversal, considering she’s been spending so much time in the bakery working for/with me. Now it was my turn to follow her directions and recipes! We had a good time and nearly knocked them all out before everyone descended on the house.

The view from the ruins.

Once the food was prepped, I ended up outside watching what was going on. E is truly a little monkey, climbing on trees and walls and basically anything he can find. He often hops up onto the ruins that abut the apartment complex, and I decided that today was the day that I was going to follow him.

While I can’t scale the walls quite as swiftly as he did, I did make it up (and down) without injury and enjoyed the view. We could see all over Antigua, but I was especially impressed by the grounds of the large corner home next to the ruins. Like almost everything in Antigua, you never know what is behind the tall, thick stone walls. A beautiful property? An empty lot? A rundown home? And so at least one mystery was solved when I could see the layout of the place next door.

Fuego exploding, from long distance.

As the sun set, people started remarking about the activity on Fuego, one of the three volcanoes surrounding the Antigua area and the most active. (The others are dormant, I believe.) As night fell, the hot lava shooting up from Fuego became more prominent and more awe-inspiring. There was a constant battle for the eyepiece of the Hardison telescope, perched on the second-floor balcony. Over the following few hours, Fuego kept spewing and we kept watching it. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Fuego exploding, through the telescope.

For those wondering if we were in any danger, the answer is no. We are 8-10 miles away from the base of Fuego, and generally the lava flows down the backside. The villages that reside along Fuego were evacuated, and nearby towns may have been too. All we got was a great show!

Morning after the volcano erupted, a beautiful sunrise.

Treetops on another morning hike.

The next day, Fuego was still gurgling. In the daylight, it was hard to tell if it was just smoking or more lava. It was a great morning for another hike up to the cross and my singular day off from the bakery. With the bakery closed on Tuesday that coming week, Monday was truly a day for doing nothing. I cherish these days, and it made me even more excited for the upcoming holiday break for Canela.

However, before I could get to my holiday break, I had to get through the holidays! That meant an after-hours Hanukkah party, a holiday cookie decorating party for kids, and all the Christmas pie and ice cream orders. The countdown began…

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