Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The 12 day Guatemala circuit (Day 4) - San Francisco el Alto and Solola - The 28th of March 2008


Our next stop was San Francisco el Alto market located at 2,610 metres above sea level, where buyers and sellers from all over Guatemala gather. The 17th century church of San Francisco de Assis, which we had heard of before could hardly be seen, once there were stalls around it almost "covering" it completely.

One could  have easily get lost in this intricate market ground, though the reference meeting point was the animal market located in the highest part of of the "pueblo", which we ended up finding rather interesting.

I bought my first huipil (a ceremonial one) though it did not correspond at all to the ones whose textile designs I had "studied" before travelling, taking  into account the intricate symbolic approach to the Mayan iconography and mythological representation and even the colour diversity. I couldn't simply resist its flower embroidered "sleeve"like design in a vibrant violet colour that I had never seen before.

We continued towards Panajachel having stopped at Solola, an important centre of Mayan culture, with its Kaqchikel traditions, confradias and hierarchies. The market is carried out around the Central park, where the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion  can be seen, as well as the imposing 1916 Central American Tower celebrating the independance dates of  Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua and el Salvador.  

Some "naive" paintings on the walls of the Municipality caught our attention and the more I looked around the more "details" I found that "complemented" my information on this beautiful indigenous people. An interesting aspect regarding Solola was the fact that there were two Mayors, an indigenous and a "ladino".

Before heading to Panajachel which we reached by late evening, I still learned how to entwine the woven textile headband in the side plait the indigenous way. The street vendor I bought it from and I still had quite a lot of fun in doing it ...

The 12 Day Guatemala circuit (Day 4) - Almolonga and Zunil - The 28th of March 2008

Most of the fourth day was spent in indigenous markets, which naturally "made my day". I have always loved markets (any street market), and although I have never really found out what it is that "draws" me to them, the truth is I feel I can literally "dive into" them all day long without getting tired or even bored (which is what I did).

The smell of fruit and vegetables together with the whole "colourful bustling" made me dizzy of "excitement" as we were being "pushed around" in the Almolonga market place, lying 2310 metres above sea level in a valley often referred to as "the garden of Central America".

The typical zigzag huipils, the woven head bands and "tzutes", which many of the women wore, (I presume to protect themselves from the sun) made the whole "scenario" look a lot more interesting.

As we gradually moved out of the "pouring" crowd, we found ourselves in the local churchyard. The church looked quite different from the ones we are used to, but it was certainly its inside that caught our attention, once it was decorated with baloons of all colours, as if a party was to be carried out at any moment. It made me question  the solemn relationship we (Europeans) have with the "divine", which very rarely contemplates an "informal" exteriorization of either our happiness or sorrow.

We still managed to walk around the city side streets,  in what seemed an almost unstoppable loading and unloading of goods, before heading towards Zunil.

Prior to visiting yet another indigenous market we went to a local cemetry embedded in the hills and the city itself, where the guide thoroughly explained the whole rituals associated with death and the day of the dead.

I realised this is one more example in which Catholic and Pagan rituals merge. The "dressing" of the graves (painted in bright colours) on All Saints'day implies not only bringing along flowers but also food in a symbolic breaking of bread with the departed.

 In some communities that "special" day is celebrated with marimba music and fireworks. Believing that the dead are actually participating in the festivities many serenate their loved ones with songs they enjoyed during their "life" time.

Small kites and enormous ones made of crepe paper and bamboo (barriletes)  are flown and then let loose to soar up in the skies, so as to call the departed ones, who are supposed to identify  their families by the colours and decorations used in the kites, thus sliding down the string to join them below.

The symbolic tearing of the kites in pieces is symbolic of life and death all are there to celebrate.

(to be continued)

Monday, 27 February 2012

The 12 day Guatemala circuit (Day 3) - Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango - The 27th of March 2008

Walking around the Chichicastenango multi-coloured market where vendors sell all sorts of handicraft, food, grindstones and virtually everything was an enormous pleasure and though my interest was on the textiles, particularly the women's blouses (huipils) I couldn't help looking in every direction, mesmerised by it all.

At one end of one of those roads lined up with stalls was the Church of Santo Tomas, a Roman Catholic church built around 1545 on a Pre- Colombian temple plattform, whose steps remain venerated, though in that particular day the selling that was going on on its 18 stairs leading to the main church door (said to stand each for one month of the Maya calendar) seemed far from any venerating gesture.

The church is still used by Maya priests for their rituals, which we were lucky enough to  "watch", as we walked in (through a door for foreign visitors). Amidst a powerful incense smell and an almost blinding curtain of smoke we saw local people knealing in the middle of the church "corridor" surrounded by petals and lit up candles and other offerings either crying out loud as if in direct discussion with the "gods" or listening to "advisors"  ...

We didn't stay long, for it was almost impossible to breath and even keep our eyes open (I believed I had gained enough experience during my years of boarding school and exposure to the smell of incense ... but that was just too much) ... it wasn't when we walked out that I realised that most of what was being sold on those stairs was "church-related".

We were shown "Chichi" colourful cemetry from a distance and told that the size of the different mausoleums and tombs  reflect the  social structure of the village. We would later have the chance of visiting one, according to our guide ..., but that was certainly something that caught my attention, because of being exquisitevely different from our cemetries.

Walking back towards the centre of the indigenous market and whilst looking slightly upwards we noticed a red-brick colour building identified as the Chichicastenango academy, with quite a few interesting "naive" paintings on its walls reflecting (I presume) the daily life of the community.

Just before heading to Quetzaltenango I still had the chance of buying a few amazingly beautiful embroidered mats from a local vendor, which I have never had the "courage" to use, though I have recently envisaged the possibility of hanging them on the walls, taking into account the quality of the designs.

The street vendor I bought the mats to (similar to the one she is holding)

Before having reached Quetzaltenango we stopped at a local community tank used for both washing out the clothes and bathing and although we hesitated prior to having taken some photos nobody seemed to bother. Being part of their daily routine, they even smiled back at us.

We got into Quetzaltenango by early evening which still allowed us to wander about the city centre, which was fairly close to the Hotel, though by the time we photographed the colonial facade of the old Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (built in 1582)  it was beginning to get dark.