Of all the photos I took in Guatemala on my trip, the above portrait is by far my absolute favorite shot and I believe epitomizes what everyday life in Guatemala looks like, at least in Jaibalito. We were returning to our “casa” (rental house) late in the evening when I saw this beautiful Mayan woman carrying a large load of firewood strapped to her back. A small child, I’m presuming her grandson, accompanied her. She stepped off of the path to allow us to pass. Cynthia encouraged me to take her portrait. I did not want to offend her in any way and so I attempted to ask her permission. As I tried to communicate with her, I realized that she spoke Kaqchikel, not Spanish. I had learned a few phrases in K’iche, and hoped they were similar enough to communicate. I started by saying “My name is Juventa.” (Ri in nub’i’ Juventa). Immediately her eyes lit up. She started speaking, but I didn’t understand what she was saying. The little boy next to her spoke a little Spanish and Kaqchikel and so he attempted to translate for her.
I pointed to her and then to my camera. She shyly hid her face with embarrassment but then turned and nodded, “yes.” As I went to take her photo, she continually covered her face, then all of a sudden she turned, and gave me a genuine smile. It was magnificent. The lighting illuminated the back of her beautiful black hair and the forest provided a soft box and gentle shade. To me, this beautiful woman demonstrated strength, humility, and perseverance. I loved photographing her. It was definitely a highlight of my trip.
Our “casa” rental
After photographing this woman, we went back up the mountainside to the rental. The house Cynthia rented proved to be a beautiful location. I felt very lucky. The shower (a pipe hanging from the ceiling) and bath were an outdoor style. It was kind of strange bathing, knowing the whole world could see you if they really wanted to. We did our best to hide and be modest but it was still weird. The toilet was also outside and hidden behind a little rock wall. I halfway expected to see a monkey staring back at me when using the restroom:) While no monkey appeared, I did see spiders as big as my palm and my very first scorpions (not my favorite memory).
Part of the rental house jutted out on top of this tall rock cliff. Luciano told me that the elders in the village were actually angry about this location as it used to be a sacred Mayan altar upon which this part of the house was built.
One of the most magnificent parts of the rental was the view of Lake Atitlán. Some say it is the most beautiful lake in the world, and I have to say from what I’ve seen, I agree. Surrounded by volcanoes, I witnessed some pretty amazing sunsets while there.
Everyday Life in Guatemala
The everyday life in Guatemala for most of the villagers in Jaibalito seemed to consist of survival. The men would catch a boat to go to work and the women would cook and collect firewood.
We came during an election year and so political advertisements and music played through loud speakers each night in Spanish. The irony of those campaigns was that many of the villagers didn’t even understand Spanish, so much of it was loud noise.
Even though Jaibalito is a small village, we were able to visit a German man who established a restaurant there. The food tasted delicious! The German restaurant had these amazing plants and surreal vegetation. In addition to the meatballs, we also ate tamales an elderly woman had made. She carried them for sale in a basket on her head. Once again, they were delicious!
Health and Safety
Speaking of food, on a side note, one travel tip I have while going foreign is to do everything you can to prevent sickness and parasites. I visited a health food store prior to my trip to get advice. I took EmergenC Vitamin C every morning while I was there. You dissolve it in your water and drink it. I also took a food grade diatomaceous earth as a preventative for worms and parasites. In addition to that, I took a probiotic to encourage good bacteria in my gut. Thankfully, I never got sick. I highly recommend doing all you can to keep your body healthy, especially when eating and traveling abroad.
One special memory I had in Guatemala was in delivering a blue baby hat that my daughter had made to donate. We found this Mayan woman with a new baby. The hat was a perfect fit and seemed to be appreciated. Inside her home was a solitary swing made out of a basket hanging from the ceiling. It had laundry in it and made a perfect place for her baby to be soothed.
The Local School
Many children in Jaibalito were fortunate enough to be able to go to school. We got permission to use part of the school grounds for some of our activities with the children. We had fun playing games, coloring, and skipping rope. I also read “The Giving Tree” in Spanish. Luciano translated it to Kaqchikel for the children who couldn’t speak Spanish. I was so happy to share one of my favorite stories with these children.
Tourism and Local Attractions
Cynthia and I took one of our days and spent it as tourists, enjoying the local attractions. We visited the Nature Reserve in Panajachel. It was lovely.
I especially enjoyed the swinging bridges.
There were butterflies and small waterfalls and streams.
After visiting the preserve, we went zip lining over Lake Atitlan. It was amazing!!!! Not restricted by US standards, we zoomed across amazing distances. (Safe? Who knows…)
On my last night, we visited the local open market in Panajachel, Guatemala. We enjoyed going from vendor to vendor, shopping for gifts for my children.
One treasure I found was an ancient Mayan pot for sale. It is now a priceless treasure to me. I will always cherish this time when I got to enjoy the everyday life and customs of this beautiful people of Guatemala.
That’s the end of my journey in Guatemala. Come back often to read about more of my adventures!
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