Guatemala 2013 Trip Diary: Totonicapan

Guatemala: Totonicapan

View of Volcán Atitlán, Volcán Tomilán & Volcán San Pedro at Lake Atitlán overlook.

By Christine Ramey

Another early day greets us as we wake up in Panajachel for breakfast at 7am. Once our bellies are full and happy, we are all gathered up and ready for our bus ride to Totonicapán, a 100-kilometer ride through very windy mountainous terrain, which left a few of us (me included) a little queasy. We are with our same guide from yesterday, Julio with Four Directions, who starts our morning off with a question, “is your heart happy today?” Which definitely puts one in a great mood! Before we took off officially from Panajachel, we stopped off at an overlook to see the gorgeous view of Lake Atitlán with three of their volcanos set as the backdrop; Volcán Atitlán, Volcán Tomilán & Volcán San Pedro. Some of the ladies even managed to get in some early shopping of jewelry and handmade figurines, as there were street vendors at the stop.

We arrive in Totonicapán and pick up Don Miguel and his son, who took us to visit a ceramics shop owned by Don Julio who could not be with us, however his brother Ulysses shared much about his business, which has been passed down by their grandparents. The clay and glaze materials come from Guatemala City and all is made by hand, including the beautiful details painted on each piece. In the past, the kiln, or horno, was used with wood, however, today, it is used with gas. The temperatures are at 800 for the first firing and then 1500 for the final firing. They begin with mixing their own colors in a mill, which are synthetic and also brought it from Guatemala City. They create their specific pottery and then use the paint to finish off their masterpiece. Julio is the only one working in his business, as his children do not wish to follow in his footsteps. He creates originals and each piece is now made by request and so are unique in their own right. We were shown beautifully finished products for purchase and we were all eager and happy to purchase making our suitcases just a little heavier!

We next headed over to Don Miguel’s home where he showed us his textiles and the process for his weaving. He has two looms, to work on different sizes and shares the various details of his craftsmanship. He is extremely skilled and shared that his son is beginning to learn, as at around age 8-10 they start to assist. Don Miguel shared that at this time the “hot ticket” requests are coming from the US for textiles with Jewish symbols.

Once we finish the demonstration and several ladies attempt their hand at it (as demonstrated by Sheila), we are taken to his showroom filled with gorgeous works for sale. From table runners to placemat/napkin sets to wallhangings and scarfs, there was an ample selection to swoon over.

We were then invited back into his home for lunch, prepared by his beautiful wife, Raquel, and her daughter. Another delicious meal was prepared and served to us (with Kira’s help) of soup, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, rice, lemonade, coffee, tea and watermelon. What a hospitable family. What a and warm welcome we received! After our feast, Don Miguel escorted us through one of the main Totonicaán markets that is strictly for the locals. We paraded through in a single file line and it seemed as though we were the attraction to them, as no “gringas” come through their market! I’m sure we were an interesting bunch to them!!!

Safely back in Panajachel, we checking into our hotel, Hotel Utz Jay, and said our despedidas (goodbyes) to our amazing guide Julio and our very impressive driver, Noel, who managed to get us from point A to point B in one piece through the intricate and bustling streets of Guatemala!

We rounded our night up with dinner overlooking Lake Atitlán at Sunset Cafe, and danced to salsa and merengue music, serenaded by the live musician who humored our requests!