Nomadic travel’s Slideshow

A year ago began the adventure of this blog… a mosaic of emotions in the deepest heart of the American continent. We have interiorized a magical world, sometimes so complex to be hardly understood. From United States, thinking head of the world as it is nowadays, we have learned to leave aside preconceptions and replace them with curiosity. Mexico has donated to us the immense joy of the travel, endless horizons and the beauty of nature, but also the inexhaustible resistance of a people seduced and then abandoned. Guatemala, wonderful and moving, fertile land of the Mayan world, the search for a better future, that we joined through our cooperation as volunteers. Colombia, an oceanic and magnificent country, so wild to escape everyone’s look; the surprise of an electrifying ferment of lives. Ecuador, synthesis of the whole latinoamerican style, a luxuriant nature and pleasant people: the encounter with the Amazonian rain forest and its peoples, the eternal fight against the exploitation with no rules of the natural resources. Peru with its archaeological beauties, in the undiscovered northern Andean region; the emotion of the “suiza peruana” (Peruvian Switzerland), Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca. Now we fall asleep on the last day, an ethnic mosaic of faces and looks smiles to us, the importance that they have had and they will have in our life, the promise to meet us another time, one day…

Nomadic travel mosaic: from USA to Peru, Mexico Guatemala Colombia Ecuador

Maiz vs oil: Latin American mirages

During the last year, the high petrol price has stimulated the production of biofuels from alternative sources (biomass). For effect of the crescent corn demand (used to produce bio ethanol) on the part of the North-American market, the price of this cereal increases, breaking up any record. The main producers, United States, China, Argentine, Mexico, Brazil, and in general the whole Latin American region, go on consequently to increase the production and the extension of agricultural territory. In this scenery, the cultivation of transgenic maize becomes more than a temptation, rising a question: is it ethical to transfer the production of a basic element in the diet of millions of people towards the tanks of our cars? Ecuador represents an emblematic example of this contradiction: in the Amazonian river basin the extraction of oil and in the Western region the crescent maize production, while many people continue to face the challenge against starvation. As we don’t like to talk about problems that seem far from the possibilities of any single person, at least without giving a little hope, we flag some Ecuadorian associations that operate in the field of human rights, rural communities and ecology; maybe someone would be interested in activities of cooperation/volunteering in Equador: Ecuador volunteer, Jatun Sacha, and many others we didn’t contact directly (mainly aiming at supporting rights of the indigenous communities of the Amazonian rainforest).

Corncobs, maize for bioethanol production

Valhalla, macadamia project

Left the colonial-styled streets of La Antigua, the road heads directly to the impressive Amatenango volcano, under which is placed the village of San Miguel Dueñas. Here, hidden by the green vegetation, we discover the “Estación Experimental Valhalla”, a project of sustainable agriculture dedicated to the production of organic macadamia nuts. The lovely people of the staff explain us that macadamia is a plant coming from Australia, whose properties have been extensively investigated in the last years and whose fruit is currently used in order to produce oils, cosmetics (facial creams), flour and many other products. Various hybrids of the two original species of macadamia grow in the plantation, representing a botanical variety appreciated all over the world (no grafting is performed, thus preserving the genetic purity and diversity). The evergreen plants give fruits all the year round and easily adapt to different climatic conditions, moreover they allow to absorb much more carbon dioxide than many other plants and turn it into water vapor and oxygen. The nuts, once collected, are processed with a handmade sheller (maybe in the future it would be replaced by the bicycle nut-sheller, fruit of the collaboration with Maya Pedal) and left drying for a month, before being washed in order to obtain the end products. While we have an exquisite macadamia breakfast, we feel the enthusiasm demonstrated by the people who work in the plantation. They tell us they accept volunteers for the collection of the nuts and any person who could carry new and productive ideas in this activity. They already count on the enthusiastic support of the rural indigenous communities, which are beginning projects of reforestation, planting macadamia instead of more aggressive cultivations. It’s another successful idea coming from people who love Guatemala and its beautiful land. For further information, visit their website: www.exvalhalla.net.

