There is something a little bit different about San Antonio Palopo, one of the smaller villages on Lake Atitlàn. Most of the villages in this part of Guatemala are Tz’utujil, where bright reds and embroidered flowers are the preferred shades for huipiles, the traditional embroidered blouses. But the people of this village are Cakchiquel Maya; and almost without exception every woman and girl wears the same lovely shades of blue in narrow vertical stripes.
The village clings to the steep hillside that rises from the lake, its little white church catching the eye high above. Apart from the church there is little of architectural merit; this is a relatively poor community and houses are basic rather than decorative.
The village streets are unprepossessing perhaps, although a stroll around them is a pleasant way of spending some time. There’s little else to do here apart from admiring and photographing the costumes, which are beautiful – and shopping.
Shopping for textiles
The distinctive blue huipiles are on sale everywhere; they are probably a more wearable design when you get back home than the more ornate ones available elsewhere. Other handicrafts are generally of a good quality and prices seemed to me a little lower than in other villages. I paid just 50 Q (about five euros) for a large colourful scarf that became a real favourite through several winters. The only downside was that we found the women here far more insistent on showing you their goods; it was hard to convince them that I wasn’t always interested in their wares.
Near the church we found the women rather pressing in their efforts to get us to buy their handicrafts; however as soon as we walked just a few paces away we were left much more to our own devices. I don’t know if this was by some unspoken agreement (i.e. that the church is the place to sell) or whether it was just coincidence; but as we’re much keener on photography than we are on shopping, it was something of a relief.
Even the youngest girls get involved in both creating and selling the traditional textiles. I spotted the young girl in my featured photo counting the money she’d taken as she walked along one of the village streets. When she saw me taking photos she turned to see what I was up to and hid shyly behind the bundle of cloth she carried. Just One Person from Around the World, trying to make a living as best she can.
The church and village
I’ll finish with a few general photos of the church and village. The church is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua – the San Antonio of the village’s name. A local woman once dreamed that he performed a miracle here, installing nets that protected the village from falling stones during an earthquake.
It’s a steep but rewarding climb up to the church from the dock. The views from here are great but don’t be so distracted by the view that you fail to pop inside. When we were here a group of local women were decorating the church for a festival. We concluded that it must have marked the end of term, as paper mortar boards hung from the rafters among streamers and other decorations. There were blue balloons everywhere and a traditional woven cloth on the altar – a very colourful scene.
I visited Guatemala in 2010