Traditional Maya Clothing

In the Guatemalan Highlands, traditional clothing is still weared quite often. Especially for ceremonials days. First time I came a cross the design of a traditional blouse, I remembered asking my mom, who know everything about clothes, how was it worn. It intrigued me. During my stay in Guatemala, I started photographing of these clothes and did some researches. It actually was a fun side project. This is the answer to my question, and much more.

Garments are traditionally made from cotton. It come in different natural colors from white to moka, but it is mostly colored with natural dyes. The indigo color for example, is extracted  from the leaves of the Anil, and the red come from a small bug. Every city  have there own color pattern.This was introduced by the Spaniards, to tell apart peoples from different regions. Most of the pictures used in this article were taken in Chichicastenango where purple is prominent. The other images are from Antigua, where women from different places come in with their richly colored blouses.

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In the picture you can see a woman dressed up for church. She is wearing a Huipil (blouse) and a Corte (skirt), hold together with a Faja (belt) just above the hips. In her head she wears a Cinta (headdress). Often a Rebonzo (shawl) is carried as well.

This is an example of a traditional Huipil. Fabrics are hand-woven by women. Figures and patterns are included during, or after the weaving. There are 7 embroidery techniques used in Guatemala. The designs depends of the region. It ranges from flowers to geometric patterns, to abstract birds, etc. When the textile is done, it is folded in two. Both lateral  sides are stitched together leaving some space for the arms.

The material of el Corte is usually a men job. they area made using an European loom. The fabric is wrapped around the hips to make the skirt. The number of layers depends of the climate, it can measure up to 7 meters! Two pieces of cloths are embroidered together by hand to make the skirt longer.

The blouse goes in the skirt and the are bind with a Faja (belt). It help to suit the clothes in an quite elegant way around the body. Rebonzo (shawl), is used for all kind of duties ,from carrying babies or goods, or simply warming.

The finishing touch would be the headdress, Cinta. Someone told me it represents a snake, turned around the head. It symbolize the femininity and also protect from the sun. There are a lots of variations; simply a piece of cloth folded in four and placed on the head, a ribbon braided in the hair, or a 15m long ribbon turned around the head.

Men also have traditional clothes, but out of ceremonial days, they are hard to find. In the villages around Lake Atitlan it is possible to spot traditionally dressed old men.

Although the clothes cut is really old, traditional clothing have been adapted to modern times. Sometimes its just an adaption of the blouses made out of industrialized materials. The youngster like to wear the skirt shorter creating a elegant mix of tradition an glamour.

Guatemala is a colorful country with many different clothing trends. The tradition has remained alive and evaluated over a long time. But will it survive the industrial clothes coming from North America?

 

​The Semana Santa in Guatemala

Guatemalans have a strong bond with the Maya culture. During the conquests, the mesoamerican religions were banned from the continent mostly because of the humans sacrifices they made. But can one impose a religion and ask people to forget their traditions and beliefs in a couple of centuries?

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Street art in Chichicastenango

For what we saw, the ancient rituals are not totally lost, they got mixed with the christian dogmas. Peoples go to church every week , but also practice offering to the Maya gods and seek help with the shamans. Another interesting trait, for them Religion seems all about suffering. Many representation of Jesus are bloodier here then what we see in Europe. Scholars thing, they associate the Passion of Jesus with ritual sacrifices.

 

bloody jesus

Last week, we had the opportunity to catch a glimpse on an amazing mix of traditions, the Semana Santa. The Holy Week, is the last week before Easter. It includes Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday (the Last Supper), Holy Friday when Jesus is crucified, and , the so creatively called, Holy Saturday.
The most popular place to see the celebration is in Antigua and for many reason; they make the biggest flower rugs, the city is only one hour from Guatemala City and it is a very touristic area. Every year, more than one million peoples come to attend this event.

Antigua-Guatemala

Pickpocket’s paradise

Knowing that, we choose to go in the clearly quieter village of Chichicastenango. Called Chichi or Mashito, by the locals, is at three hours from Guatemala city and one hour from Lake Atitlan. This colonial style village is famous for his huge market on thursday and sunday.
Build atop of a maya platform, is the 400 year old church, Santo Tomas. The platform have 18 steps representing the 18 months of the Maya Calendar. On the other side of the main square, the Capilla del Calvario is a smaller version of the church. Locals still put candles on the steps and burn incense (sometimes trashes) in the altars in front of them.

 

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Santo tomas church

 

Another place of worship there is called Pascual Abaj. It is an anthropomorphic stone surrounded by crosses, located atop the nearest hill. Here they still perform ceremonies today. They are multiples altars around they deity. each of them with particular use. Some are to ask for a cure, other to ask permission for a wedding, to get pregnant, to give a newborn a future, to remove curses. There is even one special to cure alcoholism.

