Guate, por fin

Well, it was certainly a whirlwind leading up to June 7… that is, the day I took off for Guatemala for the summer. What with final exams in April, traveling, visiting folks, and a bike race in May, and trying to get the house clean and the garden to a point where my summer renters just have to water and pull weeds… I can’t believe I actually got it all done. Of course, I had serious help for the garden and house cleaning (pictures and description of that later). But whew.

So, June 7, like it or not (and chores done or not… but mostly done) Doc and I arrived in Guatemala City.  My summer plans are to study Sipakapense (a K’iche’an language… specifically the language spoken to a greater or lesser extent at my field site), to take lots of pictures of environmental and cultural significance, and to rewrite a paper on advertising by the mining industry in Guatemala… lucky for me, I was greeted by this image as we left the airport.

"We invest in a country in development. The valuable thing is to develop."

"We invest in the dreams of a country in development. The valuable thing is to develop."

Right next to the English-language Visa billboards.  Oh, Goldcorp (Montana Exploradora) is the company that has a mine at my field site. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ostensibly, I wanted to be in the capital to talk to a couple of environmental NGOs based there.  In reality, I hadn’t been able to set up meetings before leaving the US, and so my out-of-the-blue emails to them were met with friendly suggestions to meet at a later date.  Doc wanted to be in the capital to meet with various bilingual publishing houses, but ran into the same problem as I did. So, we ended up spending three days being tourists, which was fine by me as it was my first time in the capital.

We stayed at a small guest house in Zona 13, right next to the airport. Relatively low crime, and walking-distance from the Museo de Archaeología y Etnología, which was our first visit.  We were greeted by a familiar name on the banners at the entrance to the museum.

Citado: C. Kottak 1994.

Citado: C. Kottak 1994.

That would be a citation of Dr. Kottak’s (former chair of my department) textbook Anthropology, used in several 101 classes, on the banner explaining “Anthropology.”  Oddly, they list five subfields. Huh.

The collection of Pre-Colombian artifacts was really impressive, although somewhat poorly organized and displayed.  There was a group of elementary school kids running around while we were there, and some of them would freeze and stare at us when they heard us speaking English. Then, giggling, they’d imitate us in Spanish along the lines of “Hee hee, we’re speaking English.”

Among my favorite objects were the ceramics. I really love the designs on some of the ceramic pots; they were surprisingly simple black and red geometric designs that were really striking.  On the other end of the ceramic design spectrum was this stamp– so intricate! I want to reproduce it on a mug when I get home, either with vibrant colors or with the same earth tones, or maybe one of each. I can’t decide which would be cooler.

Precolombian stamp, made of clay (I think it's a late Pre-classic for you archaeo geeks).

Precolombian stamp, made of clay (I think it's a late Pre-classic for you archaeo geeks).

Their “ethnology” section was quite a bit smaller than the archaeo part, but it was still interesting.  It didn’t hold a candle to the Museo Ixchel, though, located accross town in Zona 10.  I mean, check out their gorgeous website, for starters.

The Museo Ixchel is located on the campus of Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) on the far north end of Zona 10, in the building adjacent to the Museo Popol Vuh.  The Ixchel focuses on textiles and indigenous culture, while the Popol Vuh focuses on archaeology. Neither museum allowed photography, so definitely check out their beautifully designed and incredibly informational websites (available in English, too).

Zona 10, I should mention, is the swanky part of the city with absolutely the lowest crime rates.  I always wonder why thugs haven’t clued in to the profitability of that neighborhood. I think the answer has something to do with the fact that their bosses live there… don’t quote me on that one, though.  Doc and I spent some time wandering around on our second day trying to find a bookstore/ cafe mentioned in my guide book, but found it closed.  We ended up sitting on the patio of the Guatemalan equivalent of Panera (called “San Martín”) for a solid chunk of an afternoon, enjoying the free wireless and sandwiches.  We eventually discovered that the bookstore, Sophos, had just moved to an even swankier plaza/ mall in the Zona Viva (lively zone) of Zona 10. Never fear, we bought both books and refreshments in their cafe (coffee and chocolate mousse for me… did I mention that our first three days here were vacation? 😉 )

We headed over to the UFM campus on our third (and last) day.  I was shocked by how gorgeous the campus was– I mean, wow. They must sink some serious quetzales into landscaping.  There were little paved, covered paths that went between buildings, winding through lush ferns, flowers, and other foliage accented by the occasional imitation Maya stelae. I took a picture of this crazy flower on a tree… it looked like it had pink hair!

Fuzzy Pink Flower

Fuzzy Pink Flower-- 10 points if you can identify it!

Unsurprisingly, UFM has a particularly strong business program, and has inspirational quotes from Milton Friedman printed on their cafeteria tables.  Doc and I enjoyed a very economical lunch in said cafeteria– I had a chicken and avocado pannini, sugary coffee shake, and bottle of water for around $3 from the Guatemalan coffee chain “Gitane.”

The sugar and coffee concoction was delicious. Note the lush landscaping in the background.

The sugar and coffee concoction was delicious. Note the lush landscaping in the background.

The Museo Ixchel takes you through the Guatemalan textile tradition from Precolombian origins, to Spanish influence, to present day techniques, materials, and designs.  The exhibts are really nicely organized and designed, and include English translations of the descriptions (I admit: I defaulted to the English placards. I wanted to absorb more information.).  I searched in vain for a huipile from San Mateo Ixtatán in their gift shop, and settled on a funky “Creaciones Indígenas” t-shirt instead. I think “Creaciones Indígenas” is, in fact, a t-shirt company. But the design riffs on Maya glyphs, the money supported the museum, and I thought it was cool (side note: I’m wearing it today, and one of the travelin’ gringos in our hostel asked if I bought it at a store called “Urban Renewal” in Antigua [aka: Gringotenango]. She noted the “robot-guy design” on it. I just smiled and told her where I bought it, but she had never heard of the museum.).

The Popol Vuh museum is considerably smaller than the National Museum, but they make up for it with info-packed descriptions and a beautiful layout and design.  I learned a lot at both of these museums, and had a lot of geeky fun, too.

On Thursday morning we got up and grabbed a first-class (i.e. fan-CY!) bus to Xela (or, more properly, Quetzaltenango) the former K’iche’ capital of the Western Highlands, and the city that feels most like home in Guatemala.

Statue of Tecun Uman, colonial K'iche' hero, in the capital.

Statue of Tecun Uman, colonial K'iche' hero, in the capital.

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