2 March 2015
Today we all decided to go on a visit to San Juan de la Laguna – one of the many villages around the lake but not a touristy one. Hugo has arranged for Tomas (a local Kakchiquel Maya) to take us across the lake on his boat.
We head first to Casa Flor Ixcaco. a textile cooperative of 22 women who work together to preserve the skill of spinning natural cotton thread and hope they can give their children a better future through education. The women grow 3 different colours of cotton in their gardens. Rosa shows us how they remove the seeds, beat the cotton for 20 minutes or more with sticks until soft and then spin it and wrap it into skeins.
Then it is dyed using natural colours from plants. We are shown a massive array of colours – they can adjust the shade by the length of time and also using mixes. Banana bark is used as a fixative. We are shown how they use a back strap loom to weave the textiles.
Next we go to a Medicinal Herb Cooperative “Q’omaneel or healing hands”, where again there are approx. 20 women who grow the herbs in their gardens and make the herbs into teas, tinctures, balms and shampoos. They also have midwives who offer a service to the community as there is no hospital. The knowledge and skills are passed down from generation to generation.
We then have free time to explore and I visit the art galleries. There are some very interesting styles where they have the bird’s-eye view and ant’s-eye view as well as the normal paintings – generally in oils and very bright colours.
I enter a gallery Cooperativa Galleria de Arte Maya Gil Yojcom where a woman is painting. Her name is Gloria and she tells me that there are 2 women and 8 men painters in their cooperative. As with the others, 5% from any sale goes to the co-op and the rest to the artist. She shows me all the different paintings and explains the different styles of the different artists as wells as describing the patterns from each of the different villages. One painting had caught my eye on the way in and after looking all around I said that I liked that one best. It turned out to be one of Gloria’s paintings and she delightedly explained that the designs on the blouse represented the months and underneath, the Mayan calendar. The black skirt represented women and the white curved lines represent women’s curves. Each of the colours in the blouse represent earth, sky, nature, corn etc. It is a painting of a woman using a backstrap loom with balls of cotton all around – which seems fitting after our morning. I agree to pay her Q250 and ask her to sign the painting. We have a photograph together as she packs it up into a tube for me. I meet her son and husband. It is an experience and memory I will treasure.
Then we go back across the lake – the wind has got up as it often does in the early afternoon and it is very rough.
Lunch is just a snack as I go with Hugo to visit the doctor. It ends up being an ‘over-the-counter’ consultation with poor Hugo having to hear all the gory details – I get 5 more days’ worth of antibiotics and some for parasites (take 3 tablets all in one dose!!) – all for Q70 (approx. NZD14).
I am then on a mission to find a mask for my wall of masks but am unsure exactly what I want – there are some nice animal masks and many Mayan ones with jaguars etc. I walk up and down the street and visit seemingly hundreds of stalls with different selections of masks of all shapes, sizes, colours and designs but I don’t really like any of them. I finally see a Mayan style one that is much less angular in shape than the others and after much deliberation come back to buy it. Then I find a café promising “Espectacular Licuados” (smoothies) – so I find myself a table overlooking the street, order a licuado (so that I can take my tablets) and while away the time writing up my journal.
Then it is back to the hotel for a shower and then meet up with Anne, Lily and Gill to walk down to the lake to watch the sunset over the volcanoes – just magical!!
We meet with the rest of the group to walk for dinner at Jose Pinguinos where host Miguel and his lovely daughters Michelle, Diana and Veronica treat us to a wonderful evening with exquisite Merimba playing (and an explanation of how the instrument is made); a demonstration and competition for making the perfect tortilla; an explanation of the clothing and how what we thought was a hat was actually made from a belt over 20m long wrapped around her head.
We also hear that although women’s costumes are common but for many villages the men’s equivalent has all but disappeared. This is because during the Civil War, it was often assumed that indigenous people supported the rebel movement and they could be killed simply because they were wearing their traditional dress and were therefore identified as being indigenous. We also hear later that they have discovered mass graves on military land where people had been buried alive. Hugo has told us that there are 14.5 million people in Guatemala: 7 million are of mixed race (mestizo); 6 million are indigenous (there are XXX different tribes all with different Mayan dialects); and 1 million Garifuni (descendants of African slaves mixed with Caribbean peoples).
Dinner is a traditional Guatemalan dish called Pepian, which is a soup/sauce made from peppers, tomato, sesame and pumpkin seeds and all sorts of spices – served with chicken, rice and vegetables. Entre is guacamole. It is a perfect end to a very enjoyable cultural day.
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