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Pascual Abaj

Now, back on the Holy Week ceremony.

On Holy Wednesday, we weren’t very much paying attention, we only saw a parade entering the church.
On Holy thursday we were a little more careful. We crossed a small procession in the morning. A paso with a marching band and men from a brotherhood finely dressed in their most colorful clothes. After that, we went to the church, a schedule said that there will be mass from 6pm to 5am. Maybe we won’t attend… In the meantime in the village, there were different events going on, what grabbed our attention was a Christian Rock concert. As the church nearby was pumping music at full volume, they had to maxed out their PA system, leading to an awful mishmash of singing and distortion noise. But after that, we were pleased by a live-action reenactment of the Passion of Christ. At the end of the concert, roman guards started filling the crow, obviously looking for someone (Spoiler: Jesus). They soon found it, a quick trial follow, than the poor bastard is crucified. Oh, I forgot to say that it is all lip synced, and that at the end, Longinus (the spear guy) started singing. Two words: pure magic! Later on in the local theater there was another group revisiting the Passion, in Rap. No need to say, i had to change underwear two times this day.

Good Friday is probably the most impressive day.
Peoples work all day making decorating the streets with alfombrasephemeral carpets featuring elaborated drawing made of colored sawdust, and decorated with flowers petals, and fruits. It look like most families make them if front of their houses. The sawdust carpet tradition came from Europe, but the indigenous adopted the folklore probably because it remind them the way their ancestors used to make offering to the gods. So instead of pure christian iconography, some families prefer to draw animals, traditional geometric pattern or maya deities.

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A woman applying sawdust

The great procession start from the church at 4pm, do a tour in the village and return around 11pm. When the defilee arrive in a street, first the carpet is copiously smoked by turiferarios (the incense guys), then, as a sign of acceptance for the offering, the pasos porters steps on it, blessing the makers. When the procession is passed by, the family members clean the street as fast as they can. Some are saving parts of the blessed sawdust, maybe for shamanic use (or maybe just as fire starter).
The whole parade is followed by a marching band playing song about suffering and asking for forgiveness.


When the procession arrive at the church, you can’t help but notice some strange puppets hanged at the front door. Those are Maximon/Judas/San Simon effigies, not three differents though, all in one.
Maximon is a maya god, still venerated today, he is the guardian of agriculture and fertility, but also the rainmaker. Generally speaking he is a wealth bringer. Ancients used to hanged him in trees for view. When the spaniards arrived, they assimilated it to Judas (who hanged himself after the death of Jesus). So now, this deity is Maximon on thursday, and Judas on friday. It is a very complex god that deserve is own article. Maybe later..

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Maximon

Holy Saturday is the day of Jesus funeral, mostly hours long mass. We went to hot springs instead.

And Finally Easter, which we saw in Quetzaltenango, a bigger town.  The cortege was a lot more colorful, shorter and accompanied by joyous singing about the King of all Zombie. “HE IS ALIVE!”.

 

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We were really charmed with what we saw and lived in Chichicastenango. The entire ceremony was so typical, it felt genuine. You can’t draw a line between catholic religion and maya beliefs, along the years, they established a balance between old and really old traditions.

​Somethings You Might Want to Know Before Going to Belize

Somewhere between Mexico and Guatemala, in the Caribbean there is a small country. By tourist Belize is known for 3 things: The Maya ruins in the highlands, the Jungle with amazing Animal wildlife, and the beautiful riffs and island for the one’s that are looking for the sea . The most impressive one is ‘the blue hole’.
Here a little of our impression of Belize.

Pink line to Belize City

The Chicken bus is the main transport in the whole country. A chicken bus is an old school bus from the USA, painted in the most amazing colors. They ride the 3 main roads in the country for a small fee.  Local’s buses to small villages are scarce. Ask a local if you need one.

Good roads aren’t common in Belize and tourist attractions are far. For example the fasted way to get to Lamanai is 1h by boat, Caracol is 2h by jeep and for a good diving spots a boat can be very helpful.

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Our trip through Belize

€ 2 for a coca

The main economy of the country is tourism, therefore everything is really expensive.

Local tour operators offer you the fanciest tours, with even more fancier prices. In a positive note, prices are all inclusive. (Cold drinks, fresh foods, transportation, guide, and entrance fee).  To give you an idea € 90 to Caracole ( Maya ruins) and 250 $ uds to the famous blue hole…. Is it worth it if you can’t dive?

