Friday, January 29, 2010

The People

Yesterday I shared some photos, most of them showing landscapes and buildings. Even though those photos may give you an idea about how beautiful Guatemala is, it is the people what make the essence of the country.
The way I see myself and Guatemalans in general is probably a simplistic one, I make no differences between who is rich or poor, or who is a real Maya descendant or a Mestizo, or who has received formal education and who has not, or who lives in big cities or in small towns.
Today, I want to share a few  photos of Guatemalan Maya-descendants wearing some of the most spectacular and vibrant clothes you will ever see.
Please click on the image to start the slideshow.
A Journey Through Guatemala - 2010-01-28

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Images that Speak for Themselves...

Some times, I just can not find the precise words to describe Guatemala and all the places I mentioned yesterday. That is why today I want to share some of the photos I have taken along the past years. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.
Please click on the image to start the slideshow
A Journey Through Guatemala - 2010-01-27

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Places are we Going to Visit?

Let us start saying that Guatemala is divided into 22 departments and each one of these departments has its own capital. For our purposes, I decided to use the division as presented in the INGUAT (Guatemalan Institute of Tourism) official Website, which will guide us through 7 amazing regions:

1. Guatemala Modern and Colonial: Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala. In terms of tourism, Guatemala City is probably the less visited destination in Guatemala while Antigua Guatemala is exactly the opposite. Despite the above statement about Guatemala City, I wait anxiously for the moment to describe it in detail, for now, I will just mention that within its limits is the ancient Maya city Kaminaljuyu, which dates back around 9,000 years and is one of America’s most notable archaeological sites. About Antigua Guatemala, one of the most beautiful places on earth, I have to say now that is one of the three Guatemalan places declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
2. The Living Maya Culture: Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Huehuetenango, Panajachel, Quetzaltenango, Tecpan, Totonicapán, Zunil. The whole region that we know as The Highlands is an area of extraordinary natural beauty and invaluable cultural richness where anyone can witness the Maya legacy and become part of a mystical experience.
3. The Ancient Maya World: Aguateca, Ceibal, Dos Pilas, Flores, Nakum, Rio Azul, Tikal Archaeological National Park, Yaxha, and Topoxte. In this region, we will appreciate the greatness and splendor of the Maya civilization. In 1979 Tikal, the largest excavated Maya city, and declared World Heritage Site by Unesco.
4. The Green Caribbean: Amatique Bay, Chocon Machacas Biotope (a nature reserve protected as one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered Caribbean Manatee), Lake Izabal, Livingston, Quirigua (another site declared World Heritage Site by Unesco), Rio Dulce. In this region we will find exuberant tropical nature surrounding Lake Izabal, which flows into Rio Dulce and then into the Caribbean Sea. This is the area where we will learn about the Garifuna culture, its music, and outstanding gastronomy.
5. The Natural Paradise of Las Verapaces: Candelaria Caves, Coban, Chilasco Waterfall, El Quetzal Biotope, Rabinal, Salama, San Jeronimo Valley, San Juan Chamelco, San Pedro Carcha, Tactic, and Semuc Champey. I will confess that this region is one of my favorites: it is house of the resplendent Quetzal –the national bird, some of the most impressive orchids including the rare Monja Blanca (Lycaste virginalis var. alba.), and several natural breathtaking monuments. In addition to that, the textiles are magnificent, the food is to die for, the coffee is outstanding, and the weather just gives you the perfect excuse to light up the chimney, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy either a good conversation or your favorite book.
6. The Exotic and Diverse Pacific Ocean: Monterrico (important for the sea turtle conservation), Pacaya Volcano National Park, Takalic Abaj and El Baul Archaeological Sites, and Xetulul and Xocomil Theme Parks. Guatemalans call this area The Coast. Bordering the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by impressive volcanoes, some of them active, beaches of volcanic sand, mangroves, and two important archaeological sites.
7. The Mystical and Natural East: Esquipulas Basilica, Ipala Volcano and Lagoon, Jalapa, Jocotan, and Jutiapa. This is a hot and seductive region, and one of the most impressive ecosystems one can imagine. I included a link in Jutiapa for personal reasons: it is not just my mother’s hometown, but also what gives me the White in my Maya-Mestizo-White origin.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is the Better Season for our Journey?

One of the wonderful features of Guatemala is the weather. Since I can remember, it is been called Land of Eternal Spring what literally means that we will enjoy a wonderful climate during this journey.

We have to keep in mind that being a tropical country, Guatemala is consistently warm and pleasant, with only two very pronounced seasons: summer (dry) and winter (rainy). The dry season goes from November to April and the rainy season from May to October.
Guatemala is also a mountainous country, and high and low temperatures within vary based on elevation. In general terms, the interior plains and coastal lowlands in Guatemala reach average daily highs near 80°F, with little seasonal change; the lower mountain valley temperatures are in the 65°F range, while the upper elevations average near 40°F.
Weather facts aside, the best season to visit Guatemala should be the one that better meets your interests; for instance, if you want to visit Chichicastenango, you have to be there on Thursday or Sunday since those are the market days and when you will have the opportunity to witness some ancient Maya rituals, or maybe you want to experience first hand the world-famous celebration of the Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala, then you have to plan your trip in advance because when I mentioned world-famous I really meant it.
As we advance in this journey, I am sure we will find not just the perfect season but also the perfect destination.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Starting the Journey

Before starting a trip, we need to know where we are going, therefore, I will start mentioning some simple facts: Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering to the North and West, Mexico, to the South, the Pacific Ocean, to the South East, El Salvador, and to the North East, Belize and Honduras.

However, what really matters for this purpose, are the complex facts. Is probable that some of you are already thinking that when somebody uses the word complex is due to the lack of knowledge on a particular subject. In this case, I have to excuse myself and explain that using "complex" has a reason, well, several reasons:

Having only 42,042 square miles, Guatemala is slightly smaller than Tennessee, with an approximate population of 13 millions, divided in two main ethnic groups: 50% Mestizo and 40% Amerindians; the rest is a combination of Europeans, Asians, and Continental Americans. Spanish is the official language of the country and it is spoken by 60% of the population; 40% of the population speaks any of the 23 officially recognized Maya languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca.

Thus, we could say that our history, our culture, our traditions, as well as our gastronomy have been influenced by at least 24 different ethnic groups. How many places can you mention with such diversity? Not so many I believe.