Thursday, October 27, 2011


Mayan Deer Dance Festival

Guatemala 008It's a long, hot summer here in the Caribbean coastal area of Guatemala. The oppressive heat and high humidity make the simple act of walking seem like a marathon run. But there are always interesting things to see and events to go-see-do that drag us off our boats to seek adventure.

Down river from us is a biological reserve called the Biotopo Chocon Machacas to protect the Caribbean manatee and other jungle native wildlife. Within this area is also a school for the indigenous Q'eqchi' Mayan children, a small rustic hotel and restaurant. The local people were putting on a presentation of the traditional "Mayan Deer Dance" not only for their own enjoyment, but also as a fundraiser for the school.
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Guatemala 007So off we went! We threw off the dock lines, and headed down river in our boats. There are no "road signs" on the river so thankfully a cruiser who had been there before guided us all into the isolated, calm lagoon (Lagunita Salvador (15.47’ .00 North, 88.50’ .51 west for you google earth folks) and dropped our anchor. All around us we could hear and see the large flocks of water fowl and land-based critters. I sure wish we could have just anchored in this place for many days because it was so serene and natural. But, this is a lawless locale and it is not recommended to be out here alone. There is just too much poverty and what little we have can bring great wealth to a man who struggles to feed his family. So we had a little group of us for safety.

Soon enough we dinghy'd to the dock, tied up, and walked along the wooden boardwalk through the jungle to the facilities.Guatemala 017
The older children had decorated the "Welcome" arches across the walkway with festive balloons and were anxiously awaiting us. Once we had paid our donation and pocketed our little slip of paper which was our meal ticket, we were free to explore the site before the performance. My head kept spinning around to study the beautiful huipiles (blouses) of this village.

Guatemala 060Down here in the low altitude (hot) eastern Caribbean side of Guatemala, the women wear lace huipiles often with elaborate embroidery. Most of the lace is machine made, and often so is the embroidery. But I do see some crochet lace, and handmade embroidery if I look closely. Underneath the huipile they wear a simple single colored camisole. Guatemala 068

The gathered skirt is also worn as everyday wear. I would love to be able to wear such beautiful clothing! But that would probably be insulting to the Mayans (won't stop me from buying some though 'cause they sell all of this locally). And yet, at the same time I am thankful for all the strong women in the world who have fought for us (albeit not all of us yet) to be able to wear more comfortable clothing of our choice. I'm still wanting to be able to go shirtless at the beach like a man though. Let's do it in my lifetime, OK? (stepping off soap box now)
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The eco-lodge is a beautiful 2-story structure made from locally sourced natural materials for the most part. This view is the upstairs hallway with doors leading to the dorm (hotel) rooms off both sides. I loved (and of course had to gently stroke) the decorative and functional privacy screening made from bark-striped branches in their naturally shaped form. The whole building is open and airy to let the breezes through (no air-conditioning).

Peeking inside the rooms, we find your basic necessities of wood furniture, bedding, and mosquito netting all under the palm-thatched roof. Really, what more could you want out here?  Guatemala 066For lounging, there is a nice open-ended rustic sitting room at one end of the lodgings. Can you see yourself  reclined here with a cold fruit beverage, immersed in a good book, bird watching (or listening) and knitting? Or taking a stroll down to the lagoon to try and spot a manatee coming up for air while thunderheads rise over the mountains to the south?

Guatemala 018Back outside, we stopped to watch the women preparing the feast. The preparation of meals in rural Guatemala is a long, hot and tedious process.

First, the corn must be ground into a fine meal before mixing with water to make the tortillas and/or tamales. The dried rice needs to be cooked, and the fowl (turkey in this case) must be slaughtered, water fetched, fires started and tended, and root vegetables harvested, peeled and cut.
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What's in this big kettle underneath the banana leaves? Tamales! The women have made these by putting a handful of corn dough (masa) into a piece of banana leaf, then folded and wrapped the leave securely around the dough. These then are all placed together in a kettle with water and steamed for a long time to cook the dough.Guatemala 023

These ladies are working in the more modern kitchen complete with running water. We assume that this is the kitchen where meals are normally made for hotel guests, while the big kettles are for large gatherings such as this festival. I noticed that they remove their lace huipiles when cooking. They always wear them when in town shopping, and they put them back on later.

