“Drug” Culture of the Americas





 1. a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.

A question from last week: I would love to hear about the “drug” culture…what are the pervasive opinions? How does one acquire pot? Is it any good? etc…

Thank you for the question Brooke, and feel free to ask me anything.  I will do what I can to give a helpful answer.


To keep the article confusing and because I don’t have pictures of narcotics, I have added pictures of some of my favorite “drugs”.  When the coffee cherry turns red, it’s ready to be hand picked.

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“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
Hunter S. Thompson

Unlike HST, I am not an expert in drugs, in Guatemala or anywhere.

I am a scientist by many definitions, so occasionally I’ll put a microscope on 5 or 6 of senses and/or walk outside of my mind.


Unlike these slug addicts, I just check experiences off my list, and for the most part dwell in the common reality. My money is spent on legal drugs like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.  The logic behind which parts of nature are forbidden and who gets to decide what I consume is another topic for another day.

The simple fact is this: illegal goods are expensive.  Therefore these goods are moved from cheap production to buyers.  Guatemala is located between production (South America) and the market (North America).


According to Business Insider, “In the beginning, coffee was blamed for riots, seditious speech and Satan worship.”

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DSC_0289Ginger beer is high on any hipster’s list.

This is what I have gathered from living here:

  • It’s rare to walk down the street in Antigua without at least 3 people saying in quiet, bad English, “Smoke week?  Cocaine?”  Maybe it’s the earrings and colorful clothing I wear.
  • The shoe shiners, walking around all day with polish and a brush, are really drug dealers.
  • Backpackers often carry cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana.  I don’t know how they get it, but it seems to be easy.
  • Acid is rare and I have only ever seen mushrooms in at spiritual destinations.
  • It is said that the weed is pretty weak compared to places where it’s legal like Colorado, California, Washington, and Vancouver.

[Rumor has it that DMT is easy to get in Guatemala, but I have not encountered it in my 2 months here, nor in 2 months in Honduras.  Because I don’t actively seek anything illegal, my knowledge is limited to word of mouth .]


It’s really just ginger and sugar.  The lime and carbonation are optional.  If you want to be really gangster about it, use yeast to naturally create the fizziness.

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Interesting “facts” I have read:

  • With increased pressure on the Mexican border, drug traffic is taking a detour via boats and planes from Guatemala.
  • Somewhere between 60%-80% of cocaine in the United States passed through Central America.
  • According to SECCATID, around 3% of Guatemalans use “drugs”.  Population 15.5 million.
  • Around 9.4% of U.S. citizens use these “drugs”.  Population 300 million.
  • Possession gets you 4 months – 2 years in Guatemalan prison.  Planting = 5 to 20 years.  Trafficking = 12 – 20 years.
  • Prison population in Guatemala: 16,336.  This is about 0.1% of the population.
  • Prison population in U.S.: 2,200,000 or 0.7%, making it the largest in the world.

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It seems that keeping a substance illegal ensures a high price, which ensures that most people are not willing to pay for it.  Out of the 2-1/2 million people that die in the U.S. each year, half are from Major Cardio-vascular diseases (according to the CDC in Atlanta, GA). All illicit drugs combined amount to 17,000 deaths.  Death from marijuana = zero.

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What else do you want to know about?


More reasons to go to Guatemala

Here are some reasons to visit Guatemala.


Go to an art school


with a view


and connected to the state of Georgia.


Start with the basics


and learn how to do this

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or learn to bake a delicious cake


or paint madness.


They have carpentry classes, if you are looking for something more practical.

DSC_0024Here’s a reason for Mama to visit.

DSC_0160You can rent a room in a cozy house

for $100 / month


in a nice neighborhood.


You can visit weird stores


and impressive parks


or chill in the woods

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just don’t forget to smell the flowers. 

What else do you want to learn about?

Ask in the comments!

Culture Insight: Women in Guatemala

The most requested topic from last week’s comments was: What are women like in Guatemala?