Macadamia nut handmade sheller San Miguel Dueñas Antigua Guatemala volunteering images photos Latin America

Guatemalan smiles

An exciting month ends: the volunteering projects, Maya Pedal, the casa ACAM, the smiles of the people who accompanied us along this period… we saw the birth of children and hopes, we seeded friendships and collaborations that we hope will bear good fruits in the future. Our nomadic travel resumes its confused trajectory, some more days still in the splendid land of Guatemala, then many surprises will arrive…

Comadrona Traditional midwife Maya Concepción Chiquirichapa Quetzaltenango volunteering in Guatemala Latin America international cooperation

Comadronas para comadronas

The job of “comadrona” (midwife) on the Guatemalan Altiplano, like in many other regions of the world, is a vocation transmitted from mother to daughter. A wisdom handed orally, fruit of experiences lost in the past. The birth of the “casa del parto ACAM” has represented a decisive change in the life of the comadronas of Concepcion Chiquirichapa, concurring to fulfill their dream: to build a pleasant place, clean and supplied with the essential instruments in order to assist the deliveries in complete autonomy. In fact, in the house they do not collaborate with medical staff and the delivery follows the rhythms given by nature. The woman entrusts the acquaintances of the comadrona (traditional midwife) which, beyond practical suggestions, uses curative herbs, known by the Mayan Mam tradition, in order to favor the positive course of the delivery. The moment of the birth is lived with extreme peacefulness: the mother, wearing her typical garment, gives birth in a simple bedroom, encircled by tight relatives and free to express her own feelings in native language, trusting in the full understanding of the comadrona. The birth of the child is celebrated with some propitiatory gestures: the baby, before receiving the breast of the mother, tastes salt and chile (chili pepper) in small amount, as auspice of a life full of taste and satisfactions; moreover he receives in his small hand a money, as wish of prosperity. After approximately one hour from the delivery, the mother enters in a very small room, called Chuj (Temascal) by the Mam tradition, in which the humid warmth is created throwing water on red-hot stones. The comadrona washes the woman with natural soaps and uses special herbs to cure skin abrasions. It is believed that Temascal, beyond possessing a purifying function, has optimal healing properties and favors lactogenesis. Before the family of the baby returns to its own house, the comadronas prepare a meal consisting in soup with vegetables, herbs (rich in iron and vitamins) and Atol (traditional drink made up of maize), taking advantage of the occasion to discuss and joke on the birth of the child.

Living with the comadronas has been an experience of total sharing of the simple and authentic rhythms that you can breath in the casa ACAM: the days, mostly dedicated to kitchen, cleaning and chatter, have been fulfilled by some unforgettable delivery attendances.

Comadrona traditional midwife with baby volunteering international cooperation Quetzaltenango Guatemala Latin America

