I’ve just arrived in Aguacatán, a town in the Huehuetenango province in western Guatemala. This region grows some of the best coffee in Central America!
These women work in a store that sells garments. They told me that the garment takes one week to produce if they both work on it. This piece of clothing is called a ‘huipil’, part of the traditional mayan dress, and it doesn’t come cheap.
“A good huipil costs the equivalent of a month’s salary at minimum wage” (Seeing Indians, pg 69). Virginia Tilley wrote this in 2005. When I went to Guatemala 12 years later, the cost for this huipil was 1,000 quetzales, or about $130 USD. Of course, the price depends on whether or not a foreigner is the buyer (it’s common practice to charge more for travellers).
Look at the shade-grown coffee! These are young, healthy looking coffee trees. Notice the large trees spread throughout, creating a canopy to protect the sensitive young coffee trees from the harmful rays of the hot midday sun.
Dona Marcelina making tomato sauce the traditional way; by hand. I stayed with her for the first few days of my trip.
Here’s a nice picture of a small storefront. You can see the fresh local fruits being sold to a family all dressed in Mayan ‘traje’.
Homemade tamales and milk being heated up for breakfast. Most coffee pickers heat up their food this way. Even some families which do have access to a gas stove still use this method to save money.
I know the lighting is off in this picture, but here I am drinking coffee next to the coffee plants. I remember the coffee that I was drinking from a local cafe tasted good.
Here I was waiting for a taxi and noticed these two women walking in the rain. This picture reminded me of when I was a young girl in El Salvador. I used to walk with my mother carrying baskets of fruits on our heads, headed towards the market.
I took a picture of this family wearing embroidered Mayan clothing called ‘traje tipico’. This clothing is worn as a source of indigenous pride.
“Traje continues to convey very strong associations of a Mayan worldview. A woman’s personal use of traje is therefore bound up with her psychological attachment and political loyalty to her community” (Seeing Indians, pg 69).
Look at the Mayan headdress! These hats are worn as a shield for the hot sun. I found out that they are quite expensive and costs about 200 Quetzales ($27 USD in 2017). People can afford these items because they either create the garment themselves or they receive remittances from family living in North America and elsewhere around the world.
This is the “Mayan corte”, or skirt. I really liked this one. It takes a lot of work to produce. Because of all this work, the price was 1,000 quetzales ($136 USD in 2017)
Here is a nice picture of the flowers on a coffee tree.
Here, you can see a banana plant providing shade to a small coffee tree.
This little girl is selling all types of items like cigars and candy. She’s 10 years old and goes to school in the morning. In the afternoon she goes to sell items. Her mom is also selling items nearby.
You can see cacao growing next to the coffee, just like in Nicaragua. This is why certain coffees have hints of chocolate in their flavor profile. Because both plants grow together and share the same soils.
I met this 26 year old woman who works on the coffee plantations as a coffee-picker. She lives in a small home with her husband (who is also a coffee picker) and three kids. The children didn’t have any shoes to wear. This area is very impoverished and saw many atrocities and massacres during the Guatemalan civil war from the 1960s to the mid 90s.
This is what the kitchen looks like of a family of coffee pickers.
They told me that for picking 100 pounds of coffee cherries in the fields, they get paid 40-50 quetzales, depending on the plantation. This is the equivalent of $5.50 to $7 USD per 100 pounds harvested. Since the coffee harvest is seasonal work, they must work hard to pick as many ripe coffee cherries as possible in order to get more money. The best pickers can pick as high as 300 pounds in a day, but this is not realistic for most of the coffee pickers.
Using proceeds from my coffee business, I gave shoes, clothes, school supplies and toys to her children. I also went to the local market to buy chicken wire so that they could build a chicken coup. We then bought four little chicks that they can raise, which will provide them with eggs to eat. Although these are simple purchases, I know that they make a real difference, because the wage of a coffee picker makes simple items hard to get.
Here I am at a coffee processing facility. All the dark material in the back are the skins of the coffee cherry which have been de-pulped. This is called the ‘cascara’. The cascara is used on the coffee plantation grounds, spread around to act as a fertilizer, enriching the soil with important nutrients.
Only in a tropical environment can coffee trees grow to be this healthy looking. The white flowers and dark green leaves mean that this is a happy coffee tree.
This is the town of Panajachel. This is the largest town around lake Atitlan. I really love the colorful villages of Central America!
You can see papayas growing in the background and coffee in the foreground.
I came across this lady walking down the street without shoes. She told me about her daughter. When I asked how old she was, she wasn’t sure, but guessed that she was around 75 years old. I had already given a pair of sandals to a lady that was walking without shoes, so I didn’t have anything else on me that I could give her. Instead, I gave her some money.
Here is the famous lake Atitlan, with one of the three volcanoes surrounding it. The entire lake itself was formed by a huge volcanic eruption thousands of years ago.
I’m standing next to a bunch of old coffee trees that couldn’t survive and need to be cut down. There are about 8 coffee trees growing at the bottom, which is not good. Only one coffee tree needs to grow for every few feet of land, otherwise it will strip nutrients from each other and not produce a healthy plant.
Jose is showing me his coffee plantation, which he inherited from his father. You can see the bigger trees shading the coffee.
A woman is selling fruits on the street. She has cashew fruits (called ‘maranon’) and sapote in her basket.
I bought a sapote (the brown fruit), 2 avocados and one maranon. The cashew nuts we all know and love come from the hard shell above the maranon fruit. You can also see the traditional brown canteens used as water bottles in Central America.
Here I am in the midst of all the coffee trees. This was taken during a tour I attended for a coffee plantation.
Pergamino (coffee beans still in their parchment) drying on tiles. Whenever it is about to rain, the workers gather the drying coffee and put a tarp over it.
It was a very hot and muggy day, and this is hard work. I did not get a chance to ask these men how much they were getting paid.
This is the view from the plane as I was leaving Guatemala. Look at the mountainous terrain.