When we finally got out of antigua and on the winding roads, we made our way to Lake Atitlan where we got the boat over to San Juan for a planterra supported Mayan homestay.
The lake is beautiful and sorrounded by volcanoes. The area has several towns which are all Mayan. We stayed in San Juan which is a bit smaller but now growing in tourism, and it is famous for its natually and hand dyed cottons. ASs it is a volcanic area it is quite hilly so we made our way in the heat up the winding bricklaid hill to meet with our Mayan familys at the local centre- I was staying with a family of 5 (Juan the father, Gloria the mother, Melisa 13, Sandie 9, and Eric 1 and half). The first language spoken here is a certain Mayan dialect. Each town has there own dialects and while some are similar many are so dfferent they can not be understood, for exampler if the inhabitants of San Juan were to go to Guatemala city, hey were not be able to communicate effectively in Mayan. Spanish and english are taught in the schools when the childrne get older but i get the impression most of these languages arfe learnt by the children through TV. At the homestay we were given the impression they live very simple humble lives, and im sure they do, and it obivously helps get people in for cultural home stays, we were observant enough to see Gloria send a quick text message from her phone under her skirt and a plasma TV hidden behind closed doors. When Beck and I had to go to the local internet cafe for her to access visa information, Sandie 9, was able to get to youtube and show me her favourite Spanish disney show. Violetta i think? so they arent exactly living in a bubble. But fair play the homestays get them money (290 QWuetzals per night, i was observant enough to see the cheque on the table haha). Juan had a good level of spanish and a bit of english so i was able to have a decent level opf conversation with him. While Manyu of the children go to school, it seems they are expected to follow their parents occupations and fall into jobs such as cotton weaver and Natural Medicine practitioner. Some go to universitys but the closest public one is in Guatemala city which is quite unsafe and the closer ones are more expensive.
As part of a group we were taken to the local Women's Co-operative where we were shown the stages they go through to make brightly coloured items of clothing and bags etc. They pcik the cotton by hand and then use what loks like a knitting needle to thread out the cotton. They then use natural processes and plants to dye the fabrics to the bright colours, they then sea them using a natural material to ensure the colours do not bleed. It then takes 5 days to hand weave an item such as a shawl. This painstaking a boring work (Gloria is part of the co-op and let me try later in the house), but it is a skill that will be passed through generations and helps with income and tourism. We were also aken to the local gardens used for natual medicines, with plants such as mint and aloe vera. We were told about the uses for each plants. It seems that these may be more widely used thna typical medicines as it is quite important to the Mayan culture to value what comes from the land etc.
That evening Beck and I asked could we help with the dinner. In the house there is not a kichen, just a concrete stove which gloria sits beside and hand makes the round tortillas. This is quite a skill as we sdoon found out. It requires quick and accurate hand movements to sread out, pinch and flatten the dough into flat roudn circles that can be cooked evenll and quickly qithout burning, In saying this, they could have done with a bit of salt or spice asthey were a bit flavourless tbh!
All in all the homestay was a good experience. That evening the family, whop were very musical, played the guitar and even eric played the drum and Melisa sang for us. She was actually very good so no need to us to smile through the pain of a cat screaming. It was very enjoyable! They were very hospitable and becausr there are so many familys in the area, they dont have people in everyweek as i had assumed as it works on a rotational basis!
I would reccommend it as it is a lovely town with hand painted murals depicting Mayan culture and brightly coloured buildings with the sound of upbeat church soungs echoing from the Iglesia!