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We were quite impressed by the tidiness of the village houses. They palm-thatched single room houses did have wood siding which is an upgrade from the adobe mud that we've seen elsewhere too. Of course there was the medium-sized family dog wandering about.
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Ah ha! The mirimba (Guatemala Xylophone) has been set up and everyone is eager for the show to begin. People emerge from the surrounding areas and line the grass field; women in their colorful clothing, children squirming, and men in western wear. The Mayan Deer Dance is a traditional show where the actors wear brightly colored and  highly decorated costumes while sharing the story of the Conquistadors arrival.
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Actually, the tale is a satire and pokes fun at the Spaniards who kill off all the deer, jaguars and destroy the balance of nature. At the end, after also killing off the Mayan people, all that is left are the foolish Spaniards. It is said that when this dance was performed for the Spaniards, they mistakenly thought it was a tribute to their conquest! Hence the joke was on them.
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Before the dance can begin, women offer a blessing to the players with burning incense. Then let the show begin! No, we couldn't follow all of it, but it was fun just to watch the dancers flounce about. At times, the audience would gasp or laugh in reaction to the story. Obviously, they all knew what was happening!
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Guatemala 059Guatemala 046So, let's's one of the deer, and one of the Conquistadors. You can tell by the masks. One of these must be the jaguar, oh here it is. Oh,  it was just too hard to tell at times. The costumes were so elaborate and we were sitting some distance away. These dancers really went all out with their pantomimes; running around in the heat in these heavy costumes and full facial masks. During the intermission, we were able to see some of the costumes up close. The rental of these costumes is quite expensive and this festival doesn't happen every year in a particular village, but moves about the area.

When the conquistadors had finally killed off everything that was living and were alone in the "new world" the dance ended. Now, it was time to eat! Check out this great little outdoors sink where the basin is a miniature cayuca (dug out canoe).

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Those of us who were visitors and paying guests were treated to our meals inside the dining room of the hotel. Also, some of the villager men ate inside, while the women and children ate their meals outside. We were brought our large bowls of steaming hot soup as the main course - complete with a whole turkey leg or thigh in it! These were your smaller turkeys so don't imagine the size of the drumsticks you see in your American or Canadian homes for Thanksgiving.

The tamales were a bit of a flavor nor filling of any kind. They were just fist sized balls of corn dough. I ended up slicing pieces of my tamale into my soup. I later saw that many of the women were sitting on the grass chatting and nibbling their tamales by taking pinches of the dough with their fingers and putting it in their mouths. They seemed to really be enjoying it too. Much as I love corn, I just can eat that much plain corn dough at one sitting.

Also in our soups was 1/2 of a potato and about 1/2 of a choyote squash (about the size of a large pear), and some sort of leafy herb floating about. Boiled rice was served on the side. The broth was quite tasty. So we chewed through our rubber turkey and enjoyed the company of other people and our surroundings.

Guatemala 077Now the beverage was very special! The local village grow cacao trees and process the chocolate from the beans. Pure, unadulterated Guatemalan chocolate is the finest type of chocolate in the world. We were served the ancient chocolate beverage of the Mayans - cold water chocolate. For modern tastes they did add sugar. I really liked it and drank not only mine but some other folks' as well. I was a very lucky gal indeed.Guatemala 048

By late afternoon, we were full of our typical Mayan festival meal and were ready to head to a safe anchorage for the night and new adventures to come.

Thank you to all the dancers, organizers, cooks, cleaning crews, decorators and everyone else who contributed to making the Mayan Deer Dance such an interesting event.
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Mayan Blessings

Sunday, October 09, 2011



Look what Jonesy spotted yesterday morning! It's a Yellow Blotched Palm Pit Viper, and was a really big one too and bright lime green.

Jonesy was taking out the garbage when he looked out into the small canal by the trash pen and saw this beauty swimming quickly away from him.  Yes, it is venomous.

You know, This would be a great color combination for sock yarn wouldn't it?

Friday, October 07, 2011


Knitting Content Continued

So, to continue (after my computer's insane touchpad deleted the rest of the prior blog post and I had a mini-meltdown / hissy-fit combo) here is a photo of the Waterside Socks on the Six Sox Knitalong Yahoo group.

I learned a couple of new techniques from James' pattern. First off, the mini cable is so easy to execute! It is made by double wrapping a stitch on one round, slipping it on the next 2 rounds, then crossing the elongated stitch over 2 other sts - easy and no cable needle needed!

