An example of what you can capture on the dynamic streets of Guatemala. A local band on their way to perform.
Though La Matera started out as an Argentine inspired company, we pride ourselves on exploring and experiencing many different countries and cultures around the world. We believe that the best way to gain a global perspective is to step outside of our comfort zones and become immersed in a different way of living. The La Matera man is one who has an appreciation for the world around him and is always looking for an opportunity to explore. Last week, we did just that and caught a plane to exotic Guatemala. Pack your things and come along for the ride.
Joyful shouting from vendors, crowing roosters, firecrackers, singing from churches, the sound of chicken busses and tuk-tuk motors on cobblestone streets, Guatemala is sensory overload at its very finest.
The Central American country is heavily influenced by Mayan and Spanish cultures. Although Spanish is the primary language spoken, there are over 28 different indigenous languages spoken as well, creating an auditory melting pot of overlapping voices and dialects.
This incredible beauty and work ethic is evident in the workshops that we visit. We get the opportunity to see the woven textiles for our La Matera original belts and watches. Instead of assembly lines of modern machines, these products are made almost entirely by hand.
We are at a local Guatemalan marketplace, wearing flip flops and testing our (admittedly limited) Spanish on the vendors there. Fortunately for us, the Guatemalan people are notably kind and friendly, accommodating our language differences with patience and smiles.
Not only do we have luck with the language, but also with the weather. Though our weather app had warned us of a week full of thunderstorms, we instead enjoy sunny 70’s, with only an occasional brief interlude of rain. Every day on the trip we have woken up to blue skies and limited humidity. The summer weather only serves to add to the warm tropical atmosphere of the region.
Bird’s eye view of the produce section of the Mercado (market).
The marketplace we mentioned earlier is huge and dynamic, the bright colors of signs, produce, and handmade goods give our eyes no rest. The dynamic hues are indicative of our surroundings-noisy and attention grabbing. There is upbeat, cheerful music playing and the constant sound of the tuk-tuks driving by. We notice that, unlike in America, there are no commercialized signs or neon lights. Instead, most of the advertising for business is done through lively handmade wall paintings and by word of mouth.
Inside the food market, the produce speaks for itself. We are taken aback by how fresh and delicious the fruits and vegetables are-huge orange carrots with roots still attached and mouthwateringly ripe scarlet tomatoes. Old men with heavy bags attached to their backs clamor to sell us the goods packed inside-onions, plantains, corn.
A woman sells us what was easily the largest, most dense loaf of corn bread we’d ever seen. When she hands it to us, it is so hot that it burns our hands and we almost drop it. She starts to laugh at us and we join in, realizing that her stone hands were not even phased by the sizzling heat of the bread. We quickly drop the bread into our backpack. When we go back to retrieve it five hours later it is still warm. Unbelievable.
The clothing of the Guatemalans heavily varies according to class, heritage, and culture. The Spanish and Ladino men and women are more likely to wear Western apparel, while those of Mayan descent often opt for more traditional garb.
Many of the working-class men and women that we encounter wear jeans and T-shirts, often with English slogans. We later find out that many poorer citizens purchase second hand clothing from the United States.
Most of the Mayan women, however, dress more traditionally, wearing cotton shirts and ankle length skirts with intricate designs. Another popular top worn is the huipal, which consists of two panels sewn together on the sides, leaving openings for the arms and head and is usually embroidered with some sort of design.
Locals hustling their local charms and goods in traditional dress.
Speaking of clothing, it is now time to visit some of the very talented artisans that we have come to see. We leave the market and scan the surrounding area for a way to reach our destination.
The main forms of transportation that we see are the chicken bus, the tuk-tuk, and the back of a pickup truck. All three would be unbelievably illegal in the United States, but are a simple way of life in Guatemala.
“Chicken bus” is the colloquial English name given to the brightly colored busses that transport both goods and people in Guatemala and other Central American countries. From what we experienced, there seemed to be no limit of people crowded into these busses, with three to a seat and many more standing passengers. If there was a Wild West of Guatemala, it would be filled with chicken buses.
The tuk-tuk is the Central American version of a taxi; a small three wheeled vehicle that takes passengers from place to place, small enough to weave through traffic like a motorcycle. They fit only a few people and sometimes are driven by locals as private vehicles.
“The back of a pickup truck” cannot be the official name of this third form of the transportation, but is the best way to describe what we experienced. A pickup truck slows down to a steady roll and passengers load on to the back of the truck like cattle. When passengers want to exit the truck, they slap the side of the truck and the driver lets them off. This had to be the one most likely to get you pulled over by Highway Patrol in America.
The transportation is a reflection of a larger realization that we have while in Guatemala: most of the indigenous people that we meet are working hard labor all day long and still seemed to be barely getting by. The culture seems to be one that is dependent on working extremely hard just to be able to survive. There is a stark contrast between the vibrant beauty of the landscape and the difficulty of everyday life.
One of the many ways we got around Guatemala.
Despite this, we are constantly struck by the approachability and positivity of the local people everywhere we go. Both vendors and total strangers on the street greet us as if we are old friends. A certain indescribable joy radiates from these people, as if despite their financial lack they have perhaps found something greater than we have in America with all of our daily comforts. On Saturday nights, we are told that the locals gather in town squares to dance, listen to music, and enjoy each other’s company. They find happiness not in material things but rather in the spirit of togetherness.
A local artisan demonstrating her centuries old craft.
This incredible beauty and work ethic is evident in the workshops that we visit. We get the opportunity to see the woven textiles for our La Matera original belts and watches. Instead of assembly lines of modern machines, these products are made almost entirely by hand. The work is detailed and precise, each piece made with extreme care and talent. The products are woven into rich colors-sunshine yellow, deep red, and sky blue. The factory employees are methodical and passionate about creating the designs in perfect and painstaking detail. It is both humbling and rewarding to see our products being created with such proficiency and care.
A local specialty that was prepared for us.
We finally get a chance to sit down and enjoy a true Guatemalan meal. We are fortunate to have a chef that goes off menu and prepares us a special custom taste of the local cuisine-fresh caught fish with a side of tomato marinade, a bowl of rice, and fresh vegetables. Though we are definitely caught off guard by having the entire fish served to us whole, we appreciate the simple natural flavors of the local dish.
As we board our flight back to the United States, we reflect on the amazing and eye opening trip that we have experienced. Guatemala is a study of contrasts: the loud markets and the peacefulness of its inhabitants; the beauty and the poverty; the modern and the traditional. It is tropical and colorful and unique in its food, culture, and textiles. We are left feeling grateful to Guatemala and the locals who made us feel so at home in their country.
Thank you for joining us on our first published La Matera adventure. Stay tuned for more travels and updates to come. Wherever we go in the world, we always travel La Matera style and find inspiration in the world around us. We hope you do too.