It’s Wednesday and we’ve opted for an activity organized by our school. We’re with the Sol Latino Spanish School here in Xela, having a home stay experience. The school organizes activities for students at zero or minimal additional cost. Today, that activity is a visit to Salcaja. Salscaja is the home to Central America’s Oldest Church, Iglesia San Jacinto. It’s also where we find the local specialty of Calda de Frutas.
Getting to Salcaja
We met with Pablo, one of the teachers at the Sol Latino Spanish School at 1430 at el Kiosco in the the central park. So, of course, that generated a conversation in our class, What is a Kiosco? Or Which Kiosco. It was a good job we asked. A kiosco is not what we’d imagined. It’s not a small portable shop. The Kiosco in Xela is somewhat unique. I guess we’d call it a bandstand in England. It’s a circle of pillars, columns, supporting an upper stone circle. There’s no roof. (although we’re told there usually is, this wasn’t designed like that.
There are only four of us on this trip. We’re all English. Josey and Greg are three days into their Spanish lessons, and heading south after this, on their way through Central and South America. Pablo leads us to where we’ll catch la camioneta – the chicken bus – to Salcaja.
Our first chicken bus costs us 1.50 quetzals each and we pay as we enter the bus. There doesn’t seem to be much of a break between Xela and Salcaja in terms of buildings lining the road. It’s not long before we’re getting off and walking along uneven narrow sidewalks.
Salcaja – home to Central America’s oldest church
Salcaja isn’t a town, it’s a municipality, a billa in Spanish, close to Quetzaltenango. It’s best known for the Church of San Jacinto. This church was the first to be built in Central America. It was founded in 1524, the same year that the Maya K’iche’ kingdom was conquered by the Spanish. The church is also known as La Conquistadora.
It only takes us 7-8 minutes to walk to the Church.
The thick walls and buttresses of the Church show why it might have weathered earthquakes and nearly 500 years here. There are religious treasures inside, we’re told, and that’s why the door is locked. It’s open for special occasions and for special weddings, but for now, we will have to content ourselves with just looking at the outside.
Pablo gives us a little history,, all in simple Spanish. It’s a high as we understand most of it. Then we head to a house on a neighboring road to the church. There’s a painted sign on the wall. It indicates that this is where a lawyer does business from. We’re all somewhat puzzled when Pablo knocks on the door and we enter. Here in Guatemala, houses have many purposes as we’re finding out!
Caldo De Frutas
The second thing that Salcaja is famous for its production of a concoction called Caldo de Frutas. It’s not made in a factory, but in houses all over town. And it’s only made in this town. You can’t buy it anywhere else. Pablo confides that when his neighbour found out he was coming to Salcaja, he was given orders to bring some back!
Caldo de Frutas is made by brewing the hibiscus flower with fruits from the area. Apples, peaches, and cherries are all brewed together. The apples are sliced, the peaches and cherries go in whole. After some time, it’s ready. We get to taste both the resultant liquor and taste the fruit. We try the fruit first. The cherries are interesting, but it’s the apples that make your mouth dry and water simultaneously. Yep. It’s strong. Who’d have thought that a slice of apple would have me considering my sobriety!
The liquor isn’t as strong as the fruit (we’d been warned by Eunice at our homestay about this) and the taste is not unpleasant, but it definitely warms the stomach.
The liquor is on sale for 25 quetzals for a 300 ml bottle, or 40 quetzals for 750 ml. We opt for the smaller bottle. This is recycling at its best. Caldo de Frutas is bottled in recycled liquor bottles and our purchase is wrapped in newspaper before we put it in our backpack.
Corte in Salcaja
Salcaja is also famous for the manufacture of corte – the traditional Mayan women’s clothing. Like Caldo de Frutas this is also manufactured in homes throughout the town. It’s obvious as you walk through the streets, every second tienda (store) is selling cotton and thread for weaving. There’s also a loom in this house, so we make our way up to the roof to take a look at it. It’s incredible to think that cloth is still produced like this. (although there are fewer and fewer folks making it this way with industrialization).
We also take a wander through the market area, which allows us to wind our way back through the streets until we’re at the bus stop. It’s a good job we have Pablo with us, as there’s no obvious sign that this is where we catch a bus. Neither is it obvious to us why we let one bus with XELA on it go past and wait for the other one. That’s a question for when our Spanish is better!
We love trying local specialties and especially when it’s a home industry. What about you ? What recommendations do you have?
- We are learning Spanish with Sol Latino in Xela
- We’re also using Duolingo for around 45 minutes a day
- We’re attempting to read a Spanish dual reader in Spanish and English – buy it on Amazon
- Our guidebook in Guatemala is Lonely Planet Guatemala
- Read about our homestay experience