Casa ACAM, a story of hope

The icy wind from the north makes shine the stars while we listen to Arturo telling us the story of its incredible life with Teresa, the director of “casa ACAM” (Asociacion Comadronas Area Mam) and their project to improve the condition of the women and the children of Concepcion Chiquirichapa (near Quetzaltenango, Xela)… At the beginning, man was maize that is, in the Mayan cosmovision, a being that constantly had to look for the equilibrium with the other animals, respecting the instruction given by the Mother Earth. The deep acquaintances of the Mayan ancestors in scientific field, pushed them to build up a society based on a progress which we would define sustainable nowadays, in the full respect of the rhythms of nature. It has been the predisposition of this people to share every resource, humbly demanded to the Mother Earth, that took them to the misfortune, when they were forced to follow a radically opposite model by the Europeans. Therefore began for them a sadly famous phase of marginalization and persecution that, in the history of Guatemala, tragically culminated in the thirty years of civil war (1970-1996): a system of abusive powers, the wealth of the great land owners and the unpunishment of the army, carried out the chaos and the violence in the country. Entire Mayan villages were exterminated and the atrocities towards women and children became the rule, while the men (in great majority indigenous farmers or campesinos), were forced from the opposite factions to kill their similar. A few people could back out of this tragic spiral. Arturo, his wife and sons undertook an intense travel towards the north, after resisting as clandestine in their own land for three years. First, they settled in Mexico, where they found an extremely hostile atmosphere and they were enslaved by the large coffee estate owners. Therefore, they reached the United States (1984), a country that in the 80’s was divided between those who sponsored the terror in Guatemala and those who received refugees in sign of protest. Arturo and Teresa had fortune and found a family that received them like siblings, even though in the difficulties and with the constant penance to have abandoned their people in the blood. From this state of mind, upraised the wish to denounce to the world the atrocity of the civil war and at the beginning of the 90’s, they began to travel along the United States informing the public opinion which, day by day, became more and more sensitive towards the indigenous issue and the Latin American situation. They met other Guatemalan refugees and this increased their wish to help their country in concrete terms. In 1998, officially finished the war, Arturo and Teresa could return to their village (Concepcion Chiquirichapa), after an exile lasted nearly twenty years: they found a community in trouble, many of their friends massacred or dispersed. They decided that, to give a future to their people, they had firstly to build a hope for those women and their children. Indeed originated the idea of the “casa ACAM”, a center of support to the family in which the ready and willing “comadronas” (mid-wives) of the Mayan Mam region could gather and have a space dedicated for the delivery attention. As a result of an intense aid demand activity, Arturo found an enthusiastic answer in that part of North American people who saved him years before: collected the money, began the phase of construction of the center, that culminated with the inauguration in 2004. Today ACAM association, a well-known Guatemalan NGO (non-governmental organization), is a reality that has opened the road towards the future for the Mam community and it’s already an example to follow, although a lot remains to build. The enthusiasm of Arturo and Teresa does not leave doubts that they will carry until the end their fight for a better Guatemala, proud of its past and bound to the Mayan tradition.

Casa ACAM comadronas traditional Maya Mam midwife volunteering and traveling Guatemala Central America

Laguna Chicabal

From San Martin Chile Verde the footpath rises well traced, following a steep hill. We meet some children heading to the fields in order to work, they exchange with us some shy smiles: when we reach “laguna seca”, our roads follow different itineraries. We continue walking along the steep cone of the Chicabal Volcano, some sun beams penetrate through the luxuriant vegetation. The altitude grazes the 3000 meters, but when we catch up the mirador of the crater we remain literally without breath. On one side, the magnificent volcano complex formed by Santa maria, Siete orejas e Santiaguito (we are so fortunate to observe it during one of its periodic explosive eruptions). Inside the crater, we observe the Laguna Chicabal, a green-emerald lake, encircled by mountainous jungle (bosque nuboso). We understand why this lake is considered the heart of the Mayan Mam cosmovision: it’s a place loaded with a natural mysticism, where it is believed the “Nahuales” live, spiritual entities that protect the Mam people and regulate their activities following a lunar calendar. Beyond the legends, the silence and the fog that comes down towards the lake from the slopes of the crater late in the morning, creates an extremely rarefied atmosphere. We get lost in our thoughts…

Laguna chicabal Maya cosmovision Mam Nahuales Guatemala Latin America images travel photos

Maya Pedal, developing bicimaquinas

Maya Pedal is an NGO been born in 1997, with the aim to help the development of the rural communities in Guatemala, through the utilization of the “bicimaquinas”. With the term bicimaquina (bicycle machine) they refer to an intermediate technology, developed from recycled bicycles: therefore it’s a self-sufficient and eco-sustainable technology, as it does not demand electric power or fuel for its operation; moreover it’s a reliable instrument of support for the familiar economy, as the machines produced have always an immediate functionality. In the workshop of San Andres Itzapa (Chimaltenango, Guatemala), thanks also to the contribution of a group of researchers of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) of Boston, various types of bicimaquinas are designed and assembled, just as an example: bicycle blenders (bicilicuadoras), bicycle soil mills (bicimolinos), bicycle corn degrainer and coffee depulper (bicidesgranadora de maiz e bicidespulpadora de cafe), water pumps (bicibombas de lazo), washing machines (bicilavadoras), tricycles and bicitaxis, bicycle plows (biciarados) and bicycle electricity generator (bicigenerador de electricidad). Collaborating directly with the fantastic people who create the small staff of the organization, I have been able to understand how much is appreciated in Guatemala and above all in the rural communities the activity of Maya Pedal: every day new interested people and associations come to visit the workshop or contact them, in order to buy and distribute the assembled machines on the territory. It’s so interesting to participate to the simple but brilliant production process of every bicimaquina, which is exclusively based on the utilization of parts of used bicycles, opportunely modified. This article aims to be a suggestion for all who want to get involved in a volunteering project that in concrete terms acts on the territory, carrying benefit to the Guatemalan rural communities, where still lack basic services. The web sites of Maya Pedal and Pedal Power provide a good source of information for anyone interested in the project.