Also most food is imported from the us. You can find cucumber, but they cost 5usd for two. As it is the same price as a bottle of rum, the only cheap things there, you can imagine which one we choose. 😉

Strange mix

There is no real description of who a Belizean is.  The citizens are Africans, Jamaicans, descendants of the Maya and a mixture. Also strangely enough almost all the food shops we saw were Chinese and Mennonite (Amish) groups are in charge of the bigger part of the country’s food production.

Since it’s a British colony the national language is English and Kriol as nonofficial language, it sounds like English but its incomprehensible. Other common languages are Spanish, old German and Chinese.

Mayans didn’t disappear.

Today Belize has only 400.000 inhabitants. (more or less) 800 years ago the Maya population reached over 1 million over the same area.

The 3 main ruins to visit are Caracol, Lamanai and Xunantunich. These big cities were populated by the Mayan from there preclassic period until the Spanish conquest.

Caracol has an impressive pyramid representing the 3 worlds of Mayan religion. BTW this is also the highest building of the country.

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Caracol

Lamanai and xunantunich have both impressive sculptures in different kind of ways. And both also have the in 3 parts devided pyramids.

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Lamanai

 Xunantonich

 

An other nice visit would be ATM. Were in Mexico they used cenotes, here they used caves to do offerings and ceremonies. ATM would be the most impressive one with lots of pottery and a skeleton. Don’t be afraid of a little caving to get there.
Mayan culture declined a long time ago. Contrary of what they say, Mayan evaluates with times. Descendant of maya are proud to tell you about their origin. Now, In the south of Belize there are a couple of modern Mayan communities. Tours can take you there. Since we are going to spent some time in Guatemala, we hope to learn there what ancient traditions they still have left.

Go slow

Everybody needs money but the main spirit here is ‘go slow’. We taught you can feel it even more on the islands. Peoples are so slow that if they go slower they will walk backward.

Wall-painting 

They are watching you

All travel books tell you to avoid Belize city, even more at night. But in reality where there are tourists, there is money… So as a tourist pleases be really careful with your belongings and don’t walk alone at night. After being there; Belize city isn’t worth the risk. Unless you have a things for ghettos, there is not a much to see there. Passing through by taxi is enough to catch a glimpse of this peculiar town. The Islands and the highlands are safer but keep your head up.

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The country and wildlife are really beautiful. On the local reefs there are so many birds and fishes to observe. You can see deep down in the water. The islands and their beaches are lovely. A divers paradise.
If you are more into safari; the monkey’s are never far away, iguanas are sunbathing on hidden rocks and not forgetting the colors of the toucans around. (This is the national bird). Even as a birdwatchers there is a great deal of fun.

Like locals say: You have to see it before you Belize it!!!

Little Toucan: The national bird 

The lazy Lizard 

 Crocodile

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Little seahors

Eating Monkey 

An overview of Mexico’s pre-Colombian Cultures

We have been traveling in Mexico for a month now. And as you may know, the country have a very rich pre-Columbian heritages. Visiting and learning about them has been a great deal of fun. Something even more fun is talking about it with locals; I never imagined that aliens have such an influence in these Cultures.

The first known civilization of Mexico is the Olmecs. They lived in the Gulf of Mexico from 1500 BC to 450 AD. Amongst all the very impressive statues they made, they left behind them 17 colossal heads who share similar traits and came with different headdresses. Scholars things they represent their leaders. These sculptures height range from 1,5m to 3,5m, and weight between 6 and 50 tons. Ho, also the rocks they are made of, came all from the same mountain although they are found in the entire Olmec land. How they moved those 50 Tons boulders without wheels, is still an enigma.

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Olmec heads

After the Olmecs came the superstar of the New World, the Mayans. Living mainly in the South of the country they were great builders, the pyramid of Tikal still stand at more than 70m above the rainforest.
Their main Gods were Chac, the God of corn, Caan the one who lit the sky, and Ah, the god that pees in the sky (aka the God of Rain). Their civilization standed for an insane amount of time, more than 3500 years! The Preclassic period (the beginning) started around 2000 BC, and they were in the Postclassic period by the arrival of the Conquistadores ,around 1520 AD. A local told us that when the Spaniards arrived, they escaped with aliens in caves deep down in the Earth… Btw, they are still living there and they will eventually come back…

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Mayan pyramid, El Mecco

Simultaneously, in the North were the Teotihuacanos. They lived in the huge city named (Spoiler alert) Teotihuacan. This antique megalopolis (the populations has been estimated more of 250k) is located at 40 km in the North of Mexico DF, and was the 6th biggest city in that epoch. It feature one of the largest structures of Mexico. The pyramids of the Moon (40m height) and the pyramids of the Sun (65m height). They have been built between 200 BC and 750 AD. Those buildings were constructed around a main street , the Avenue of Dead, who is 4 km long and in perfectly alignement with the sunset on specific religious dates. The inhabitants eventually left the place for Gods-know-what reason around 900 AD. When the Aztecs discovered the city hundreds of years later, it was already in ruins. It was so big that they believed no men could have built it, and that in this city ‘the Gods were born’. They reused the ruins as a ceremonial Center.

