After a few days of feeling a bit underwhelmed in San Pedro La Laguna, I passed by a large sign outside of my hostel that said ‘Anita’s cooking class’. I knew I needed to mix things up a bit so I signed up to take the class the following day. I was unsure of what to expect but thought it’d be a great way to dive deeper into Mayan culture & learn some cooking techniques. I didn’t know at the time that I’d end up crying in the middle of her kitchen….
I took Anita’s class and I was amazed – by the food, but more so by this inspiring & powerful woman. We started the morning by walking uphill to a local market & you guys know how I feel about markets – they’re a cultural hub. As expected, this showed me a completely different side to San Pedro than the western backpacker vibe I’d experienced for the first few days. Indigenous residents from all the surrounding towns flooded the cobblestoned streets to buy & sell everything from unidentifiable fruit to refurbished electronics. Brightly colored Tuk-Tuks & loud motorcycles zipped through the crowds before we ducked into the food stalls to pick up the ingredients for our meal.
She told us we’d be preparing Pepian de Pollo – a traditional Guatemalan stew, known as the country’s national dish. It’s one of the oldest traditional dishes in Mayan culture. She told us that families typically eat Pepian to celebrate new beginnings & for some reason, this brought more joy & meaning to what I was about to experience.
Anita led us through the tiny aisles, stopping every few seconds to explain the ingredients and the Mayan history behind them. As we squeezed through the crowds, we passed by whole fish caught fresh from Lake Atitlan, butchered meat hanging from the ceilings, and vegetables grown directly on the town’s volcanic soil. We even had the opportunity handmake some salted Mayan corn tortillas which are vastly different than the flour tortillas I’m used to in Texas. After picking up all the necessary ingredients, we walked downhill to Anita’s apartment to begin cooking.
We were led to her small outdoor kitchen that sat right above the apartment. The kitchen itself was nothing special, but the balcony views of Lake Atitlan were out of this world. Anita handed each of us an apron with traditional Mayan prints and began assigning each us roles for various parts of the meal. She led the way, but she explained to each of us how to do our part. I’m no chef, so I just followed her lead as she began to mix herbs, spices, and ingredients we’d just purchased. There were no fancy utensils or techniques, she simply showed us what cooking traditions her and her family have used for years.
After a few hours, the meal was coming together. She prepared each of our plates and we all sat down to enjoy th meal we’d cooked together in her kitchen. Anita began sharing her story about how she came to be an Entrepreneur, running a cooking class for those of us that have chosen to visit her home in San Pedro la Laguna. How did she end up owning a business in the midst of machismo culture where women are expected to only become mothers & wives? As most women in the town did, she became pregnant at a young age & was forced to marry a man that had little respect for who she was as an individual. She eventually had the courage to separate from him & had to even leave her mothers home because she didn’t approve of her getting a divorce. After all, she stated that her culture believes, “All men are this way. You have to stick with them no matter what(despite mental or verbal abuse) “. She became a struggling single mother of two without much support. At one point, she was given the opportunity to work in a Texan run cooperative created to help benefit women in the community. She later ran across a Canadian doctor who was impressed by her English speaking abilities in a town where most women have never left their neighborhoods. He gave her the opportunity to work in a clinic in San Pedro, where she was earning 1000Q(136 USD) a week as opposed to the typical 500Q( 68 USD) a month that most people on the lake earn. Then another opportunity came her way – due to her cooking & language skills, her employer empowered her to start a cooking class. She was so afraid to do so, but eventually, she became an entrepreneur and was able to prove her husband, mother & even herself wrong.
She now promotes sustainable tourism by running a successful cooking class that is preserving her Mayan culture giving back to her community in so many amazing ways. She supports over 25 single mothers in the town. Any leftovers from her class are given to these mothers to help support their family & children. In addition, Anita is now teaching other girls in her community English so that they can have the opportunity to go to school and leave town one day to become successful on their own terms.
After hearing her story, I’d forgotten that I was in a cooking class. The food was delicious, especially those Tamalitos de Chipilin, but this was much more than that for me. I began to tear up. With all odds against her, she’s become an amazing example for women around the world who have have been silenced. I left her class feeling empowered and inspired simply because she had the courage to write her own story. Anita had slayed my whole life!
And, that’s not all….
The following day, I stopped by Anita’s weaving cooperative beneath her home(where the cooking class was held) to pick up some souvenirs. There she was, helping a middle-school-aged girl practice her English. The young girl was actually on a break from weaving goods(handbags, scarves, etc.) to be sold in this co-op Anita had established. 75 percent of the purchases would go directly into the hands of 25 indigenous single mothers who Anita hired to provide an opportunity to succeed in backstrap weaving, a Mayan practice dating back centuries. This woman is doing extraordinary things for her community.
I was SO inspired by her story, which gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes…especially since I initially wasn’t feeling San Pedro. One month into my solo trip around the world and I felt so blessed to come across a woman like her. If you find yourself in San Pedro La Laguna, please stop by Anita’s cooking class & meet this incredible woman!
Girls truly run the world!
See the recipe for everything we cooked below!
Don’t forget travel insurance! I used World Nomads while traveling through Central America. The reason that I don’t have more photos from my time in Guatemala is that I lost my phone a week later on a Volcano. Through insurance, which includes personal loss & theft, I was sent money to purchase a replacement phone. The insurance definitely paid off.
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Hey, I'm Ciara. I’m a global citizen and lover of travel. Want to know more?
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