After cliff jumping in San Marcos la Laguna, I was expecting to hike back down the trail to the dock of San Marcos instead Lee Beal motioned to where he was standing on a large outcropping of rock and a launch appeared.This happened throughout our six-day stay with Lee and Elaine Beal. Everything was taken care of from the moment we met Lee in the supermarket in Panajachel, helping us purchase needed groceries, to setting up weaving sessions for Antonio and Crystel in a Guatemalan casa, to Elaine popping corn for us in the evening after providing us with a relaxing massage.
Jody and I were able to unwind in a country where English isn’t the first, second or third language and more than a dozen Mayan dialects are spoken.It was with this feeling of being taken care of that we stepped onto the shores of San Juan la Laguna, a traditional, Tzutuhil village, of approximately 8000 inhabitants.
Water is rising in Lake Atitlan, swallowing homes and restaurants that are close to the lake. Author, Joyce Maynard, who has a home in San Marcos wrote an article for the New York Times describing how it personally affected her.
Rising waters are apparent in San Juan as you approach the dock. The level of the lake has reportedly risen 18 feet since Tropical Storm Agatha leaving many structures near the shore underwater.
The streets of San Juan are remarkably clean and well maintained. Street murals painted by local artists can be viewed at every street corner. The village is full of local artists and small galleries. Lee walked into a gallery and introduced us to an artist. Jody and I eyed the artwork on the wall . We knew before leaving Minnesota that we wanted to bring paintings home with us. This was a perfect opportunity. By buying the art, it felt like we were directly helping the artist and the cooperative.
- Walter Mendoza artist. Two paintings that came home with us. The top painting, a common sight – women carrying a basket on their head. The second painting – three women are wearing the dress of their village and weaving colors that signify the village they come from.
Kitty-corner from the art gallery was another gallery that was highlighting student’s art. Antonio and Crystel each picked an art piece that a child their age had painted.
Our destination was lunch at Comedor Elenita.
The Menu “Del Dia” (menu of the day) was written on a greaseboard. After placing our order, we left Antonio and Crystel with Zach. You can easily walk to any part of San Juan within minutes. Antonio, Crystel, and Zach were playing a game of table football when we returned. Jody and I could see how bonded Antonio and Crystel were becoming to Zach whose story was similar to theirs. The three of them were starting to share information about meeting their birthmoms and their Guatemalan traits. Zach commented to Antonio how he would like to be able to do his hair just like him. A simple and powerful statement to a nine-year-old boy!
After lunch we visited a women’s textile cooperative, learning how yarn was made and dyed with local natural plant materials. We were also shown weaving on the traditional back-strap loom which Antonio and Crystel were practicing first hand in Santa Cruz. In fact, that afternoon, they would continue their weaving lesson when we returned.
Crystel and Zach tried on traditional dress. The older generations, in their 60’s and 70’s still wear the traditional dress of San Juan. We purchased the blouse that Crystel is wearing with a skirt. She had her own wish list – she told us before leaving Minnesota that she would like to return with traditional Mayan clothes.
Women wear their traje (complete outfit) with a corte (skirt) and huipil (shirt) and a faja (belt) while the men wear the hand-woven pants, a colorful shirt, and a cloth belt.
Visiting a local museum, we saw portraits of daily life, customs and traditions of San Juan. I especially enjoyed the photographs on the wall. In this photo Lee was explaining the artifacts and how they are used.
After leaving the museum we headed to a tienda to purchase candles for a Mayan Fire Bowl Ceremony and ran into masked locals dancing. Masked dances are a Maya tradition in Guatemala for the festival of each town. There are around thirty different dances performed in the Maya villages of Guatemala.
After returning to Santa Cruz Antonio and Crystel had their weaving lesson in the village while Jody and I relaxed at Los Elementos. Zach headed out with Antonio and Crystel to do a little cliff jumping (now that they were professionals) off the rocks of Santa Cruz. Antonio kayaked by himself and Crystel caught a ride with Zach.The children were growing up right in front of our eyes.