Canal Clamming

The most fun you can have with your feet!

“Vamos!” My friend Doña Irma was excited as she told me that clamming season was here on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Clams (almejas) exist in Guatemala? I hadn’t heard of anyone clam digging in Guatemala; however, I had seen them served every now and then in the famous caldo de mariscos (seafood stew). Intrigued and always game for a new adventure, I agreed with my friend, “Vamos!”

Soon we had a group of five ready to go out and try our luck finding some clams. We boarded a little lancha (boat) and headed out to the indicated secret spot. Any good hunter or fisherman always has a secret spot, and so it is with clamming. Our boatman dropped us off in the middle of the canal surrounded by mangroves and we told him we’d call when we had filled our buckets.

I carefully waded out into the murky water, feeling the slimy, squishy mud ooze between my toes. I couldn’t see anything—the water was as brown as chocolate—and I had no idea what lurked beneath. I tried hard not to let my imagination get away with itself, although I won’t lie and say that crocodiles didn’t pass through the mental pictures swirling in my head. I carefully used my toes to inspect each step and gradually progressed out into the middle of the canal. Suddenly, I felt a scurrying movement over my feet! What was that? I let out a little yelp. Everyone cracked up laughing and said it was just a crab! Oh, I hoped not to get pinched!

Anyway, time to get down to business, crabs and all; it was time to start clamming. You have to use your feet to dig through the silt at the bottom and when you feel something like a rock—there you have it—a clam! Curl your toes around the little shell and bring it up and place it in your hand. In the bucket it goes and you’re on your way.

Yes—success! At first it’s hard and a little scary, as you’re not sure those hard little bumps in the mud are actually clams and not crabs. But your confidence grows and soon I was able to find those clams and bring them up with my toes just like the locals…well, almost.

It is so soothing to be out in that water, gently digging around for clams while watching white egrets and great blue herons do their work alongside of you. Pelicans fly in their V-formation overhead as the sky paints a beautiful pink and purple canvas with the sun setting in the west. You can’t help but feel extremely lucky to be in paradise, up to your neck in the mangrove canal, digging for clams and laughing with friends at the odd yelp of someone narrowly avoiding a crab and slowly but surely everyone filling their bucket with delicious clams.

Back on land as we divided up our haul evenly among all participants, we started imagining a steaming bowl of caldo de mariscos. I just happened to have some fresh shrimp back at the house, so I invited everyone over and within the hour we had a sumptuous stew ready to enjoy. Nothing is better than food as fresh as this—fresh clams—collected and eaten within hours of their harvest. Now this is really delicious good living!

Tara Tiedemann is the owner/operator of Viva Adventures in La Antigua Guatemala

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