Sunday, November 24, 2013

Santiago, Lake Atitilan, Guatemala – culture and tradition

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We woke in the serenity of the beautiful gardens of Bambu Hotel, on the shore of Lake Atitlan.  Surrounded by volcanoes, and green rolling hills with the mirror stillness of the lake in front. As I sat out with my morning coffee, I felt the peace of God all around me.  I watched several locals paddle their way across the lake, probably off to work.  I sit and enjoy the serenity, while my son runs around and takes a few photos in the awesome grounds.
 Here in Santiago you will find in many ways time has stood still.
These indigenous, once enslaved by the Spanish still proudly wear their traditional clothes. You will mainly notice the ornate stitching and beading that decorates their heavy blouses, and belts. 
When the Spanish forced them to work for them, they were oppressed, and given dyes to colour their clothes. In this way the dark blue cloth wearers would be ‘owned’ by one master, whilst the maroon by another.  So the women got to work and would decorate their garments with certain patterns that would be unique to that area.  In Santiago it is flowers and birds, so the simple shaped blouses and the bottom of the men’s shorts were stitched with fabulous patterns.  
The shapes of these garments are so simple.  They had no buttons or elastic, so it would be to rectangle panels sewn together for the shorts, for a skirt it is a wrap of fabric and a belt, and for the blouses it is a cotton fabric which is sewn from a square with a circular hole cut for the head.  This all then gathers together at the waist with a wrap tie belt that is either magnificently stitched, or beaded.

Now they choose to continue their tradition with pride, and I am glad they did.  In our travels we have noted there are few countries now who really still carry on tradition. Whilst the western civilization has come in to ‘help’ them, we have shown them our lifestyle and rapidly in many countries they are losing the glory of the beauty of their old ways.  Now instead of a machete they carry a mobile phone.
So when we arrived by Tuc-Tuc in the market place, it was time for me to enjoy spotting some of the more traditionally dressed locals.  A part I really enjoy when I get to a new place is to engage with locals, talk and laugh and become a friend, not a spectator. So I try to take photos inconspicuously.  Today as we walked upstairs to the traditional markets tucked away in a concrete building I met two ladies who wanted me to try what they were selling.  
 She tells me it is a fruit, and it is spiky like a kiwi fruit.  As I try it, it tastes like a warm – yes warm, squishy watery potato, and not a fruit. Turns out it is vegetable. They love it as I pull faces and think it is strange, especially as I was expecting something sweet.
 I give them some money for the experience and we head up to a vantage point that looks out across the central square and the streets filled with sellers and buyers.
 If you go to Antigua, try to head upstairs and not just stick to the street. Here you will find little local sellers with hardware, clothing, toiletries and other traditional items for sale at a fraction of the cost.
 We head downstairs again and wander over toward the church.  On the way we see a group if ladies grabbing some bargain fruit.
 I love the spices and dried peppers they sell - wonderful colours and aromas.
 We end up getting side-tracked in the "Central Park" or town square.
Locals sell second-hand clothes spread out on cloth. Men in traditional clothing including the hat and shorts with the belt sashed around their waist sit and talk and pass the day.
 Kids play basketball amongst the avocado sellers.  Oh so many avocados! Guacamole heaven :)
 As we leave the square there is a few steps leading to the courtyard of the church.
 In the courtyard locals start to sell there locally made handicrafts and several stop us.
 We enter via the courtyard and discover they are making floral carpets.
Men and ladies work together to create squares in the courtyard, and more men work inside with lengths of wood to measure up the sides of the carpet. 
Inside the church the statues are catholic, but they wear the scarves of the Mayan faith.
At the door of the church were beggars.
Explorason was drawn to a blind man and wanted to photograph his sign.
My son became upset when the blind man thought he was a different person, as he took so long to take a photo. We donated to a few of the beggars, as a big part of our trip is helping the needy, but then we noticed many more beggars arriving and we had to stop.
 We then needed a bathroom, and we found the best way is to use a restaurant. They are usually cleaner than public baños, and there is no charge.  So we sat down and enjoyed the best nachos made with local warm crunchy corn chips – for $1.50.  Fresh guacamole is always served, as avocados are sold by the bag full here, and are a main produce.
Now we have filled our bellies, it is time for me to fabric shop.
I'm buying a few of the poncho style blouses to make into large cushions like this.
If you look closely, the stitching is amazing.
If you look at the ladies in the photo below, you will see she is beading.
These ladies have incredible handicrafts.
The stitching is incredible on these fabrics.
 We bought this bird stitched wall hanging.
I was going to turn it into a cushion - I have no idea now.
It is so nicely made and was about $20 and I wash I had bought more.
 I love the photo of Explorason just hanging out on the corner.  Life is relaxed here.
As I wander around the streets after this, we find our 'positive ladies' from our hotel all buying in the street.
After a bit of local mis-advice we take the advice of other tourists, and we then wander off down a couple of seedy lanes to visit the Mayan god-like mythical figure of Moximon.ón  Here people give him cigars, bring in bottles f beer, and the guy with the scarf is a priest.  People party and the music is loud, and the room is smokey.  It is a weird place!
 We find a great store selling art, and I buy a bright painting. I have her remove it from the wood frame and roll it in a tube for transport.
 We join them for a tea break and all laugh and show our purchases.
 We stay on and buy many of the beaded ornaments the kids sell.  I love how he sells his wares. His hat is covered.  His family make these and they sell from $1. Hours of work.

