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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Faces of Guatemala

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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For me, it's always been about the people. Traveling allows us to meet those who live in exotic locations, who have differing customs than the ones with which I am familiar, and who hold a perspective that may enrich my own. Much about a person can be seen - or at least imagined - by peering into their faces.

Come take a look, into some Faces of Guatemala.

A shy smile and a bit of curiosity

When wandering around, Billy will often lasso a group of people and have his photo taken with them. Usually these people are women or children, and in this case he grabbed a couple of ancianas and with a broad grin, had me take their photo.

This woman was standing a bit to the outside of the "goings-on" and you can see registered on her face some amusement at the silliness that was happening only a couple of feet away.

Billy is touching her shoulder so she would feel included, but I think she is completely comfortable looking in from the side.

A beautiful child

Children are everywhere in Guatemala and one of the things Billy and I enjoy the most is their willingness to engage with us. Being foreigners, we wear different clothing than their native costumes, and frankly, we look a little funny to them. Seeing the sunshine in their faces, it's hard not to return a smile.

A vendor offers potatoes

We love going to markets, and Guatemala has some of the very best. Here a woman offers us potatoes from her supply. I believe it's the gentleness of her heart that shines through those eyes of hers.

This child is both curious and cautious

Often, Billy and I will hop a bus or a boat and go to the nearest villages to see what is taking place just a few miles from where we are. Here, we visited a neighboring pueblo where blue stones were commonplace, matching this young child's huipile.

This little one wasn't sure what to make of us, and her expression shows it.

 

A dude in a dandy hat

We're in the tropics and that brings out the flamboyant in every day living. This young man sports a Panama-style woven hat that reminds me of the high rollers in the 1940's.

Brothers having a look

As we wander around, we are honored to be invited in to villagers' homes along the way. Here you see two brothers taking a peek at us through a wooden window built into their stone house.

An angel-of-a-child

The beauty of these young children is startling. I always wonder what it is they are seeing, how they are processing any particular moment. This gaze is too steady to simply be a daydream.

Mama and child

Children here in the Maya culture are carried on the backs of their mothers for the first two years of their lives. They are in continuous touch with their mother's protection and attention, and I think it makes a difference in the responses we receive from them. It is perfectly safe to smile at some strange looking human being several feet away.

At the same time, the mother knows exactly where the child is and doesn't need to fret about the baby drifting off somewhere.

A mixture of patterns and brilliant colors

Cloths worn on the top of one's head is second nature here in Guatemala. At the least, it keeps the sun from frying your head and keeps one cool. On the other hand, the towel or strip of cloth is handy and ready to use in case she needs to carry a basket of masa, groceries, or avocados.

Sneaking a peek

Pathways through villages are narrow and often winding. Homes can be made of stone, cement block and heavy timber. This young boy steals a glance at us coming up his alleyway from the safety of his second story patio.

Young man sauntering

This young man wears a traditional woolen overshirt for warmth along with the typical colorful weaving that is native to his village. The band across his chest is also hand woven and is attached to a bolsa or day bag he is carrying.

A children's treat

These children were quite content with their candied apples in a night market in Xela.

Mother and son

Colors are meant to be used and in Central America, the more colors the better. Children are wrapped across a mother's back with a large square of woven telas, folded to make a triangle and tied in the front. If the child begins to slip, the mother leans over, bent at the waist. The cloth is untied and the child stays still, resting on his mother's back. The woman throws the cloth over the child's body, tucking the feet into the bottom of the triangle, and she brings one end over her shoulder and the other end under the remaining arm and ties it under her chin.

Inseparable

Babies are fed, entertained and provided for all from the position of being attached to their mother's backs. It's a convenient and satisfying arrangement for both mother and child. Notice the mother's huipile. This one is done in a type of cross stitch embroidery and has taken at least a full month or more to complete. These huipiles are both costly and heavy.

 Elaborate designs and patterns may convey the wearer's village, her marital status and personal beliefs.

A Garifuna storyteller

Guatemala has a wide variety of peoples and customs within her borders. This man, who calls himself Polo, is a descendant from the Black Carib Indians of the Caribbean Islands from centuries ago. There have also been shipwrecks of slaves that were being transported and some of these slaves found their freedom by settling in places like Livingston, on the Caribbean shores of Guatemala.

As a Garifuna, Polo speaks Arawak, Spanish and English.

