The Hidden Category
One of my bookshelves is spilling over with travel guides. Places I’ve been, places I want to go. Most are in the “rough” or “hidden” category (or you could call it the “cheap” category), because those are the kinds that are most likely to lead you to the unexpected.
I’ve just added an amazing new book to my shelf: Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya by Susanna Badgley Place. The part of the world it covers, commonly referred to as the Ixil Triangle, is tiny–maybe only 30 miles square. But it is so rich in cultural, historical, and natural diversity that you could spend a lifetime exploring it.
I’ve been to the Ixil Triangle twice–first with Mary Anne Wise, founder of Multicolores, the rug hooking cooperative, and then with Deborah Chandler and Tere Cordón while working on Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives. These were short trips, just a couple of days each, but packed with experiences and memories that won’t leave my mind. Women streaming down the street from the cathedral in full traje and veils at dawn in Nebaj during Semana Santa; cemeteries of empty graves honoring those lost during the thirty-six-year “Violencia”; a simple, memorable meal of masa wrapped in squash leaves in Cotzal; bold double-eagle motifs on the huipils of the bold, bright women of Chajul; dear Domingo Asicona deconstructing a plastic feed sack to repurpose the materials into a traditional twined man’s shoulder bag.
Place’s book brings it all back, and more. She’s walked a fine line between presenting extensive history and ethnology, and offering an exciting but practical travel experience that makes you want to hit the road right now. Even though the hotels are modest at best (a giant tree fern in the courtyard making up for lack of heat and maybe lack of plumbing in the rooms); even though the restaurants are a little sketchy (it’s okay to eat if it’s thoroughly cooked and still hot); even though the dare-devil roads threaten to plunge you into the abyss as you’re distracted by the breath-taking views. The people, the textiles, the cloud forests and waterfalls, the sense of being in a place out of time more than make up for a bit of inconvenience or discomfort. With this guide, you can travel with confidence, and experience the by-ways of a seriously rich and little-known part of the world.
You Can Go There, Too
I write this even as we’re putting the finishing touches on Sheri Brautigam’s Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets, and Smart Shopping, due out on October 1. It’s a breezier book than Place’s, but every bit as rich in practical details of where to go, how to get there, where to stay, how to be safe, how to shop ethically, and how to spot the best traditional textiles in Mexico, with an emphasis on Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Both of these books shine with the generosity of their authors, who have lived extraordinary adventures and are glad to share them. Whether you travel the world in person or in your armchair, you’ll want them by your side.
And . . . a sneak peek at what’s next!