Thursday, January 22, 2009


Here's a quick update on where we are at the moment, as you may think the blog has gone a bit quiet. We're in Quetzaltenango, a.k.a. Xelajú in Mayan, which thankfully is known to all in Guatemala as Xela (pronounced shay-lah). We're taking some more Spanish classes for 3 hours every day, and next week there's the chance of some work teaching English. We've also rented an apartment in the Pasaje Enriquez, a beautifully decaying building on the Parque Central. We have a lovely big room with a balcony and a view of the Cathedral. In the photo you can see Rach enjoying the sunshine on said balcony. More info on & photos of Xela to follow, when we get a day off!


Monday, January 19, 2009


Chichicastenango, or "Chichi" as everyone calls it, is the centre of the Quiché region and the commercial heart of the artesanía business. This is the best place to buy handicrafts in all of Guatemala.

Chichi is a fairly small, sleepy town that comes alive every Thursday and Sunday for a vast market, in and around the central square. The campesinos come into town on Wednesday or Saturday evening, set up their stalls and sleep around the edge of the square, ready to open the market at dawn.

Most of the sellers are the Mayan women who live in the mountains around Chichi, dressed in traditional huipiles (tunic-like shirts).

The town itself is in the pretty colonial style of much of Guatemala's western highlands. On sale are all manner of arts and crafts around the outside of the market, such as wooden masks, hand-woven fabrics and carved wooden objects. Further inside the market locals can buy everything from hats to superglue and batteries to lunch.

The fabrics are beautiful and exquisitely detailed. Some of them are fairly expensive and can take months for someone to make. The price the stall owners first quote though is always negotiable!

Perhaps you can get a sense of the market from this picture of Rach standing on the steps of the church. The main church combines a fascinating mix of Catholic and Mayan ritual. Inside the gloomy interior, people burn candles and incense, and make offerings of maize, flowers and other food to the Mayan ancestors buried underneath the nave. It was incredibly atmospheric but, unfortunately, photography is not allowed, so you'll have to imagine.

The most interesting activity there is people watching. I had to give this guy a couple of Quetzales (about $0.30) to take his picture, but I think it was totally worth it.

Black tortillas. They're made from black maize, of course.

So, did we buy anything? Yes. Here's a Mayan lady cutting up a piece of fabric for us. It's on its way home as I write this (I hope!) along with a traditional mask.

By the way, I should point out that a lot of the photos in this post were taken by Rach. I think she did a pretty good job!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Lago de Atitlán

We ended 2008 and began 2009 on fantastic Lake Atitlán, in the Guatemalan highlands. It`s an incredibly beautiful place, with volcanoes and steep hill sides looming over the shimmering water.

All around the water are tiny Mayan villages that, although some of them now have ex-pat communities too, have retained a lot of their traditions and practices.

On New Year´s Eve we went to Santiago, one of the most traditional settlements on the lake.

The majority of the locals are Maya and still wear typical clothing, which was fascinating.

We met up again with most of the group from Christmas, which was great, and we took a short guided tour around the village. Our knowledgeable guide was Miguel, a lively boy of 12, who took us to the local sights. Here we all are listening intently to his speech about the church. Meanwhile, you can see someone trying to sell Vicki yet more scarves!

The most intriguing place he took us to was La Casa de Maximón, the home of a Mayan idol. If they have worries about their family´s health or money issues, local people can visit him and leave gifts such as food, drinks, flowers or, most importantly, hats. We actually saw one present of a New York yankees hat, which looked a bit out of place! He´s a pretty strange figure, who always has a lit cigarette or cigar in his mouth (Miguel says this is medicinal?!) but the room had a very reverential and sombre atmosphere

It gave us a real insight into Guatemalan village life and Miguel kept us entertained during the tour. Here he is wearing my sunglasses. Anita taught him a new phrase to add to his English repertoire; "Chop chop!" for those moments when we were walking a bit too slowly for him. This got a bit less amusing the hundreth time he used it!

That night we were all in San Pedro, a much more touristy spot on the lake, but perfect for a big New Year party. It was great fun! Here we are around midnight, on the roof of Buddha Bar, just after the huge (and slighty terrifying) firework display.

After New Year we stopped at another couple of tranquil villages with Jenny and Mark (sadly everyone else had to head home or off to other places by then); San Marcos and Santa Cruz. One morning Rob and I got up to take photos of the sunrise, which was spectacular, though freezing cold!

That was all a bit too much effort so early in the year, so we spent most of our time relaxing by the lake front and admiring the incredible view. Start the year as you mean to go on, I say.

Rachel x

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


We spent a few days after Christmas exploring the beautiful city of Antigua. It´s nestled in a perfect valley with mountains and volcanoes to be seen from every angle. Its location, combined with picture perfect colonial streets and incredible (though expensive!) restaurants, makes Antigua a pretty special place.

This church, La Merced, is so ornate it looks like a wedding cake, though Rob thought more a lemon meringue pie!

Antigua is dotted with picturesque ruins and on our self-guided tour round the sights, we stopped at Las Capuchinas convent. Very little remains to tell of the intriguing secluded lives the nuns had, but it was very atmospheric and the gardens were lovely.

This is a public wash house where local women bring bundles of clothes to scrub. It`s fascinating to watch, but I think the women know the tourists are interested as they tried to charge us 10 quetzales (about $1.30) to photograph them!

The crafts for sale in Guatemala are great; vibrant colours, rich embroidery and crazy animal figures. There´s a strong sense of value around traditional clothes and produce, which can be seen in the great number of people wearing Mayan dress in the streets. As soon as we arrived in Guatemala we noticed how much more prominent the indigenous population is compared to other countries in Central America.

A visit to Nim P'ot artesania shop was incredible. It´s full to the brim with crafts from all over the country, divided into different regions. I could have bought the lot if only I had room in my back pack!

We couldn't leave Antigua without having a shot at the famous Volcán Agua through the arch photo. As you can imagine, Rob spent a good while getting it just right. Not bad, though, eh?

Rachel x

Adventures of the spade #7

The spade enjoying a moment for spiritual contemplation in the former Convent of Las Capuchinas in Antigua. This cell was previously home to a nun, who would have had no contact with the outside world whatsoever, unlike the spade. I wonder what he's thinking.