A Guatemala beauty

People from the larger cities come to the smaller villages and towns for a day away from the bustling crowds. This sophisticated Guatemala beauty shows some Spanish heritage.

A portable Maya family

Long ago, when the Spanish occupied Guatemala, in order to tell one village from another, each was given certain colors to utilize as an "identifier." These became the principle colors of the weavings from any particular pueblo. San Antonio was given blue as their color. To this day, one can tell an inhabitant of San Antonio from the colors of their weavings. Notice here that mother, daughter and baby are all wearing the same woven pattern stitched together with embroidery thread. This village does not wear the huipiles seen in other locations.

The long hair of the mother is intertwined with a ribbon which is then encircled around the head as a decorative headdress.

Mother and son outside in the yard

This mother is encouraging her son to play with some plastic toys she is offering to him, but he is momentarily distracted. Notice that there is a glass of drinking water in the center of the toys for when the child gets thirsty.

A fire pit is at the top of the photo and is used for cooking. In this particular home, as in many of the Maya homes, there is no propane hookup, and lena or firewood is used as it has been for centuries.

Blue and purple were the colors designated to identify this particular village, but here the women embroider huipiles and wrap their long hair in velvet before circling their heads.

How could you not love this face!

This young man shows such enthusiasm and curiosity in his expression. He was out in the schoolyard playing with his friends when Billy passed by and asked if he could take their photos. This one jumped at the chance to be photographed and afterwards, Billy showed him what he looked like on the camera.

This picture captures his heart so clearly it makes me wish the best possible future for him!

San Antoino Beauty

This young woman wears the woven top typical of her village and has accompanied it with the beautiful blue shawl on her shoulder. She was captivating, not only in her physical charm, but also with her engaging personality. Somewhat unusual, this Maya girl is wearing makeup - which we don't see very often. It's possible that she has spent time in another town or in the city, and when she returns to her village, she wears traditional dress, but keeps the makeup.

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A dazzling Anciana

While in the market of San Antonio, Billy tries to recruit some women to have their photos taken. The only one who showed courage was this dazzling anciana who is bedecked with golden beads, plastic flower beads and a small crucifix. Some Maya hold their conventional beliefs, some are Christian and some are a mix of both faiths.

Notice that the braid wrapped around her head ends with a flourish.

This is a perfect example of "the traditional mixing in with the new." The golden, blue and fuchsia threads are made of a type of Mylar which reflects the sun brilliantly - something the Maya did not have only a few years ago. Walking down the street, this Mylar reflects the sun's rays in blinding flashes and catches the attention of all who pass by.

Anybody home?

Another village, another set of colors. This time, red and maroon. Not every woman in every village holds to the identifying colors. Some have "moved into the modern world" and will wear any color she finds to be beautiful. I don't know how these "modern" women are viewed for having made these decisions, because we do not speak Kachiquel or Tzotzil and can't eavesdrop or start a conversation on this topic!

For the most part, however, little boys and young men wear western clothes and little girls and young women wear Maya traditional dress.

Sister takes care of little brother

Here you see a young girl of about six years caring for her brother who is just past toddling around. She wears the full traditional clothing of a grown woman complete with a multi-pocketed apron, a woven wrap-around skirt, a huipile and several "carrying cloths" tied under her chin. She may choose to put a doll into one of the carrying cloths, but more likely she will use them to carry tomatoes and onions home to her mother.

She has already been taught how to carry firewood or items in a basket on her head and is perfecting her balance and grace while walking.

Maya girls living in their jungle village

The residents of the coastal village of Livingston, Guatemala has broad diversity. Here you see shy Maya girls who are living up in the jungled hills just a boat ride away from "the city." Maya girls in these traditional villages will oftentimes be married and have children by the age of eighteen. Many do not go to school and cannot read nor write. Some speak only their native Maya tongue and do not communicate in Spanish. Others speak three languages, their native Maya, Spanish and English.

Their intelligence excels in the survival skills each are taught from a young age; building a fire, watching over younger siblings, utilizing native herbs for healing, carrying provisions on their heads or backs, building relationships, and knowing how to bargain and trade for services and supplies. Their immune systems are strong and my money is on them if ever there were a physical disaster in the area.

An awesome Buga Mama

"Buga" is the Garifuna word for mouth and the town of Livingston lies at the mouth of the Rio Dulce River. Buga Mamas rule the town with their skills a-plenty and their physical presence.

