Tag: Guatemala

Travels by Textiles – My Guatemalan Sleeping Bag

I learned a long time ago that the best souvenirs to bring home were things that were easy to pack, wouldn’t break, and didn’t weigh too much. In my shopping abroad, my further requirement was that souvenirs be specific to the country where obtained, and ideally handmade as opposed to factory produced in China (unless I am, in fact, at a factory in China). It was during a solo backpacking trip through Central America, many passports ago, that I discovered and purchased my first such souvenir. A textile.

With this blog as my loom, please join me as I thread the writer’s needle and weave some travel tales around images of textiles. I’ll start where my collection officially began, Guatemala. I hope you enjoy.

MY GUATEMALAN SLEEPING BAG

When I stumbled off the bus at Chichicastenango in the highlands of Guatemala, all I could think about was getting to the market to take pictures. I was wandering with all my senses, seeking faces to immortalize, moments to freeze, and scenes to turn into art. I was fully absorbed in my mission when, through my lens, I noticed a color – a green unlike any green I had seen before. A green that even the Velvia film in my camera could not do justice. A green that simply had to be touched to prove its existence.

I approached the green object billowing in the gentle breeze. Nearer inspection revealed that it was a quilt of sorts, a bedspread or blanket, and the closer I looked, the more enchanted I became. The green I saw from a distance was in fact comprised of several small multi-colored scraps – “pixels” of fabrics – each in itself providing a different tone and texture which, sewn together, harmonized with the others and orchestrated this incredible magnificent green.

My eyes still questioned it all, so I explored it by hand. I shut my eyes, and felt my way along a row of “pixels”. Sure enough, each color and each fabric scrap had it’s own feel, and no two were alike.

“Te gusta? Tengo otros colores…”

I was seeing colors, touching colors, and now, I was hearing colors too.

“rosa…maron…azul…”

I glanced at the others, all beautiful and unique, but none moved me like this palette of green.

“Quando cuesta?” I asked, ready to sulk away at the cost of such an extravagance. As it so happened, I really needed to replace my sleeping bag, but I didn’t want to be spending my travel budget on an item I could easily buy at home. I had put it off for days, but now here I was about to blow my sleeping bag budget on some fancy bedspre…BUT OF COURSE!!

I did my bartering, claimed my souvenir, rolled it up and stashed it in my backpack – using it as necessary, though sparingly, during my journey. Together we shared crowded bumpy overnight buses from the capital, Guate. We lazed in hammocks on the Caribbean coast in Livingston. We absorbed the smells of home cooked Guatemalan meals in Panajachel. We fended off throngs of ferocious mosquitos in the jungles of Tikal. By the end of my travels, every patch on that bedspread represented another experience, and together symbolized the whole of my Guatemalan adventure.

When I got home, I hand washed it in cold salt water (as advised to preserve color), and transformed my simple bed into a cultural exhibit and conversation starter. I’d backpacked through Guatemala. And this textile tells the tale.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby, check it out!

Guatemala – "Comfortable Vulnerability"

Antigua, Guatemala
The bluebird school bus weaves its way assuredly through the diverse landscape north of Guatemala City to Antigua. As much as my body wanted to nod off like the girl covering her head next to me, I could not shut my eyes from the beautiful countryside we were traversing. The air was fresh, mild, warm, tainted with the smoke of burning trash, and the wind just enough to keep comfortable in this central American climate.
After a quick shower of cool water, I relax on the rooftop patio of my modest accommodations. I hear birds everywhere. Scanning the horizons, I see that Antigua is surrounded on all sides by lush green volcanoes topped off in clouds. I feel the centuries of vulnerability in this place. The crumbled ruins here are the remains of earthquakes, volcanoes, mudslides, and who knows what else. Nestled among the giant mountains, the valley town of Antigua provides a false sense of security – these giants can erupt and destroy the town in any given moment. The earth here is uneasy, the terrain broken and the country is mapped out with fault lines. A land in geographical turmoil, where nature dominates, and humans continue to choose it’s beauty over their own safety. The rich colors of Guatemalan textiles also paint the houses, and a walk through the town is a feast for the eyes. With every disaster, a new and brighter coat of paint decorates the facades. They rebuild and inhabit this valley time after time, and I don’t blame them. It’s a comforting place, and I’m comfortable here, too.

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