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.
take a look, into some Faces of Guatemala.
A shy smile and a bit of
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
How could you not love
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.
Donít go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
This woman's beauty shines
from the obvious love in her eyes.
Another child in
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.