9.29.2010

Guatemala's Pan-American Highway is a Mess


Almost 30,000 miles of concrete, asphalt, clay, gravel, dirt and of course mud make up the Pan-American Highway, spanning two continents and stretching from Alaska to Chile. Only the brave walk or bike across the Highway’s only break, the Darien Gap separating Panama and Colombia.

Once a rugged dirt road, the Pan American in Guatemala has recently been upgraded to a mega four lane concrete highway, winding through the Maya highlands before entering Guatemala City.  The blasting associated with the expansion required hazardous detours in ATV typical terrain and sometimes stopped traffic for hours. Vehicles clustered (not in a line, more like a huddle), emitting extraordinary amounts of exhaust. Locals adapted quickly to the delays and transformed the masses of forcibly patient potential consumers into bustling market places. They hustled bags of chips, meat on a stick, bottles of coke, newspapers, necklaces, and crafts among other items.

Finally the stretch of highway was complete: four lanes of concrete shadowed by frighteningly vertical walls of earth carved out of the mountain sides. The completion of the road construction between Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango was followed by almost two months of blissful, smooth traveling, save of course for the erratic driving, shoddy vehicles, black exhaust reminiscent of LOST’s smoke monster, and of course the colorful turbo charged “chicken buses” ruling the roads.

Then came the rainy season…  This season’s surplus of rain tore down the fresh walls of earth. Thankfully the extra two lanes give Guatemalans a place to store all the dirt! Makeshift signs and oddly damaged painted barrels direct traffic through the winding highlands. Every 100 meters or so traffic switches from the west bound lanes to the east bound lanes and then back. A barrel with a left or right pointing arrow indicates when to change lanes. A barrel with an upward pointing arrow is the sign to get over in the right lane because oncoming traffic will soon be in the left. Occasionally a buckled over barrel will be so damaged that you can’t quite make out the arrow. In this case, be ready for anything!

All the back and forth, it can be easy to lose track of whether your two lanes are travelling in the same direction or if you should expect a bus barreling at you around the next curve.  Ideally, occasional ¡doble via! (two way) signs keep drivers on track, but if all else fails, stay in the right lane!

Then again, the right lane is often occupied by heaps of dirt, boulders, an occasional mud pond, and trees, which if they fell properly, appear to have always belonged in the lanes of the Pan-American Highway. Some of these obstacles are marked with an arrow; however, the arrow is literally on the obstacle so if you see the sign, you have hopefully already seen the massive boulder staring you in the face. A broken down motorist will at least pluck tree branches and put them in the road to warn others of his presence on the road.  Yes, branches. No orange cones or flashy triangles. Branches are easy and readily available. If need be, go for the bushy green ones. Anyway, the lack of warning for the mudslide obstacles makes the left lane look pretty desirable, so if all else fails, stay in the left lane.

Do you understand why driving the Pan American Highway in Guatemala right now can be entirely confusing and maybe a little terrifying? Throw in high fog and things can get real messy.

The highway has been made manageable as a result of man power, the extra space offered by the new road, barrels and barely legible signs. However, the mudslides covering the roads claimed lives and the resulting difficulty of travel has tightened the strangle hold on Guatemalans’ finances, particularly exacerbating the already impoverished highland Maya. The chaos of the Pan American Highway in Guatemala is comical in its absurdity but the reality is disastrous and appalling.

5.19.2010

Indonesian Batik

Batik is a traditional art form found throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, but it is believed that the highest quality batik is made on the island of Java, Indonesia. The most notable sources of batik work on the island include Surakarata (called Solo by the locals) and the island of Madura. The technique of batik includes multiple phases of coloring and designs either stamped and/or drawn with a canting (liquid wax pen). Wax is cracked to achieve a marble effect or it is immediately removed in boiling water and/or by scraping. Dense, high thread count cloth (typically cotton) is used to ensure desirable absorption of the dye. Traditionally natural dyes (ie. indigo, tinggi tree sap and soga tree) were used; today however, a combination of natural and chemical dyes is used. Designs, including geometric and free form patterns, are initially sketched with charcoal or drawn free hand with the canting. Traditionally batik was simple with few colors, but today it reflects cultural influences, particularly those of the Dutch.

Care instructions: batik fabric may be machine-washed with soap for sensitive fabrics, line dry, prevent over-exposure to sunlight as batik fabric is susceptible to fading (as with any other vibrant colored fabric)

Indonesian Batik Cloth - Little Mango Imports

3.08.2010

Guatemalan Fabric

Guatemalan fabric is completely hand woven of hand-dyed cotton on a traditional treadle loom. The loom is foot powered and no electricity is used whatsoever. The entire weaving process is completed in the homes of many different Maya people from several villages in the Guatemalan highlands in the departments of Solola and Quetzaltenango, thus making this a 'cottage industry'. Little Mango Imports believes only in 'Fair Trade' and because we deal directly with the weavers we are assured they are being paid a fair wage for their work. Most of our fabrics contain jaspe (ikat) design work. This is a common element of many Guatemalan fabrics and an art form in itself. It involves the binding and dyeing of yarns prior to weaving to produce patterns with blurred edges.

