Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

To market, to market...

There never seems to be enough time to explore the Guatemalan handicrafts markets. The colors of the weaving, paintings, jewelry, and wood carvings rival that of any markets in the world.

No matter where you go in Antigua and Panajachel, people are on every corner trying to sell their items for a "good price".

You are supposed to bargain, but, truly, the first price they offer is so good by US standards, it feels "wrong" to try to bargain the seller down!

We were thoughtful and careful about the items we selected like this Umbro soccer jacket and backpack for Grace.  The jacket would easily cost $30-40 at home.  We paid $7.

I prefer the street markets like this one at El Carmen (which is only open on the weekends) because you can feel the energy of the city while you shop.  Sometimes the stores and indoor markets can seem dark and hot - not the greatest for spending money!

Next time we go to Guatemala we are going to rent a house or apartment so we can live more like the locals.  But, I am pretty sure we won't be buying chickens! Looking at them is enough!

These girls can "shop 'til they drop".  We all certainly helped the Guatemalan economy.

Nana bought this necklace in Guatemala - it has coffee beans mixed in with the beads!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Niños con Benedición

On our first full day in Guatemala we had the unique experience of being welcomed into the home of Lesbi and Tino Chavez in the town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, about 20 minutes away from Antigua.

Like most of the homes we saw in Guatemala, it was very simple on the outside. There was nothing on the door to indicate what you would find inside. Driving and walking down the streets you wonder what lies beyond the doors and colorful walls - if there are hidden garden courtyards (which is the case for most of the restaurants and hotels, and, probably the homes of wealthier families) and what the kitchens and bedrooms look like.

Lesbi and Tino live modestly. Their home is larger than most as it serves as a daycare for about 20 children before and after school so their parents can work. They help the children with homework and teach them traditional songs and dances. The children perform for visiting tour groups to earn money for school, books, uniforms, and to bring home to help supplement their family income.

Lesbi and Victor (our guide)
On the day of our visit, after we all spent money on their textiles, our guide said that the families would go out and buy corn and other food that night thanks to our purchases.

Inside, once our eyes adjusted to the darker atmosphere, we could see dirt floors on the first level in a big open room, an open fire for cooking, and a big sink with running water where toothbrushes were labeled and lined up for the children.

Beyond that, there was an open courtyard that let light in and steps leading to the rest of the house which was under construction with cinderblocks and concrete. We were told that they are raising money to expand the daycare to a community center and construction was on hold until they had enough to continue the next phase. 

We were invited to sit on small stools set in a semi-circle as the children each came out and introduced themselves and told us what region of Guatemala their outfit was from. Some did this in English and some spoke in Spanish. 

The older children played marimba music while the others danced. Eventually, they had us all dancing with them!

Grace and Izzy
We all learned how to make tortillas - a staple in the Guatemalan diet. Three times a day, tortillas are made fresh by grounding corn and then patting the dough into small round circles. Grace was the first child to jump right in and give it a try. After, we enjoyed them with black bean paste and some hot sauce.  Yum! I kind of want one now...

One really special part of our visit was when the Niños children dressed our children in traditional huipiles (blouses) and cortes (skirts). They braided with a long weaved ribbon that we ended up buying to take home with us. Grace said she felt very special and that this was a great memory. 

All the "American" kids were dressed up in some beautiful examples of Guatemalan weaving. After a while, you couldn't tell who were the children growing up in Guatemala and who were the ones who are growing up in the United States!
Ana and Grace
Rosa, Luis, Ana, and Grace
Grace with one of the girls from  Niños con Bendición

Grace smiled so much during this visit! Everything fit with the things she loves - music, dancing, dressing up, cooking - and now, Guatemala!

You can learn more about Niños con Bendición at

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ancient Maya ruins of Iximche

Since we returned home, Grace has been reading non-fiction books about Guatemala and the Maya civilizations.  In a way, it is more interesting now that we have been there since she can better relate to the information and illustrations.

One of our 1/2 day trips was to the ruins at Iximche (pronounced /i-shim-che/) which are about half way between Antigua and Panajachel.  Although much smaller the the famous ruins at Tikal, Iximche was a good introduction to how they Maya cities were set up, the classes of people who lived there, and what daily life was like.

Our tour started by looking at a model of what Iximche probably looked like when people lived there. The guide explained how each plaza had a castle, temples, altars for sacrifice, and areas for trade and court.  There were four main nobles who lived and ruled here with the first, richest family controlling the first two of the five plazas.  It is believed that this area was occupied from 1470-1524.  Columbus made his first visit in 1492, so that puts the time period into perspective. One theory about why the Maya civilization fell has to do with the Spanish conquistadores overtaking them.

The Maya had a form of writing that is made up of 800 pictures which include gods, animals, and people.  Each picture stood for a sound and were combined to form words and sentences.  On this replica stone, you would read the first two columns together going top to bottom and then go back to the top to read the next two columns.

Luis, Izzy, and Grace.  I love how they are holding hands. 

Since Iximche is in the Guatemalan Highlands, set on a ridge that is 7,400 feet above sea level it was a little chilly the morning we visited.  But it was perfect for walking and exploring.  We learned that daily life depended on class.  Most Maya were common people who were farmers, hunters, carpenters, stone masons, etc.  The highest class were the nobles and priests.  And slaves were often enemies that were captured in battle or people who were caught stealing.

All 6 kids - Grace, Luis, Anna, Karra, Rosa, Izzy

We enjoyed looking the the ball field where they played a game that sounded like a combination of soccer and basketball.  The objective was to get a ball through a round goal at one end of the field without using hands or any part of the upper body.

This aqueduct still carries water through the ruins when it rains a lot.

Iximche still has an active site for Maya rituals.  When we visited there was smoke from a recent fire but we didn't see a ceremony that day.

As we walked back across the fields, I wondered what the inside of the temples must have looked like when Iximche was a busy city of hundreds of people.

The kids, though, just enjoyed having time and open space to run around.

Izzy (North Carolina), Rosa (Maryland), Grace, and Anna (Massachusetts)