San Juan la Laguna, an artsy village with hard-working Maya women

Last Updated on April 21, 2023 by Ellen

Maya women in Guatemala wear elaborately threaded skirts and embroidered shirts with intricately beaded belts. Everything is often in bright colors. And on a trip to San Juan la Laguna, we got to see how these women make these fancy threads.

It’s a long process. Women work with the cotton, thread, dye, and wooden tools used to make clothing and other cloth goods for several hours each day. They work in shifts – three hours in the morning, three in the afternoon, three in the evening. At least, that’s how one association does it – according to the explanation in a demonstration we watched that lasted about 15 minutes.

A taxi driver engaged me in Spanish and I let him take us to one of the association locations. Each village has a women’s association. It seemed like San Juan had several. We watched at the Ajto’ooneel Ixoq demonstration center, about a block away from the Catholic Church.

The cotton is spun into yarn. Herbs, bark, plants and flowers are used to make a dye powder. The powder is boiled with water and the yarn dunked in. The dye soaks the cotton, but it won’t dye your hands while it’s still wet. Then the yarn is pulled into sections, and then it’s woven together by hand. Yikes. I could never have the patience. But it sure was interesting to watch.

The women will take tips for sharing their process with the public, or you can buy something at the store. The prices ranged from $40 to pants to $20 for purses and scarves to $7 for a hairband. I opted for a hairband because I actually could use one.

Now, normally, I would never pay $7 for a hairband. As a budget traveler, that’s steep. But. You know. The women need support. And, in the grand scheme of things, it’s only seven freakin’ bucks.

The church I mentioned is something to see in San Juan. It’s set against the mountains and so it’s a beautiful sight. Additionally, the old facade is against the newer building, showing just how long the Catholic Church has been a big part of that community. Tedly (spouse) said the main priest was a Jesuit.

We also strolled down the road to the village dock. It was a pleasant walk with many small art galleries and more shops, also a few restaurants.

The villages on Lake Atitlan all have their own feel – their own vibe. San Juan felt artsy. But all of them have the lake in common – the thread that keeps them together. This is really a special place.

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