Guatemala is one of my soul places; a place where I feel truly at home. A decade ago, I lived there and guided adventurous treks through the rugged mountains, lush river gorges and remote Mayan villages of the Guatemalan highlands. My Monday mornings were spent ushering bleary eyed backpackers to a viewpoint overlooking a sleeping Lake Atitlan. We watched the sunrise over the lake and the three volcanoes beyond, often watching a silhouetted Volcan Fuego puff ash clouds into the glowing morning sky. Best Monday morning’s I’ll ever have in my life.
Last September, I was finally able to introduce my wife Michelle and daughter Grace to my soul place. It was Grace’s first international trip and Michelle’s first visit to Guatemala, the country she’s heard endless stories about over the years. I couldn’t have been more excited.
We started our trip in Antigua, just 45 minutes from Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport on a new, well-maintained road. Antigua is the former capital of colonial Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage site and generally the first stop on any Guatemala itinerary. With a plethora of charming boutique hotels, great restaurants and crumbling 16th century churches, monasteries and convents, Antigua is the perfect place to set the stage for a Guatemalan adventure.
For families, Antigua offers plenty of engaging activities to keep the kids of all ages entertained – making (and then eating!) chocolate at the ChocoMuseum; canopy zipline tours; eating ice cream and watching street performers in Antigua’s bustling Central Park; and visiting a local peanut farmer’s home to learn how to make fresh, delicious peanut butter!
At the urging of my friends and colleagues at Maya Trails, we opted to check out the peanut butter workshop in the village of San Miguel Escobar, just a 10 minutes taxi or tuk tuk ride from Antigua. San Miguel Escobar sits on the lower slopes of Volcan Agua, whose forested green slopes tower over the entire Antigua valley. We were met in the main plaza of the village by sisters Lilian and Lidia, our peanut butter ambassadors and the daughters of Mercedes, a coffee farmer who also grows peanuts on the lower slopes of the volcano where coffee doesn’t grow as well. Mercedes has been one of the members of the San Miguel Escobar Coffee Cooperative for many years. He has welcomed guests to his fields and home for community-based coffee tours in partnership with the non-profit De La Gente. Inspired by their father, Lidia and Lilian saw an opportunity for a new culinary tour and started the peanut butter workshop!
We walked from the town plaza a short way to their home, learning more about their lives and their experiences as small farmers in Guatemala (we hired a translator as Lidia and Lillian do not speak English. Maya Trails would always include a translator unless otherwise instructed). Their house is a simple and typical Mayan home, with a small courtyard shaded by avocado trees and home to chickens, a rabbit and even a horse!
During the hands-on workshop, we shelled the peanuts, removed the husk, roasted them over the fire and then using a traditional Mayan metate, or ground stone, we ground them into delicious, fresh and natural peanut butter! (To be honest, Lidia did most of the grinding. It definitely takes practice to learn how to properly use the metate!) While Grace did help shell the peanuts, frankly she had more fun chasing the chickens and looking at the rabbits!
But the best part, in my humble opinion, was lathering our freshly made peanut butter onto warm tortillas, topped by fresh bananas and homemade honey, for a delicious Mayan-style crepe!
Lidia and Lilian are warm, welcoming and engaging, though a bit reserved like many Mayan women. But they are clearly proud of their peanut butter venture, love meeting people and sharing their knowledge. Both of them are continuing their educations and working toward expanding the distribution of their peanut butter in Antigua and beyond!
The peanut butter workshop is available any day of the week, in the morning or afternoon and the tour lasts approximately 1.5hrs. The workshop costs just Q100/person ($13) and includes instruction, a jar of peanut butter for each participant and a delicious snack of freshly ground peanut butter, banana and local honey. The translator is an extra Q100.
A bit more about De la Gente, who has helped so many small farmers and artisans in the Mayan communities around Antigua. DLG offers community tourism as a way to create a real cultural experience by encouraging interaction between visitors and local Guatemalans, as well as to supplement income for the farmers and artisans. While De la Gente takes a small portion of the cost of the workshop to cover administrative costs, the vast majority goes directly to Lidia and Lilian. All money from the sales of additional peanut butter or peanuts bought from them remains with them. With the additional money from tourism the families are able to invest in education for their children, healthcare for themselves and their family, housing, and nutrition. Learn more here: http://www.dlgcoffee.org/peanut-butter-workshop/