We buy a lovely stitched cloth / top from one lady and I find the ladies in town are cheaper than ChiChi market.
But then as we head towards the water / docks the prices just continue to drop.  Soon I have so many ladies wanting to sell tops to me and the price is now on 50 Quetzales.  My son gets a panic attack and starts to cry, so I send them away and sit him down and cuddle him, and explain these ladies are poor, that business is very slow and they are desperate to sell.  I give him my phone to play games on, and then I tell the ladies I will see them one by one.  So it is yes, no, maybe, and on it went.
Soon I had about 1 dozen to purchase.  One lady dashes off to fix a neckline. I want to make these into cushions eventually and 50 Quetzales in little more than $6 AU.  Soon the bags are bursting.
I could have bought many more.
When we get back to Bambu Hotel I lie them all out on the floor. Wow - I have so many!  I'm thrilled.
The sun sets over the lake and we have the most amazing dinner - we start out with black taco chips and a great dip.  It is awesome, and made fresh by the locals.
We sit outside overlooking the lake - we really have enjoyed our time here.
The next day as we head for our boat the ladies even drop the price further to 40 Quetzales.  Now just to let you know in Chi-Chi markets these are often selling for up to 800 Quetzales.  This is the place to shop.

I now have a whole bag of fabrics to send back to Australia.
I’m happy.
I really loved our visit to Santiago, and definitely hope we can come back another time.


  1. Thanks for this introduction to what seems like a very rich culture!

  2. Irene, thanks for reading my blog - it is an amazing culture - love visiting places in the world where they stay keep their traditions.

  3. I would probably be the one having the panic attack. Like your son, I would have been overwhelmed by so many people wanting (needing) to sell me something. I hate to bargain. I hate to not want/need to buy something. I hope you'll share some photos of your cushions when you have made some. BTW, what was the purpose of the flower pictures they were making in the church. Will they remain on the floor?

  4. Looks to be a place where the senses are overwhelmed with color, smells, sites and sounds!

  5. Yes Patti - it was. Even the tacos were a taste sensation! I so love traveling where the culture is still so evident. My waistline is suffering a bit though LOL.

  6. Beautiful post, about a beautiful place -
    And you certainly had a hay day shopping!!
    Lots of gorgeous things to play with when you finally return home :)

  7. thanks for taking the time to read my blog - yes sure will enjoy all the unpacking of boxes at the end of the world trip.
    Just setting up a new blog site this week - if you want to bookmark the new website thanks

  8. What an interesting day! I would have bought them out as well - everything is so beautiful and I love the fact that they are all handmade.

  9. Thanks Jan for reading our blog. I have left Guatemala now and wish I had bought more! We have a new web-site to launch today as our world travels continue to gain followers and hope you can be one of them

  10. What a beautiful day you had. Buying handmade items is a wonderful way to support the local community.

    1. Donna - We have just released our new web-site if you would like to check out our latest blogs - new ones this afternoon!

  11. Thanks Donna for reading our blog. Yes I agree. I think so many ladies wanted to sell to us as we tried to give them a fair price. It was a special day.

  12. What a wonderful day you had there - and you have so many lovely souvenirs and memories. Lovely post :)

  13. Suzanne - so glad you enjoyed reading about our wonderful time. I do hope we get back there one day. We have just released our new web-site if you would like to check out our latest blogs - new ones this afternoon!


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