maya pedal volunteering bicimaquinas bicycle machine recycled self-sufficient and eco-sustainable technology San Andres Itzapa Chimaltenango Guatemala Central America

San Andres Itzapa

While we work in Maya Pedal, the experiences of workshop and construction of the bicimaquinas (bicycle machines) are deeply interlaced with the mysticism in which the stories of the people we are knowing are wrapped. In the Mayan culture legends, spirits and witchcraft are something so visceral, that we perceive their presence too. It’s fascinating to have the concrete opportunity to enter in tight contact with this far and echoing world. Having dinner with the people of San Andres or just talking ten minutes with any old “señora”, means to dive yourself in the calm waters of simplicity, means to believe in fables again, means to perceive the true color of things. San Andres is a wonderfully pleasant village: when we meet the group of women “mujeres en accion” (women in action), they show us with enthusiasm how they are dedicated to the production of traditional “huipiles” and different textiles, beyond that to the handicraft production of shampoo with sábila (aloe vera). In the barrio where they live, in spite of the intense works of reconstruction, they are still very clear the signs of the destruction left by the hurricane Stan, one year ago.

The day of “Todos Los Santos” is a special recurrence in Guatemala: people of every village go to the cemetery in order to eat in company of the disappeared relatives. Although this tradition can seem very particular, it’s really a day of great joy and feast. The 1 of November is also the day in which, raising the eyes to the sky, you can see hundreds of kites (“feria del barrilete”) flying for hours, skillfully directed by both children and adults.

Cocinera Maya cook Guatemalan cuisine traditional Central America Guatemala volunteering photos images

San Simon, patron of the drunks

For the population that inhabits the Guatemalan highlands, San Simon also called Maximon or Ry Laj Man (Mayan name), represents an extremely controversial figure: synonym of prosperity and happiness for some, but also of witchcraft for others. In general, the tradition identifies him as the protector of the drunks and for this reason enjoys limitless devotion. At the end of century XIX, the image of the “saint” was adored by the gamblers, who offered him money, liqueur or tobacco. In San Andres Itzapa, the coloured house where the statue of San Simon is guarded (represented as an old seated man, handling a bottle of liqueur) remains opened nightlong on October 28, receiving hundreds of devout people who come from every part of Central America to tell him their own hopes, asking favors and leaving offerings such as alcohol, money and flowers. The procession towards the nail head is a complex journey in the Latin American syncretism, in which gestures like the frenetic ignition of candles and dances, accompanied by “marimba” (xilophone) and mariachi music, are continuously repeated. In the temple, the smell of ignited candles is stirred with the scent of tobacco and the various grasses taken as offering. When finally every faithful succeeds to catch up the altar in order to speak with San Simon, he undergoes the final purification (“las limpias”), through a pure alcohol lavender executed by the shaman of the temple. This man finishes the day so drunk that he needs two persons to support him. In an exciting mix of sacred and profane, the celebrations continue until late in the night and confusion, smoke, music and drunkenness grow too. The guards of the statue begin a ritual dance in order to celebrate Maximon, many gestures are repeated until the loss of the senses and remember the symbols of the Mayan cosmovision (stars, jaguars, snakes).

Now it’s deep in the night and in the streets of San Andres starved dogs and drunk men remain alone, but this happens in every angle of the world. Perhaps they asked to San Simon a house and a life without alcohol, but for the miracles is always better to wait for the following day…

Chapel of San Simon Ry Laj Man Maximon indigenous religion syncretism Latin America Guatemala