To get closer to the female population, I started saying yes to opportunities and let (insert belief system) lead me.


At a local wedding, my Nikon camera got me hired as the professional photographer.


My going rate is 2 cold beers/hr.


My friend’s that brought me to Amatitlán.  Population: 100,000. I may have been the only green-go.

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To see another laid back version I went to the black-sand beach at Puerto San Jose.


Unlike the famous beach at Monterrico, most visitors here are Guatemalteca.


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My data was still scarce.  How could I get closer to hundreds of local women?  …Zumba!!!!


Antigua’s first Neon Zumba Party was expecting 150 people.  Over 500 showed, along with teachers from all over the country.

Being 10 inches taller than hundreds of people in the same room, I feel the occasional burn of self-consciousness.  This feeling flips between scoffing those in front and imagining what the people behind you think of you.  But, it’s all in my head.  This intricate self-sabotage is all but absent in the mind of the latino.  Passionate, friendly, humble – these are Guatemalans.  It’s as if the sun cooks out the paranoia their northerly neighbors exhibit.

Guys are there, too.  Dancing is part of life.  Like breathing air, Latins have to listen to music at all hours.  There are probably Guatemalans that don’t start dancing at a young age, I just haven’t met them.

In the U.S., our culture provides our first rhythm lesson as an awkward middle school dance.  For some of us, it’s the first time we’ve tried moving to the music since the last time we were laughed at.  It seems customary of the “developed world” to criticize those acting on their own intuition.  All ants should march in line with the others.  The marching orders in Guatemala range these days from Enrique Iglesias to dubstep salsa.

Another guy from the States said, “Man, you are crazy!  How did you lose all inhibitions?”  I told him, “It’s always a battle.  I constantly have to resist my western habits.  When I realize the people behind me aren’t judging me, I just listen to the music and it all falls into place.”


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One American girl sat by the stage and made negative remarks about one guy’s dancing.

One thing about Latin women: they appreciate effort and understand that not everyone has been dancing since they were 3 years old.  

The same goes for Spanish.  Ask a German a question in German and they answer in English.  If a foreigner gets one word wrong, American’s think it’s hilarious. Down here, the locals display infinite patience to help you learn their language.  They are honored by the gesture.


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In addition to this research, I work with women and have lived in Antigua for 6 weeks.  Here’s what I learned:

Women in Guatemala are the same as at home or anywhere else; that is, they are all different.

There’s a common misconception that people are different in different locations around the world.  Of course there are changes in diet, depending on economy and what grows nearby.  Construction materials and architecture have an impact on psychology (think Montana mindset vs. Manhattan).  There are also varying levels of fashion promiscuity.  But, the animal under the clothes is the same.  It makes no difference if it’s a businesswoman in Tokyo or a traditionally dressed Mayan on the bus with me and her two chickens.  The fundamental motives are the same: eat, sleep, reproduce.

Also, within any group of people, there are varying degrees of individual courage.  This determines how much that person can resist the influence of society to be “normal”.  Get 4 people from 4 different corners of the globe and you’ll have a wimp, a boss, a prude, and a slut, relatively speaking.  It’s a broad spectrum of people out there that can never be neatly grouped in categories.

That being said, there are some irrelevant trends that seem at first interesting and later invisible.


On the surface, everyone seems to be a Christian, believing in one and only one God.

The “ancient” religions ended when the Spaniards came down to rape the people of their gold, while simultaneously spreading the love of Christ.  Before they believed in a Sun god, a Moon god and a bunch of other gods.  One list of Mayan gods has 37 entries beginning with the letter ‘A’.  When I expressed my interest in the idea of a Sun god and a Moon god, my most open-minded Guatemalan friend looked at me like I had a pelican beak.

But, being Christian doesn’t keep most people from having pre-marital sex like rabbits and a ton of other things that the bible prohibits.  “You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals…”  So, once the thin cultural veil is lifted to drink a couple of beers, the rules are pretty much the same as anywhere else.