Maya Treadle Loom
The Maya traditional treadle loom is used to weave multi-purpose cotton fabric, corte fabric, scarves among other textiles (narrow, scarf fabric is depicted in images). Introduced by the Spanish and traditionally operated by men, the loom is foot powered and no electricity is used whatsoever. Textiles woven on a treadle loom are regularly referred to as "machine made" by the Maya people. The implication of this claim that the process is similar to that involving a modern electric machine is deceiving.

The tense warp threads are alternately lifted and lowered with the use of foot pedals; meanwhile, the weaver passes the weft between the warp threads. Hand woven fabric often contains jaspe (ikat) design work. This is a common element of many Guatemalan fabrics and an art form in itself. It involves the binding and dyeing of yarns prior to weaving to produce patterns with blurred edges.
In contrast with the treadle loom, the Maya back strap loom utilizes a simpler technology and is mobile; however, the weaving process is more time consuming. Typically operated by women, the backstrap loom is used to weave huipiles, among other textiles.

Juan Sic and his family (pictured below along with me, Whitney Taylor) weave the beautiful Guatemalan fabric available for purchase at Little Mango Imports: http://www.littlemangoimports.com/guatemalanfabric.html


Weaving Process Photographs

Weaving Process Videos

Fabric Care Instructions

Guatemalan Fabric - available for purchase by the yard

2.15.2010

A Moment in Guatemala

We drove to the Sunday Chichi market despite heavy rain and wind (chilly, but still warm as it is the 'Land of Eternal Spring'). A full van - Dan and Rudi, Whitney, Haley, Uncle Avery and Grandpa Drew. A quick stop at the agricultural checkpoint. The Mayan man wearing a huge winter coat, complete with fur hood inquired, "¿Hay frutas?". He smirked upon Dan's "No" and jokingly followed with, "¿Solo mangos?". Why yes, how did he know? We smiled and looked at one another.....Little Mango, Happy Mango, Uncle Mango, Baby Mango and Grandpa Mango :)

2.10.2010

Chichicastenango, Guatemala Market – one of the largest Latin American markets!

The extensive market of Santo Tomas Chichicastenango in Guatemala is a delightfully vibrant and overwhelming experience; a must visit destination for tourists and savvy travelers alike. Though most of the Guatemalan handicrafts and textiles at Little Mango Imports are purchased in their respective villages, I always enjoy attending the “Chichi market” while in Guatemala. I have been visiting the Chichi market since before I was old enough to remember, but I still find something fascinating to purchase or photograph on every visit.



Arriving early in the morning allows me to watch the transformation of the dirty streets into a pulsing, busy mix of colors and smells. At 5’5”, I tower above most of the indigenous Maya, while weaving my way through the streets and makeshift alleys. An occasional mortar aerial bomb is shot off from the church steps. The deafening noise is especially startling for those experiencing the market for the first time; my travel companion John leapt to the ground the first time he heard a mortar in the market! On most religious holidays, a parade of Catholic Saints winds its way through the market, a rewarding sight for visitors. Fresh-cut flowers, incense and weary locals decorate the church steps. Vendors’ tarps provide shade from the intense sun and rain showers. The unique handicrafts and exceptional weavings clutter tables and hang from improvised beams. Of course, as with most Latin American markets, bartering is a ‘gringo’ must. Though a fun and educational experience, I have thankfully become a familiar face in the market and am occasionally spared participation in the ‘bartering game’. A long, exciting market day culminates with bus dodging to return to my car.

2.05.2010

Maya Treadle Loom

The Maya traditional treadle loom is used to weave multi-purpose cotton fabric, corte fabric, scarves among other textiles (narrow, scarf fabric is depicted in images). Introduced by the Spanish and traditionally operated by men, the loom is foot powered and no electricity is used whatsoever. Textiles woven on a treadle loom are regularly referred to as "machine made" by the Maya people. The implication of this claim that the process is similar to that involving a modern electric machine is deceiving.




The tense warp threads are alternately lifted and lowered with the use of foot pedals; meanwhile, the weaver passes the weft between the warp threads. Hand woven fabric often contains jaspe (ikat) design work. This is a common element of many Guatemalan fabrics and an art form in itself. It involves the binding and dyeing of yarns prior to weaving to produce patterns with blurred edges.

In contrast with the treadle loom, the Maya back strap loom utilizes a simpler technology and is mobile; however, the weaving process is more time consuming. Typically operated by women, the backstrap loom is used to weave huipiles, among other textiles.