Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gutemala City, Guatemala

Masks and costumes
Daniel arranged for a driver to take us on a tour of Guatemala City. He picked us up at 9 am and took us first to the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia in Zona 13 (near the airport). We thought at first it was closed as it looked deserted and we were the only car parked outside (the grounds are very neglected). But we were just the only visitors.  The collection of ancient Mayan artifacts is excellent but the labeling is very sparse even in Spanish and there is little in English. The masks and jade jewelry were wonderful and I loved the playful animals and people in the pottery.
Next was the new and beautiful Museo Ixchel, named for the Maya goddess of the moon, women, reproduction and textiles. The huge collection of textiles and costume is artistically arranged and has extensive explanations in Spanish and English. We watched 2 of the 3 movies that are available on History of Guatemalan costume and the Confradia Societies. These were set up by the Catholic church to control the Mayan population but they have turned into locally organized ways to celebrate not only Catholic saints but their Mayan beliefs.  Leadership of these powerful groups is passed to a different man (and his wife) each year and they host the round of festivals around the town's Saint's Day.
Later we headed into the central area (Zona 1) for an excellent lunch at Restaurant Altuna (5a Ave 12-31, followed by a stroll down the pedestrian only street and the Parque Central.
And lots of pottery

At the Museum of Anthropology

The heads carved into the back of this bench were so animated

The Ixchel Museum of Textiles and Clothing 

The courtyard of the Museum of Anthropologie

In general you are allowed to touch nothing in
the Ixchel Museum but they had a small section
where you could try the local headpieces (not
in handwoven fabrics of course).

Restaurant Altuna in central Guatemala City where we
enjoyed Spanish specialities

Bacalao (dried salt cod) with pimentos and garlic

Scott's Paella

the "side dishes" with my Bacalao

The central room of the restaurant - the old courtyard of the
original Colonial home.

A look down one of the main streets

The enormously popular pedestrian only street that is
bisected by the main Plaza.
One of the covered shopping centers along the way
The mayor of Guatemala City wanted to give the citizens a
taste of Christmas in snow country! Here is the "ski lift" in
the Parque Central with the Presidential Palace behind.
The skating rink. Notice most of the people are clinging to the
sides of the rink. After a while many managed tentative
movement to the center. There weren't many experts!
This facade of the original Cathedral is mostly intact after
multiple earthquakes. 
The interior is very bright and huge with lovely flower
arrangements at the alters, decorated for Christmas
Clowns and entertainers of all kinds provided fun for the many
families that paraded the streets and park
I loved the hats on these two boys - posing
with one of the street "statues"
This group of kids enjoy a rest and some snacks. Unlike the countryside, here even the girls were modern dress.
The new "street cars" that provide safe and comforable
transportation on set routes through the city. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Zunil and Fuentes Georginas

The beautiful vegetable fields around Zunil
We did a half day tour of Zunil and the Fuertes Georginas with a friendly guide named Billy. Marieke arranged it for us from 9 am to 1 pm for 200 Quetzeles each (about $22) and it was great. First he drove us along back roads to Zunil, a pretty market town spread along the river with lush gardens climbing up the hillsides. Farmers here grow wonderful vegetables and fruits which they export all through Central America. The main Plaza is dominated by an unusually lovely church with a facade dominated by 8 pairs of serpentine columns. We visited the Cooperative Santa Ana where women weave a wide variety of cloths on many looms, from ribbon to blanket sized. We had a full tour of the big and well lit facility and all the women looked very happy. The selection of fabrics for sale was outstanding and we couldn't resist buying one piece.
Next we visited the current location of San Simon in Zunil. San Simon is also known as Maximon and is a much venerated non-Christian deity. He's a combination of the Mayan gods, Pedro de Alvarado (Spanish conqueror of Quatemala) and Judas. It's a bit vodoo/black magic. Many people come to ask for blessing and to make sacrifices. He's a dapper figure and in our case, smoking a cigarette! His effigy is moved every year on the Festival of San Simon in October.
From there we drove up into the mountains to The Fuertes Georginas, a nature spa in a spectacular setting. Four pools of various temperatures are fed by hot springs and are framed by walls of vegetation and flowers. There are changing rooms and bathrooms as well as a attractive restaurant. Scott and Billy were able to fully enter the scaulding hot pool but I couldn't manage to keep my toe in! I settled into a nice warm pool and made some friends there.
Later Billy dropped us off at the Panorama Restaurant overlooking Xela and we had an outstanding lunch overlooking the city. This is run by a Swiss family. Scott had cheese fondue and I had raclette. Perfect!
The Zunil Plaza from the church steps

The ornate facade of the Zunil Church.

Scott and Billy in the church at Zunil. That's
a real Christmas tree - very few are allowed
to be cut.

The inside of the church

These women are looking at the legal live trees. These were
the only ones we saw in all our trip. They are rare. People
use artificial trees

This woman was finishing off a piece of cloth at the Coop

A selection of products

We watched this woman weaving the intricate pattern and
counting all the stitches

Our hostess at the Cooperative.

Our guide did up my hair like her's with a long
woven ribbon

This loom is making the same fabric as the piece we bought.

San Simon on his throne. That's a real
lit cigarette is his mouth!

The shrine of San Simon with gifts in front. Others were
burnt out in back. We saw the burnt out fires.

The farms at Zunil

Not sure what this woman is doing - looks like laundry?

We could identify cabbage, cauliflower, lettace and carrots

Irrigation used to all be by hand but we saw hoses with
spray guns at several places

The hot hot pool - notice there are few people in it.

The warm pools - my favorite was the furthest
That's the one on the right

You can see the wall of vegetation surrounding
the pools

Long view.

Scott picks up some sweets for the road.

The Panorama Restauranat in Xela

The view from the Panorama

Cheese Fondue and Raclette with all the fixings!