Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guatemala: A Feast for Senses

Years ago a musician friend told me she creates best when all her senses are satisfied. I knew it was true but hadn’t consciously thought about the relationship between sensual stimulation and creativity. This was the reason New York energized me, the reason it was a creative hub. In NY all of your senses are aroused.

Until I moved to San Miguel I’d gravitated to sensual explosion, cities like New Orleans and New York. In SM I learned that my senses could be aroused from a much lower decimal—the colored facades and mountain vistas, the scents of ripen fruits and chicharrĂ³n, the bells that rung constantly. When I arrived in 2005, ravished raw by Hurricane Katrina, I made the transition from “I want to kill that FEMA bitch,” to a Zen like calm just by inhaling the panoramic view from my roof garden, instant peace, tranquility.

There is nothing subtle about the sensual stimulation in Guatemala. It is a visual explosion of textiles, ruins and landscapes. Their mostly hand-loomed cloth is everywhere; vibrant colors, intricately woven and embroidered that impart spirituality not found in machine made goods. Women’s clothing adds to this visual symphony. They still wear native dress; have not traded their huipils for Aeropostale tee shirts.

It was not only the Mayan ruins—Tikal, a city surrounded by jungle that was abandoned by the Mayans over 1,000 years, and Quirigua with it’s carved monuments of Mayan history—that intrigued me. I was equally as captivated by the remnants of Santo Domingo convent that have been incorporated into a magnificent hotel. Casa Santo Domingo needs to be experienced during the day so you can explore the grounds, see the museums, study the Santos but also at night when the grounds are illuminated by at least 500 votive candles.

Nature’s beauty surrounded us on this trip. Our hotel outside Flores, Villa Maya, was housed inside a 67-acre wildlife preserve. We arrived at Livingston by boat through the jungle-lined shores of the Rio Dulce Canyon. The sun dropping behind the mountains in Pana, the shorelines of the villages as we crossed Lake Atitlan, the volcanoes surrounding Antigua—all were spectacular.

I probably won’t do a Guatemala survey trip again but I know I’ll return to the Panajachel and Antigua. This might be a good place to study Spanish. They both offer cheap intensive classes, 4 one-on-one hours a day, with the option to intensify this experience by living with a family. From both I can easily reach Chichicastenango again, the largest market in Latin America.