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Avenue of the Dead and pyramid of the Sun

 

An other influent people were the Toltecs. Those nomads were seen in different parts of the Country around 700 DC. They are know for the pyramid of  the four Atlantes. An atlant is a column sculpted in the form of a man, but for the locals the name implied that they represent “actual” Atlantes, from Atlantis because of their performance. They have big heads like helmets, big boots, but most of all; The fact that they have what look like 60’s Scifi movie’s laser guns in their hands doesn’t help.

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Zap!

A lot of peoples we talked with about them believe that the Toltecs were in contact with aliens (yep, them too), that their cities were built at special place with moving magnetic fields and the aliens have helped them building the pyramids. Sound like a ‘chili overdose’ if you ask me.
Of all the ancient cultures over here, they seemed to be the best astronomers. They built special pool to observe night sky reflection without breaking their necks.
They had big influence in Postclassic Mayan constructions. Their best work of art is El Castillo in Chichen Itza, where you can see an impressive lights and shadows effects on Spring equinox, that look like a giant snake is descending the pyramids stairs.

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Chichen Itza

Central Mexico, 1300 AD. A group arrived from the North and decided to build a city on an island of the Texcoco Lake. They named the city Tenochtitlan. Soon they started the building of artificial islands. Known as the Mexicas or the Aztecs, their influence reached over Central and South Mexico which can be observed in the late Mayan buildings. The modern city of Mexico DF is constructed on top of Tenochtitlan. The spaniards ripped apart the Templo Mayor to build the Cathedral of Mexico.

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Aztec Calendar

 

Although these cultures are different they have a lot of things in common. Mostly some Gods, human sacrifices and the Ball game.

Over the ball game ‘a game where the winner loose his life’ I can write a whole article. But for know, What i can say is that the game is different in every city. Other rules, other balls, other players sacrificed. Players played in teams of 3 to 13 and have to pass the ball in a ring only by touching it by hips, knees and elbow.

The God Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Snake. He is the God of wind and learning. He is also one of the creator of the World. His celebration started from Teotihuacan where the first temple was found and spread later to all other Cultures (600- 900 AD). Like all Gods he had different names in different cultures. For example, Mayans called him Kukulkan.

During our stay in Mexico we already crossed others Cultures. I know there are a lot more than these five who made history more than the others. This is just a quick review of what we have learned so far. Later on we will visit more Mayans settlements in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.so you can expect to hear more about them.

About Peruvian gastronomy, or at least the northern one.

So, All I remember from Expedición Robinson, Is that they were eating mostly rice, manioc, and some bananas. I never actually imagine that, for some peoples, its the only things they bite.
What do I ate here:

For breakfast my hostess offer me a bowl of cereals (Quinoa and Oatmail) flavored with cinnamon. Its actually something I should try at home, that come with an omelette or a hard boiled egg and bread. For the vitamins, papaya or pineapple juice.

Lunch, 14:00; Some vocabulary for peru :

– Lomo saltado: is tomatoes, onions and beef cooked in some kind of a soy sauce; actually really easy to do at home.

– Arroz chifa: chinese rice

– Estufado: chicken or beef cooked in sauce in a pot.

– Peruvian Hamburger: with egg and fried banana. And no, its not lama meat!

– Tallarina: pasta with sauce, meat, no vegetables.

–  Cuy: Guinea pig

– Tamales y humitas: Mashed corn cooked in a corn leaf

– Cebada: A drink extracted from some plants.

– Choclo: The peruvian corn.

– Chicha: a drink made of fermented corn, also referred as corn beer.

– Pineapple water: Boiled pineapple peels,  served cold.

At lunch I often eat at a little cantina in town. There is a real family atmosphere there, and the owners, Guiermo and Nalda, are so sweet! I eat the most local food there. Every day a new discovery! Its so good, I definitely going to miss them. https://www.facebook.com/Heladeria-Florencia-Jaen-1036342913119277/?ref=ts&fref=ts, besitos

When I went on the trip with the elderly,  they all brought there lunch.  A home prepared cooked meal; that had riced and chicken or cuy. Some had patatos aswell. No sauce, no vegetables. Its seems here in Peru they don’t eat a lot of legumes..

Something I don’t really understand is their love for the jelly. it is sold in small plastic bags on every street corner and they just eat it out of the bag.. I remember,  Mexico is also jelly-crazy.

In the picture some diches I ate at the restaurant. It tastes is like 10 times better then it looks like! By trh way, they served me extra vegetables . 😄