Wednesday, January 2, 2013

December 2012: Guatemala!

I was lucky to get to spend a week in Guatemala last month, so I'm going to share some highlights. (The rest of the time I was home and working - much less interesting.) We saw some wonderful sights and took lots of pictures, but my favorite part of the trip - as it usually happens when I go abroad - was the people. I love traveling to a foreign country and just being around people going about their daily lives. I especially love seeing the children; I'm not really a kid person, but I love that no matter where in the world you go, no matter how different the cultures, children are EXACTLY the same! And Guatemalan people are, on the whole, probably the friendliest people I've ever met. I know enough Spanish to get around and be polite, but I wish I'd known more; most people are happy to chat, and I could have gotten much more out of the visit if I'd been more conversant. Another trip, I hope.

I went with my mother and a student of hers, and we spent most of the trip in the city of Quetzaltenango (commonly known as Xela) in the Western Highlands. Its main industry is education, and most of the city's foreign visitors are students. There we took classes (Spanish for them and weaving for me), explored the city, and took a few afternoon trips to neighboring towns. Our favorite small town was Zunil, which was nestled in some of the most beautiful mountains I've ever seen:

Toward the end of the week, we took a bus to Antigua, where we spent the last day of the trip. On our way we stopped by Lake Atitlan and took a boat ride from Panajachel to Santiago Atitlan and back. This is the best picture I got of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes:

The city of Antigua is a beautifully preserved 18th-century Spanish city, also surrounded by volcanoes, some active. It was built and then abandoned by the Spanish when several earthquakes made it impossible for them to stay. Now it's a World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination:

And of course, there were the textiles. Guatemala has an ancient and rich weaving culture in particular, and everywhere you go, you see colors like these:

And that's not a particularly good picture. What's especially wonderful is how many people - Mayan women and girls in particular - still wear traditional handwoven skirts (called cortos), embroidered tunics (huipiles), and, depending on the location, tapestry-woven headbands called cintas. I imagine their clothes are comfortable and functional, but also, I believe it's a matter of pride. It was a real privilege to see such a rich and vibrant tradition.

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