In February, I traveled to Central America. After visiting my friend Meredith in Belize for five days, we traveled to Guatemala together. We began our journey by taking a boat from Punta Gorda, Belize to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. After arriving on shore and checking in at the immigration office, we walked to the bus stop.
Our bus ride to Guatemala City took about seven hours. My favorite parts of the bus ride were watching Oceans Twelve without subtitles and trying to figure out what was happening and watching the sun set out the bus window. We arrived in Guatemala City around 7pm, then took an Uber to Antigua, Guatemala.
After about twelve hours of traveling, we met up with Mere's husband, Andy. Mere and I hadn't had dinner yet, so we decided to walk to Samsara, a vegetarian restaurant a few blocks away. When we first arrived, it seems like they had closed for the night, but luckily they let us order take out. We both got the Tempeh Tacos: sautéed vegetables and tempeh on black corn tortillas, topped with slices of avocado and lime.These were the best tacos I've ever had. Hands down. I'm not sure if it was because we had been traveling for so long or because of the homemade black bean tortillas, but I have been dreaming of these tacos ever since I tasted them.
Mere and Andy woke up the next morning and took a bus to Lake Atitlán, where Mere would be competing in an ultra marathon. I stayed in Antigua to explore the art, food and culture that the former capital of Guatemala had to offer.
Before leaving for the trip, I signed up for a weaving workshop with a local artisan who lived in a nearby village. I knew that I wanted to try and create a weaving based off of some of my recent paintings, but didn't really know what would be possible to accomplish in a two-day workshop. So, on my first full day in Antigua, I went to Nim Po't, a handcraft and textiles market, to do some research. I wandered around the artisan market for an hour or two, studying the different weavings and jewelry for sale.
After going to Nim Po't, I walked to the bus station to take a chicken bus to Pastores to visit the Teysha workshop there. Luckily Belize also has chicken buses, so I had had some practice with how the informal bus system works. I wandered around the parking lot until I heard someone say, "Pastores, Pastores!" I walked up to the driver to confirm that the bus I was about to get on was going to Pastores, the area just outside of Antigua where boots are made by hand.
I first learned about Guatemalan textiles from the company Teshya. I visited their stand when I went to Newport Folk Fest in 2015 and bought a pair of their sandals. Seeing their shoes sparked my interest in Guatemalan textiles, so when I decided to travel to Antigua I knew I wanted to visit their workshop.
I got off the chicken bus and walked up and down the main street, peeking inside different boot shops until I finally accepted the fact that I wasn't going to find the shop on my own and walked into a leather shop to ask for directions. I eventually found the workshop, tucked away on a side street up a small hill, off the main road. The people who were working that day were extremely friendly and through a conversation of mixed Spanish and English they understood that I had traveled there to take a tour of the small shop. It was so cool to see the behind-the-scenes process of making the shoes and all of the different huipils that are repurposed to create the contemporary shoe designs. I was so excited about all of the beautiful fabric scraps in the workshop that I decided to design a custom pair of boots for my birthday. I picked out the type of boot I wanted and all of the materials and the artisans helped me measure the fabric. They will take a little while to make and ship and I am so excited to see them finished!
When I got back from visiting the Teshya workshop, I spend the rest of my afternoon wandering around the stalls of the Artisen's Market. I took a few more pictures of textiles that I liked--patterns that often incorporated vibrant reds, pinks and blues--and then walked back towards the center of town to eat dinner.
After spending a couple hours resting, I walked to Frida's, a nearby bar that Andy, Mere and I had considered going to on our first night in Antigua, before we decided to go to sleep early instead. The British/American duo A Different Thread had been hanging out outside the bar the night before and told us that they would be performing the following night, so I decided to go. The band met while busking in Ireland and play "British-Americana" folk music.
I woke up early the next morning and took a chicken bus to Santa Catarina Barahona. I got off at the last stop, at the center of town right in front of the village church. Dona Lidia, my teacher for the weekend, and her oldest daughter, who was headed into town, met me at the bus stop. Dona Lidia showed me the way to her house... up a steep hill, off a side street and through her husband's workshop to her lush house surrounded by green foliage.
