Tomorrow marks a year since we left for Guatemala. Few tourists know about this little smoothie shop near the market in Panajachel. I found it in 2014 on a trip down there. Back then I ordered a cantaloupe smoothie and it blew my mind. Later, I would sometimes wake up in a cold sweat thinking about that melon smoothie. How? Why? What kind of a genius? It reminded me of the quality of some of the best gelato in Italy. Five years later we were living within two minutes walk of this very same shop called “El Descanso” which effectively means, “a place of rest”.
We began going in almost daily for a breakfast smoothie and a muffin. At first I don’t think Marina, the owner, knew what to do with me. I wanted to gain her respect so I did what anybody would do in my situation, I brought her a bag of my homemade tamales to ask for her opinion on how to improve. I couldn’t speak well enough to explain to her why I was handing her a bag of my precious tamales. I fumbled with the nervous energy of a sixth grader asking a girl to “go with him”. It didn’t go well. Melanie reminds me from time to time that not everyone thinks like I do and each time it is a huge epiphany for me. Really?
Looking back, it was probably a first to have some gringo bringing a bag of tamales. She eyed me with suspicion but by and by she learned that I was not crazy. I was just a little eccentric. It happened gradually, poco a poco but we became close friends with her family. I learned that Marina is a deeply proud woman. She is the center of influence in her family.
She has run this little shop for 25 years. In the beginning I asked her, “When are you open and when do you close?” She quickly responded in Spanish, her second language and mine, (her first being a Mayan dialect), “8:00 am to 8:00pm, seven days a week. Then she paused added with intensity as if driving it home so I could understand, “sin cerrar”! (without breaks) Her intensity in this statement spoke volumes about her character. She was not the type to leave her post.
We learned later that she was often open before 8:00 am and often closed after 9:00 pm. This shop was the glue that brought her family together. Her kids would come in and do their homework and we would chat with them. Mel and I would sit with her as she cut the tops off of fresh strawberries and tell us how she uses the best strawberries from another town. We spoke about the Mayan history of Panajachel and how it was once lush, quiet and full of coffee trees when she was young. The river once was larger and lined with trees but now it's a trickle as farmers pull from its teet (farmer talk) from far up the canyon.
She introduced us to her uncle, her lovely mother, and her sister as the front area often doubled as their living room and inspired loved ones to sit while she performed her fruity wizardry. We spoke about her father who passed and how much she missed him. Her family was incredible and we loved sitting with them.
One day as Mel and I sat in El Descanso sipping on nectar a man came into the shop and attempted to scam us. From behind the counter she saw him and she dropped what she was doing and her protective instincts surfaced as she stood between us and the man pushing him out the door and then telling us to stay away from that man cause “he sniffs drugs”. I loved her for it.
My go to smoothie was Blackberry/Strawberry with yogurt and honey. For $1.25/smoothie sometimes I would stop in twice in a day and mix it up with melon or pineapple. Whatever was left in the blender followed with a top off. It is the perfect McFarland discovery, both inexpensive AND high quality, that rare unicorn of a combination that I am always on the lookout for. Can’t beat it.
The day we left we stopped in to say goodbye to Marina and her family. We hugged and we cried. She surprised us. Sitting there were two wide mouthed glasses waiting for us on a table. She went off menu and dropped some fresh mangos in the blender and made us some fancy and delicious mango smoothies. It was a smoothie we will never forget.
I think about this family often, especially Marina. Her stoicism and grace inspires me. It has been a wild year, with covid significantly altering our bottom line. It is nothing compared to what the people of Panajachel have endured and continue to endure. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that Marina has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration to work harder, take pride in what I do, “sin cerrar” without stopping and make family and friends the center of my universe. And this is why I travel, to mine the gems, the very best this world has to offer and to learn and improve my own family’s life by showcasing some of the best this world has to offer.