Next, I learned how to knit a "Strong Heel". This heel and gusset construction does not require any short-row wrap and turns or picking up stitches. Very smooth indeed. And it fits great! Now, the pair has been completed, blocked, and tagged to go to the orphanages in Kazakhstan through the Motherless Child Foundation. The yarn is an older Opal "Feelings" sock yarn.

Next up is a plain pair of socks for the kids knit with the ever-popular Regia "Steps". Jonesy says this is one of his favorite pairs I've knit in a while. Nope, not for you dear. You don't even wear socks anymore down here in the tropics.

My knitting guild, that I still belong to (The Camellia City Stockinettes in Sacramento, Calif.) has several on-going charity knitting projects. I haven't done much to support these the past few years because they require washable yarn and all I had was wool (soft, luscious, lovable wool). So, on my recent visit to the states I brought back with me several POUNDS of acrylic (or ack!rylic as us woolly folks call it) just to knit up some of these charity items.

First up is a chemo cap in a subtle shade of Red Heart Chunky yarn sized for a man...a BIG man. I'm just not used to giant yarn and needles after spending years knitting up socks so it turned out kinda extra-large. Anyway, I hope somewhere out there some guy will be happy to find a hat that fits his large bald head.

Then, while I was stash-diving in my yarn lockers on the boat (I consider this exercise by the way) I found some incredible mercerized cotton yarn. The colors were so bright and cheerful! Even though I preferred subdued colors for my headgear when I was bald from chemo, I know that there are other folks who like to wear happy colors. So, I knit up this whimsy chemo cap just for whoever that is going to be. The cast on edge has picots (little bumps) , then there is some 2x2 ribbing. I love how the yarn colors pooled at the top of the hat! Doesn't that look like a storm map or an outer-space nebula? the hat is topped by a length of I-cord doubled back to form a loop.

I was tickled to discover that there are other crafty folks summering here on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala! Now, we have a weekly Wednesday craft session at my marina where we can all get together and create. At our first couple of sessions we all played with polymer clay (Sculpty, Fimo) and made beads, pendants and little toys. Can you believe that I've had all the materials and tools for this on the boat for five years and never even touched it? I stocked up on supplies before we left the states because I thought that I would have SO MUCH TIME to be creative. Not. I have to confess that, just perhaps, my knitting addiction may have contributed to this lack of time to pursue other crafty endeavors.

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My pendants
Anyway, we have been having a lot of fun with beading, knitting, and next week is card-making with our scrapbooking supplies. I need some cards to attach to the socks that I knit for the orphanages and I'm sure the younger gals (ages 13 and 8) could and would help me out.

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Currrently on the knitting needles is this blob. Sometime next year, which isn't that far away if you think about it, this will be a new pattern for the Holiday Mystery Gifts yahoo group. What is it? I'm not telling! But I can tell you that Jonesy likes it...OK that is because it is purple. But I accept supportive murmurs from him when I can get them.



Guatemala AmbulanchaSo, if you have a town that has no roads through the jungle to it and the only access is by boat from sea or the river, how to you transport injured or sick people in from outlying communities? By an Amubulancha of course! It's simply an ambulance that is a boat (lancha) instead of a street vehicle.

Guatemala 087This photo was taken at the docks in Livingston, Guatemala which is an outpost on the far eastern side of the country on the Caribbean Sea. Along the coastline and up the Rio Dulce river there are many small Mayan or Garifuna settlements which benefit from this service to Livingston. Also, I have to assume that the lancha can blast over to the larger hospital in the big port of Porto Barrios about 15 miles away down the coast.

The "gurney" looks so soft and comfortable. Hopefully we'll never need to find out how it feels. Hey, I should put one of these padded lounge beds in our lancha. That way when Jonesy takes me out for a ride or to town to shop I'll be comfortable instead of sitting on the hard fiberglass benches. Okay, maybe I'll get an upgrade after we install the day.

Yes, there has been plenty of knitting going on in these parts. I volunteered to test knit a new sock pattern from James G. Davis called Waterslides. Naturally, I had to keep this secret until the pattern was officially released on the Six Sox Knitalong yahoo group. Do you like the knitting basket? A friend brought this back to me from her explorations of the city of Antigua up in the Guatemalan highlands. It is made from pine needles and the white cording is cut up plastic grocery sacks. What an innovative use of natural resources and stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill (or alongside the highway).

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