When I arrived, I saw a few skeins of thread had been set out on a ledge. Dona Lidia taught me how to spin the skeins into balls of thread for weaving, using a small wooden spinning wheel. We each made a few balls of the colors I wanted to use and then set to work creating the weaving's warp (the vertical strings on a weaving).
I knew that it might be a little difficult for us to communicate because I only know a little bit of Spanish and she only knows a little bit of English. I wanted her to know that I am also an artist and that I wanted to use my paintings as inspiration for my weaving. I showed her some pictures of my artwork and some pictures of the textiles I had seen the day before. She seemed to understand what I wanted to do and showed me how to begin wrapping the threads around the wooden prongs and how to count the number of threads and switch colors.
I decided to base the design of my weaving on one of the sample weavings that she had brought out for me to look at, but quickly started to improvise. From the pictures I showed her and my excitement at all of the different thread colors, Dona Lidia realized how much I love color and encouraged me to change thread colors as often as I wanted to, instead of feeling like I had to stick to the traditional pattern. I took notes as I wrapped the threads around the wooden spokes, counting the number of threads of each color before switching to different color.
After several hours, we had created the warp, transferred it to the loom and began weaving the first 20 rows of the weaving. Around lunch time, I packed up my things and Dona Lidia walked me to the bus stop. On the way home, I noticed the fabric woven into the braid of the woman sitting in front of me. It reminded me how my dad use to braid my hair as a little girl when he worked from home.
On the second day of my one-on-one workshop, Dona Lidia and I got right to work, using thinner threads to create the weft of the weaving. At the bottom of the weaving, I created three bands of color similar to the traditional design I was basing my weaving off of, but decided to use a different color for each stripe. Then, Dona Lidia taught me how to use an "aha" (pick stick) to count threads and create colorful "puntas." We worked from a loose sketch I created in my sketchbook, but mostly I improvised which colors I wanted to use next and where I wanted to weave them.
In the middle of the weaving, I decided to create a zig-zag pattern (based on a design I had seen on one of the huipils at Nim Po't). Dona Lidia showed me how to count the threads to create the design and I began creating the zig-zag pattern. Unfortunately, we began running out of time, so Dona Lidia asked if I wanted help and offered to weave most of the zig-zag pattern to speed up the process. Nearing lunch time, she asked me if I wanted to come back the next day to finish the weaving, but I told her I couldn't because I was leaving to go back to the U.S. the next day!
She could tell how much I wanted to finish my weaving before I left, so she offered to let me come with her to the city work. We walked down the hill and rode a tuktuk to a small bus that took us to the city, and then walked several blocks to a courtyard, just a few minutes away from the hostel where I was staying!
Dona Lidia told me that she rents space in the courtyard to make and sell her weavings and that she has been doing this for several years. Her daughter and sister were also there when we arrived. Dona Lidia helped me set up the loom in the courtyard and I continued to work.
Once I finished weaving, she asked what I wanted to do with the ends of the threads. I showed her that I wanted to braid the ends, as a reminder of the beautiful textiles I had seen braided into the hair of the woman on the bus the day before.
Dona Lidia was so generous with her time and I learned so much from her in just two short days! If you are ever in Guatemala and want to learn to weave, I definitely recommend booking a lesson with her though Art Workshops in Guatemala.
As my travels came to an end, I decided to walk the streets of the city once more and try finding street food. I had found this blog post of vegetarian dishes to try in Antigua and was intrigued by the noodle tostadas mentioned at the food market. For about a dollar, they were worth trying!
I work up early on my last morning in Guatemala to catch a 7:30am bus to Guatemala City and I planned to visit the textile museum before I left. The hostel helped me book a car service that dropped me off at another hostel close to the museum.
I got to Guatemala city around 9:30am and walked about 10 minutes to the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena. When I got to the museum, there were a few school groups that were also visiting that day. I watched a video that explained the history of Guatemalan weaving--first in Spanish (with the student group) and then in English. I got the gist of the video when i watched it the first time, but was grateful to be able to also watch it in English and get the full meaning of the information.
The museum presented a detailed explanation of different parts of the weaving process, how the dyes and threads are made, and what some of the different designs represent.
I am so grateful for my time in Guatemala and the opportunities I had to learn more about the weaving process. I had a wonderful trip and am already trying to figure out a when I can return!
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