***Antigua is an anomaly.  It is a cultural hub with enormous western/liberal influence.  Any night of the week you can walk into one of the 20+ hostels and find citizens from 6 continents to party with.  Therefore it is not an accurate representation of Guatemala.***

Guatemala City is only an hour away by car.  Lots of hard working Guatemalans come to Antigua on the weekends.  Last week I met a young Guatemalteca from “the city” looking for a way to keep her bed warm through the cool mountain night.

The bar scene is much like the bar scene in any other city and depends on the bar itself.  There are at least 30 to choose from.  Hopefully, you are starting to see how difficult it is to answer the question: How are the women?  Answer: Awesome.  The same as anywhere else.

Some More Boring Trends

According to one website, the average female height of a Mayan Guatemalan is 4′-6″.  In Spain, it’s 5′-3″.  Antigua is influenced from all over the world.  One of the local girls I work with has bronze skin and goes up to my chest.  Another looks slightly Japanese is almost as tall as me.

Most local food is cooked in grease or oil, so like the southeastern United States, a lot of Guatemalans are fat.  Luckily, there is an abundance of quality fruits and vegetables, far cheaper than the addicting, unhealthy food.

A strikingly large gym culture exists also, which produces people that look like they go to the gym.  My Zumba teacher can wreck my whole week just by smiling and saying “Hola!”  Someone asked me if Zumba was for women trying to get back in shape after having kids.  Some members of the class fit this description. Others are like looking into a fiery jet turbine.

A lot of Guatemalans marry and start families young.  In Antigua, the weight of society varies depending on background, occupation, and many other factors I don’t pretend to understand.  A bartender born in Guatemala but who grew up in California will have a different way of moving through life than a girl selling fruit in the market.

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To find a new party, you have to travel through the unknown until you hear the music.

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What other subjects are you curious about?

How to Expat: Five Cheap and Easy Meals

If you have any subjects you are curious about, feel free to ask me questions in the comments and I will write articles on those topics.

[An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).] – wikipedia

When you get to Antigua (or any developing country) everything seems really cheap.  It takes a while to understand the new currency’s buying power.  A hamburger for 60 Quetzals = $7.82 doesn’t seem like much until you learn that a day’s work gets you about 120Q.  So working all day will yield you breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What about rent, clothes, entertainment, future travel?  There must be a way…


A banana plant in my back yard gave birth.  One of the perks of living in Central America.


With no idea of what to do with 100 pounds of bananas, I broke them into “hands” and scattered them around the house.  Are there any banana experts out there???  If you have any ideas, please share them in the comments. 


The day before I was going to go to the ATM, I lost my wallet.  With only 120Q to last me until payday (6 days away), I had to come up with a plan.  Everyone knows that crisis leads to innovation.  The most content times of my life have been when I was broke.  I guess it’s the lack of options that makes everything so crystal clear.

DSC_0021One of a hundred stands at the mercado.

DSC_0354Broccoli, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and a papaya for 8.5Q = $1.10


Cooking for Americans

It can be hard to resist that strange cafe on the corner.  Sometimes you just want a taste of home.  It’s always a good time for ____________.  We need to manage these external cravings if we want live sustainably.  Antigua, being perhaps the most densely cosmopolitan city in Central America, has no shortage of new restaurants and bars to explore.  Most restaurants are priced for short-term travelers.  If you start out making local wages have to either eat at budget restaurants or cook.

Here are some simple cooking methods for Americans and other newly adventurous people.  If this sounds sarcastic, it’s only by design.

I don’t know about you, but the only things I knew how to cook by the time I got to college was a quesadilla and scrambled eggs.  None of my friends knew how to cook growing up either, so I’m going to assume most young Americans don’t grow up knowing how to cook anything more complicated than ramen noodles.  And no, following a recipe doesn’t count.

In my Santa Rosa, Honduras post I showed how easy it is to roast chicken and veggies.  (It’s located about half-way down the post.)

Instead of translating symbols into arm movements (i.e. sit, roll over, add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, etc.), I hope you learn how to use your tastebuds and sense of smell to create something that is enjoyable to eat.

