Friday, May 2, 2014

Guatemala's colors unfold in pastiche of nature, fabric, cooking

Construction is not sophisticated in Guatemala, but old-fashioned thatching appears to be carefully done.


Arriving in Panajachel, tourists are met with craftswomen and venders. 


RIGHTLY PROUD of its critters and birds, Guatemala hosts more than 10 per cent of all registered species on planet Earth.   Handsome people, gorgeous lakes and forests and extraordinary handicrafts complement swimming, hiking and delightful cuisine -- fish, lobster and tasty spiced veggies -- make it appealing to tourists.
Well heeled Americans and Europeans mix with yuppies from the British Isles and South America to ride horseback, frolic on the beaches, and enjoy spelunking in Guatemala's honeycombed caves.  Scuba divers come to hunt wrecks lost centuries ago in the Pacific's capricious waters.
The Quetzal bird.
Above, a typical meal in Guatemala features fresh
fish and vegetables.  Below, a rower on Lake Atitlan.

WE WERE struck by how happy the people seem. Cliched though it sounds, they seem content with little. We saw women rolling tortillas on street corners, cooking on simple charcoal grills for both families and tourists. We saw old men carving.  We saw workers wielding huge machetes, for crops are still
harvested the old fashioned way, a nod to Guatemala's colonial past. School is not compulsory and many homes have no plumbing or electricity.
THE PEOPLE are proud of their heritage and crafts. The fabled Maya flourished in the nearby Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala for centuries. Their advanced civilization constructed grand cities, palaces and pyramids. The Maya were accomplished astronomers, artists, writers and mathematicians.
Guatemala's world famous crafts pay tribute
to their rich Mayan heritage and love of color.
For mysterious reasons, the Maya society began its decline in the 10th century. Remnants of this extraordinary people live on in Guatemalan descendants.
WE MET some of them  in our time there, primarily in the port city of Puerto Quetzal and miles inland, the picturesque village of Panajachel. It is one of 20-plus tiny towns on Lake Atitlan, created in a volcanic crater.
 IN FACT, three volcanos surround "Lago de Atitlan," one of the places where the national bird of Guatemala hides out.  The colorful Quetzal bird, after which the port is named, was sacred to the Mayans.
Most children go to grade school, but only wealthy
or middle-class kids have a chance for college.
After years of Spanish rule, political turbulence, and a devastating 36-year civil war the government at last in 1996, signed a peace agreement with the leftist rebels. The conflict had left countless people dead and a million-plus refugees. 
WHAT MORE do we know about Guatemala?  We think of those brightly colored weavings and the compact indigenous people working hard for a living. But we naturally think of drugs, because of the country's proximity to Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, where much of the Mexico-bound drugs are manufactured and passed on to the U.S.
This was not denied by our multi-lingual guide, Roberto, on our way to Lake Atlitan. "But we are working hard to clean up this problem,” he said.  Still, in a country where unemployment is high and families are large – the people are  mostly Catholic – it is difficult to keep lucrative, illegal tradesmen out. Our guide believes his country has stabilized, but that infamous, drug-driven and corrupt neighbors may combine with civilian and military unrest to alter Guatemala's course from time to time.
A breezy boat trip past volcanos with new friends:
from left: Keller, Cookie, Inge and Tom.
Women in Guatemala are proud of their weavings, crafts and tortillas.

WHILE STROLLING our mountain village, we were impressed with the peaceful nature of the people.  They 
met us with fabrics and weavings as we boarded our boat, then followed us in their own boat, to the mountain village.
THE CHILDREN are learning the art of hawking.  “My name is Juanita. Come buy something from me,” one implored.  “I am Carmen.  My grandmother made this,” said another, showing her elaborately woven scarf.  (I made purchases from both girls because they reminded of my nieces, now in their 30s. As grade-schoolers and teens, they helped sell their father's pottery at craft fairs and art shows.)

Puerto Vallarta offers some of Mexico's most attractive
beaches and luxury hotels -- and a lively film history!

COMING SOON:  Puerto Vallarta, or sandy port, caught the eye of Hollywood more than a half-century ago, when director John Houston scouted the perfect location for his film, “The Night of Iguana.”  Come with us to visit El Set, where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor dined, drank and caroused with a picture perfect view of the Pacific.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and tell your friends about us as we post Wednesdays and weekends at:

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