Word of caution: One never wants to get a Buga Mama mad at you.

 

It's a delicate balance

I can't tell you how heavy these baskets, buckets and tubs are! This young girl, about 10 years old, is carrying soaked blue corn to be ground into masa for making blue corn tortillas.

Planting corn, growing corn, harvesting corn, soaking corn, cooking corn, mashing corn and the making of corn tortillas or corn tamales is an integral part of everyday living here in Central America. Corn is considered the food of the gods and is woven deeply into the Maya culture.

Onion vendor

This woman prepares her onions for sale. She takes off the loose outer skin and anything unattractive and then ties them together in bundles of three or four, placing them in the basket to the left in this photo.

While this vendor might appear to be fierce, more than likely, she can't see very well and is squinting, trying to see better. It is a rare occasion to see a Maya wearing glasses at any age. Dental care is also a bonus. Most don't have that luxury.

A Maya family in front of the market

This group of Maya women could be sisters, neighbors, in-laws or friends. Having just done some shopping, they wait for the fletes taxi to take them back to their home in the village up the hill.

Here, you can see the woven cloth that carries the baby, this time tied at the shoulder since the baby is being carried in front. This photo also gives you a better view of their long hair wrapped in ribbon and circling their heads. These long, thin strips can be beaded or woven and generally interspersed with something shiny.

A million dollar smile

As I mentioned earlier, dental care is a rarity for most of these hill people, and they live with what nature has given them. This woman was a true delight even though she had great difficulty both speaking and eating.

Self-possessed Maya beauty

This is Petrona. She is thirteen years old and lives up in the hills, a 3 Quetzal fletes taxi ride from town. Going to school for half a day, the rest of the day and on weekends, she sells her wares in Panajachel. Her favorite subject is math and she is nobody's fool.

She is smart, beautiful, fiercely loyal to her family and wants something more for her life than selling weavings in town.

As I have mentioned previously, many Maya women don't get the chance to go to school and they face powerful economic and social obstacles. Petrona is one of the lucky ones.

What a warm and beautiful face!

This man has such an approachable appearance it seems one could be best friends right from the start. What is it about certain people who just have "that look?"

Maya man in native dress

I included this photo to give you a sense of how men in certain villages dress. Nearly all of them wear these heavy woven shirts with the white lace overlay. Men don't balance buckets and baskets on their heads as the women do. They carry a dense woolen blanket with them by wrapping it around their hips. And these blankets all have the same brown background with white dots.

While barely seen in this photo, this man's pants are also a woven riot of color.

The Expat presence

A photo of Lorenzo is included here as an emphasis on the Expat presence in Guatemala. While not overwhelming by any means, since it takes a unique and adventurous sort to choose to live in this country, Expats do make their mark. 

Lorenzo - a remarkable man - runs a macadamia nut farm which providdes income for countless families and a source of protein for their children. Other Expats work with local Maya midwives or run programs in villages teaching about life-saving hygiene practices. Some take on the ever present problem of animal abuse or teaching adults to read, installing solar coffee bean driers for the coffee growers here, or working with Liter of Light turning waste plastic bottles into solar light bulbs.

A growing industry is Medical Travel to Guatemala which connects the excellent medical care here to those in North America who need those services.

Whether you want to volunteer or make use of your talents in business ways, Expats are already here doing it. Why not join them?

A regal spirit

This grandmother struck me with her noble bearing. You can see centuries of indigenous DNA with the quiet and wise look on her face. She takes very good care of herself as shown by the simple gold necklaces around her neck, a very expensive huipile, gold earrings and a colorful scarf bearing an eagle and stars wrapped around her head.

Madonna-like perfection

This young Maya mother shows the fine features of Spanish blood from centuries past. Temporarily distracted by something in the distance, her mind is still present with her child as she is ready to catch the orange should her baby drop it.

Mothers, mothers everywhere

This woman's beauty shines from the obvious love in her eyes.

Another child in traditional dress

With her ears pierced and wearing an embroidered woven blouse and wrap-around skirt, this young girl's life is living tradition of centuries past.

Ever present warmth

Guatemalans have a ready warmth to their personalities, something that is noticeable from the start of one's journey here. Sure, people are people everywhere and there are cynics and the jaded in this country too. However, the willingness to engage in conversation, their quickness to smile and laugh and their authenticity and heart's innocence makes their mark and can never be forgotten.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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