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1. Rice and Veggies (For ease of learning, no meat is added.)


Beets or “remolachas” always turn everything magenta!  I am a believer in color diversity in your diet.

Step 1: Buy rice and colorful veggies.


Step 2: Boil water.  (Use between 2 and 3 times the amount of rice.  I recommend 1-1/4 cups.)

Step 3: Turn down the heat and add rice. (Use between 1/2 and 1/3 the amount of water.  I recommend a 1/2 cup.)  It will be nummy in 10-15 minutes.


Step 4: Cut the colorful veggies into bitesize pieces.

Step 5: Add veggies and spices that smell tasty to a hot pan with some oil. (If you’re not sure how much, add a little and taste test)

***Note: Don’t over cook anything.  My friend John McLeod gave me some priceless cooking advice:  “Be there.”  If you want to burn something, go watch TV or leave the kitchen for a while.  If you feel overwhelmed, don’t do so many things at once.  It’s better to have cold, well prepared food than hot, burnt food.***

  • When you’re not sure about something: grow some balls, use your common sense, and experiment.

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2. Veggie Pasta & White Gravy (The same veggies are used for simplicity and can be substituted.)


This gravy is also good for American biscuits, home fries, or just to bring to the gym in a thermos.


Step 1: Boil a bunch of water and add whatever shape of pasta makes you smile (follow bag instructions or cook until it tastes good).


Step 2: In another pot, boil chopped veggies (Cut into bite size pieces.  Here’s a Gordon Ramsey onion demo.  Remember a cube has three dimensions which you can control.)


Step 3: In a small pan, heat a type of fat (butter, oil, chicken fat, etc.) and add some flour and stir.  (Roux is the base of many sauces. To learn more, check out the 5 Mother Sauces.)

Step 4: Add spices that smell good.

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3. Spicy Chocolate Sauce (This Mexican-style Chocolate Mole is incredible with chicken and rice!)


It’s ok to be afraid ’cause it’s new. Now that you’ve faced and overcome that fear, let’s talk about the sauce.  Instead of a sweet dessert, this sauce has a seductive richness and zesty spice that will blow your mind.

Steps 1, 2, and 3: Cook/season your vegetables first and add chocolate when it’s almost done.

***To season, I like cayenne, black pepper, salt, and cumin  Experiment: nutmeg, mint, and rosemary are good options as well.  The last time I made it, I used a can of peppers with a medium spice.  When it was nice and hot, I added raw cocoa powder.  It’s just like making chocolate milk, only completely different!

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4. Yogurt Granola Fruit (Cheapest and quickest option.  Great anytime!)


Yogurt & granola with strawberry/blueberry preserves and banana bread

Step 1: Chop some cheap fruit. (Whatever is in season is going to be the cheapest and most delicious option)

Step 2: Add granola and plain yogurt. (Find the yogurt with the shortest list of ingredients)

Step 3: Add a spoonful of fruit preserves/jam and a spoonful of peanut butter. (Macadamia butter is cheaper here in Antigua.)

Step 4: Sprinkle cinnamon and drizzle honey

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5. World’s Best Oatmeal


No photo would do this oatmeal justice, so here’s a badass chalkboard chicken instead.

Step 1: Put half a banana, a dash of vanilla extract/flavoring, and a couple spoonfuls of hot coffee in a cup. Smash with a fork and let sit for a couple of minutes. (Coffee breaks down the banana and extracts its flavor.  The mixture should be a light tan color.)

Step 2: Boil 1 cup of water and add a small handful of raisins.  Add the banana/coffee sauce.

Step 3: Prep a bowl with a small spoon full of butter at the bottom.  (Butter makes everything better!)

Step 4: Add a heaping 1/2 cup of oatmeal.  Reduce heat.  Stir constantly.

Step 5: Once oatmeal is reduced to desired thickness, pour it in the bowl.

Step 6: Sprinkle cinnamon and drizzle honey.  Stir and enjoy.

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