Antigua

Antigua – Arco de Santa Catalina

This is my first time here in Guatemala, so I am amazed to see all of the beautiful buildings, the food markets and the different types of transportation. And the people here are so nice, and they are always willing to show us how to get around in the city because it’s a bit tricky.

The first thing I learned about Antigua is that the streets (for the most part) are mapped out the same way.  They all form a rectangle so it would be hard for anyone to get lost.  Roads that run north and south are called avenidas (avenues) and are numbered one to eight.  Roads that run from east to west are called calles (streets) and they have numbers from one to nine.  It sounds more confusing than it really is, but what really helped us learn our way around was a place called Parque Central.

Parque Central is called an “origination point” in Antigua, which means that it’s a centrally located landmark.  Basically it’s in the middle of the town, and most Antiguan streets lead back to this point. I’m sure you can imagine the traffic at Parque Central.  It’s very busy all of the time.

Another thing about traveling in Antigua is that the avenidas and calles are not labeled so you have to be really good with using landmarks if you want to learn your way around.  It was a good thing that we travel on a chauffeured bus whenever we want to go somewhere.

Colorful Street of Antigua

To help familiarize ourselves with how the streets work, we took a small tour.  I noticed that most of the streets are cobblestoned, which makes for a very bumpy ride.  The sidewalks are made of cement and aren’t well kept. They have a lot of large cracks in them. The cobblestone streets and the cracked up sidewalks all seemed so dangerous to me. Why would people walk around on a constant trip hazard if they could drive? Someone explained to me that because most tourists’ spots are within eight blocks of one another, many people walk to where they want to go.  I guess it makes more sense to walk eight block than to drive around in the traffic, but I was careful to watch my step.

Antigua offers cultural walking tours and they show you all of the interesting landmarks. I swear we walked at least 16 blocks.  My feet were so soar after the tour but I picked up a lot of cool souvenirs and learned how to get back to the Parque Central from four different locations.

Like in the U.S., homes with even numbers are on one side of the street and homes with odd numbers are on the other side.  It’s funny, but all of the street addresses are written with the street number first followed by either avenida or calles, then the house number. For example 3a calle ote # 28.  The address then is 28 East 3rd Street. Crazy right? I’ll learn this place before I go so I can bring my family back to see how crazy/beautiful Antigua is.

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Traditional Clothing

Mayan Woman with traditional clothing

Today we were walking down the streets of Mazatenango, which is a stark contrast to Antigua. The people around us were speaking something but it wasn’t Spanish. We later found out it was either K’iche’ or Tz’utujil, which are the two most common Mayan languages in the area. It was a different experience. I noticed that most of the people were walking in the same direction, so I told the group to follow.

After walking for about five minutes we came up on an open market. It wasn’t as massive as Chichicastenango, but it could be a smaller version of it. I looked around at everyone’s clothes and we definitely stuck out as the American tourists. Everyone’s clothes were bright and colorful. All the women were wearing skirts and the men had on older looking pants. I walked up to a woman selling clothes and asked her to pick out an outfit for me to wear around Mazatenango. And she smiled and started rummaging through her small stand.

Come to find out her name was Quatzij, which means truth in K’iche’. I also learned that Guatemalan clothing has a history behind them.  The different types of clothing represent the different cultures in the Guatemala.  There are two main types: westernized (or American) and Indian.  Westernized clothing is a symbol that the people want to be more modern, make more money, and become more educated.  Indian clothing is a symbol of respect for the heritage and tradition in the Guatemalan culture. In this town most of the people paid homage to their heritage and tradition. We were the only ones looking westernized.

Colorful blankets from Guatemala

I loved looking at the traditional or Indian clothing because of the intricate details.  The material looked heavier, and most often is made from wool or cotton.  It takes a lot to make the clothing because it is not only cut into its shape, but all of the detailing on the clothing is hand woven.  The Guatemalan people have a lot of patience because a lot of people in this culture choose to wear traditional clothing. I’d have to work day and night all summer for my new school clothes for the fall if I lived here.

The traditional blouse, or huipil, could take up to three months to make.  We are talking a shirt with buttons, sleeves, and a collar which might take our culture one hour to make at the most.  Quatzij was really sweet, ands she dressed me in the traditional clothing right there in the market. People laughed at me because I was obviously too tall for the clothing, it was made for a person about six inches shorter than me, but it was comfortable and beautiful. I paid for my new garments and said goodbye to Quatzij. It was an interesting day in Mazatenango, very interesting.

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Trabajando con los indígenas

We arrived to Santa Avelina after a twelve hour bus drive through the mountains. It is such a beautiful little village with the most wonderful people. The people here are Ixil Mayan and many of the older people don’t speak any Spanish at all! I was not expecting that at all. All of the houses are very simple buildings of just concrete block walls with tin roofs. The whole village was built for indigenous refugees not long after the Civil War ended here in Guatemala. I wish so badly that we had an Ixil translator with us so I could hear stories from the oldest residents here. What’s most interesting is that only the women here wear the traditional clothes that I’ve seen in books and on TV. They wear very brightly colored huipiles and skirts.  How beautiful they all are!

Mayan women in Traditional outfits

While here we are going to help them learn how to sanitize their drinking water, help put concrete floors down in their homes and also build stoves for them. You see, many of them still use the small stone fire pit that they have used for hundreds and hundreds of years. These pits are in the center of their homes and many children can get hurt. Not only that, they also fill the homes with smoke and many people here have breathing problems. Everyone has been so kind and generous with all of us.  They offer us warm tortillas and tamales that they make fresh just for us. It’s so amazing to think that I am around people who still wear the same clothes and eat the same food as before the Spaniards even arrived here! I can already tell I am going to grow and learn so much while here!

Indigenous home in Guatemala

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Chichicastenango

Image of the vegetables section at Chichicastenango

Image of the vegetables section at Chichicastenango market

Today has been such an amazing first day in Guatemala! Our guide, Rudy, was waiting for us at the airport gate with a huge sign that said <¡BIENVENIDOS!>. Then he took us to our bus and we went immediately on our way. The ride to the village where we are staying in is 12 hours long so we stopped for lunch in the town of Santo Tomás de Chichicastenango. (However, I noticed that most people there just called it Chichi.) Luckily, having arrived on a Sunday, we were able to also see one of the most amazing markets in the world! It was like nothing I have ever seen before. They had just about anything you can think of: candles, fruits, vegetables, animals, clothing, food, antiques, just everything! Back at home we are so used to seeing the meat section behind glass and wrapped up in plastic. Well, here they have chickens and pigs just walking around for people to buy! The antiques were also really neat. My dad collects old coins and there were a few people selling old Spanish colonial coins.  They weren’t too expensive, so I bought a few for him.

By the time my group and I made it through the market, we were starving and were ready to eat. We weren’t really interested in a tourist-type restaurant, so when we stumbled on row of comedores we decided to stop at one of the ones with the biggest line. If the locals were waiting, then it must be good! Our guide, Rudy, explained to us that these places are usually run by one family where usually only the women work. They prepare fresh meals prepared with ingredients from the market here at Chichi. We were all so excited! When it was finally my turn to order, I was about to ask for a menu but realized that these places only serve one dish daily. It reminded me of being at home for dinner! They were making a very simple meal of pork, rice, beans, and tortillas. Rudy told us that this is the most common and traditional meal of the indigenous people here in Guatemala. If this were a typical meal for me at home, I would be happy! Well, after we ate it was time to get back on the bus for many more hours of driving through the mountains before arriving to the village. We won’t be there until midnight and I can’t wait to see it!

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