San Juan la Laguna – The Town of Artists

Feb/18

Lake Atitlan is a volcanic lake high in the Sierra Madre mountains of Guatemala. Its lovely shores are sprinkled with towns, many have distinct personalities, some due to ex-pat gringos and others, like San Juan, due to the Mayan people themselves. San Juan is considered the artistic epi-centre of La Laguna, especially for the spinners and weavers.

The last time I was at San Juan la Laguna I was a potter, this time it was through the eyes of a newly hatched, somewhat obsessed, crocheter. I am been really looking forward to seeing the yarns through a new lens.

After you arrive at the San Juan dock you walk up a main road lined on both sides with stores of art work, tour venders, coffee shops all jammed together. Their paintings and fabrics are so bright and bold the sheer volume of the vividness can be a tad disorienting. It takes some time for the eye to settle down and not threaten to slip into a seizure. Best to stop for a coffee and get grounded. I must say that I have been to many places where the vendors are way more aggressive. Of course they will call to you, invite you in and are happy to answer any questions but I never felt harassed.

The café I chose was one spotted as we pulled up to the dock, it was hanging over the water a short walk from the main drag. A wooden cabin on stilts, it has a charming rustic vib and a small verandah over the water. While I waited for my frappe and bagel I explored inside where I found the paintings of the owner. I was particularly drawn to the one he did on a huge dried leaf depicting how destroying nature destroys us all.

Finally fuelled by caffeine, I trudged up the hill, only distracted a few times from my mission to find the women’s weaving co-op. Happily there are a few so I had a happy time ooooohhhhing and ahhhhhhing about the spectacular colours of their yarns. It is amazing the colours they achieve by only using natural dyes they make from the things they find in nature around them. The colours are so intense and saturated! Who knew rosemary leaves would give such a gorgeous lime green!

I finally found the one I was looking for, Casa Flor Ixcaco. They are housed in a sprawling single story adobe brick building with several rooms full of yarn and weaved products. I am far from an expert but the quality seemed exceptional and I appreciated how they displayed the wares. One thing they do that I thought a lot of artisans might benefit from doing is each piece is tagged with what plants were used to dye the yarn and how many hours it took from start to finish and of course, the artisan’s name.

 

One of the artists, Delfina, offered me a presentation. She took me to  a lovely airy outside room where everything was set up to share the process of their work. It was interesting and she was a skilled presenter with almost flawless English. I asked her where she learned it, she replied, from tourists! Clever woman.

I’ve been resisting buying stuff, my freaking bag is too heavy already but I liked her so much I wanted to buy one of her pieces but she said that all their work is put together, once made she doesn’t keep track of it. If I wanted one of hers I would have to go on a treasure hunt. That proved nigh on impossible without destroying their lovely displays so I just looked for a piece I thought my friend would like and voilá, it turned out to have been made by Delfina! Of course I also bought several skiens of yarn to experiment with. (Which I later destroyed trying to wind in a ball, one so bad I had to toss it out!)

I also discovered Mayab Medicinal, a fascinating establishment dedicated to growing natural remedies and lotions particularly for mid-wifery. Hidden behind a walled garden I only found it because of the mural across from it and some tourists were about to go in on a tour. I decided to tag along and was glad I did. They had a small store where you could buy the things they make. I got some shampoo (which turned out to be awesome) and some teas – an anis (just cause I love the taste) and a moringa – which ‘serves to normalize blood sugar increases and provides energy, helps improve vision, anti-depressant, detoxifying, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and beautify skin, promotes normal functioning of the liver and kidney and strengthens the system immune’. I mean, come on, how could I not?

Some random pictures of the town.

 

It was a wonderful day and I will return before I leave of course, buy more yarn. I wonder what else I can toss from my bag to make room? Hmmmm

 

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