Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Guat's up?

Guatemalans enjoy playing with the English language. Those who can afford it take English classes but those aren't typically offered in school and there are many children that can't afford the basic needs to go to school. More about that in a future post.

We got a bit later start today as we met up with Jairo, our guide at 9:30. We walked down to the port where we boarded a boat to cross Lake Atitlan. The lake is really beautiful as it sits in a crater overseen by 3 volcanos and possibly a 4th which is emerging slowly.

Our first stop was the village of San Juan La Laguna (known to some as San Juan La Locura). Upon our arrival several young men descended upon our boat before we could even get out, offering their services as a guide. Jairo did a great job of fending them off for us.  

We noticed some buildings that appeared to be mostly under water. Jairo explained to us how the lake is fed by 3 rivers but there is no outlet for it. So during the winter months there is heavy water flow and the only way water is eliminated is 

through evaporation in the summer, when the rivers dry up. As a result, anyone who builds too close to the edge eventually gets flooded out.

We then headed up a steep hill towards the center of the village. 

We saw a couple of schools which reminded me of what I have seen in Nicaragua and even in Spain. Schools don't have fancy parks and playground equipment. The kids are expected to use their imaginations to play. There were some basketball hoops and walls for playing with balls against a wall, but that's really about it.

From there we continued on towards the town center. We passed some really beautiful wall paintings that offered some stories and history of the people in that area as well as very artistic graffiti. It is apparently common to see houses with a single floor and then some partial construction on top. Jairo explained to us that as funds come in to move the economy of the village they build what they can and then wait for the next inversion of money to be able to continue and build the next story.

Moving on into town we found an Xmas tree made of AstroTurf with presents under it. A bit more influence of western culture. We continued on to a small garden coop. The woman who worked there explained how they are working with a number of families who have small gardens at their homes. They grow a variety of plants including chamomile, basil, rosemary, and others I'm less familiar with. From these plants they make shampoos for all hair types and teas for everything from indigestion to helping nursing mothers produce more milk.

Across the street we entered a coop where we learned about weaving and textiles. In the center of the coop was a cotton tree. They showed us how they went from the cotton on the tree to turning it into yarn. From there they use a variety of 
foods such as carrots and basil to create the dyes that they soak the yarn in. In order to set the color so it doesn't lose it's intensity when washed, they finalize the process by soaking it with banana leaves. Finally we were shown how she sets up her loom on her waist and weaves. It's a slow process but the results are beautiful. The girls and I each chose a few things to buy and every item had a tag indicating the name of the weaver.

We finished out our tour of San Juan la Laguna and headed by boat to Santiago Atitlan, the largest village along the lake. Jairo stopped an elderly woman as we entered town and asked her to show us how she ties her hair. It was really interesting to see how quickly she did it. This particular head wrap is specific to this village. Each village has its 
own dress and those in the know can identify where a person is from based on the clothes that they are wearing. Today it is mostly the women who continue to dress in traditional clothing while the men are mostly in western clothes.

Jairo then explained to us the different religions and beliefs that are most present in Guatemala. We went to see the Maximón (pronounced more like ma-she-mon). It was a wooden figure that is overseen all day long by its caretakers. They always have a cigarette in his mouth and they even tilt him back for a drink of whiskey. His caretakers charge for you to see him and take pictures but their primary focus is when people come in looking to this being/saint of sorts for assistance. We happened in on a couple of men that were looking for some sort of help. There is an interpreter there to communicate with this being. We couldn't understand what he said as it was in an unknown language and he moved and spoke as if he too was drunk. It's very hard to describe but the linked Wikipedia article does a nice job of explaining how this figure came to be.

We finished out our visit to Santiago walking through the market to get to the Catholic Church. Once there Jairo was able to explain some of the carvings on the wall behind the altar and how the invasion and attempt at converting the people from Mayan beliefs to Catholic. It didn't work as well as they had hoped since the belief in Mayan idols and traditions is so strong. They now intersect a bit but Catholicism as we know it, didn't take over this community.

We then returned to Pana to get the car and some food before our 2.5 hour journey to Antigua.

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