Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chajul Trip With Jon K.

Jon Kaplan, friend and fellow photographer, and I recently visited Chajul, Guatemala for four days, during which it rained unrelentingly. We were able to photograph only a few hours for each of three days: the results of my excursions are shown below, mostly without comment. Some of the images are merely snapshots, others pretend a bit more to art, some are clearly documentary. The mixture can be confusing. Let's hope not too much so.

Chajul is a small pueblo. The population numbers in the few thousands. It was a focal point of much military action during the civil war (or insurrection, if you prefer) and today it still struggles to recover. It suffers, today, from poverty and a near-total lack of significant infrastructure. The modernization that is taking place there is of the most basic, and, in my view, the worst of modernity. True, there is electrification, paved streets (all concrete), and serious construction of new houses (also concrete and block -- with the ubiquitous tin roofs), so the argument can be made that there is progress, of a kind.

The tragic aspect of these changes, to my mind, is the huge loss of what must have once been a village of adobe casas with tiled roofs. And, insofar as local culture is concerned, the near complete adoption of western style clothing by the men-folk. Women, as in most other Highland pueblos have retained the use of traditional clothing -- and a beautiful costume it is.

All, then, is not well in Chajul. Each time that Jon and I have gone there over the past years (more than 20 for Jon, seven for myself) the pueblo seems a bit more grim. The older adobe homes are in miserable repair, paved streets seem to collect mud run-off, plastic trash, and animal dung. Older homes now abut new and functional concrete eye-sores. How is one to honestly complain, however, when people can live in presumably safer homes? For anyone who might ever be tempted to go there, a visit to the outer areas of Chajul do, still, provide amazing vistas and the best that remains of old Chajul. The pueblo is located in a magnificent valley and some views are breathtaking.

I complained in a recent Facebook profile posting, indirectly raising the question: how can one continue to love such a miserable place? I trust that the photographs below will provide a clue to that answer: they do for me. And they, along with the generous people there, insure that return visits will be made.

We arrived in Chajul in the late afternoon and stopped in for a visit with the Anna Lopez family who live a short walk from our hotel. Jon has been friends with the family for about 20 years and has visited regularly, usually once or twice each year. I on the other hand have known them for about seven years and have visited with them regularly with Jon. Interior photographs were mostly made in their modest but welcoming home.

When Jon and I began traveling to Chajul together we found only one hotel. Bad beyond belief. Then a stroke of good luck. We found a newly constructed one outside the pueblo and it had a kitchen, unstaffed, and we asked to use it in the future. We began bringing our own food supplies. The kitchen lacked most cooking implements. This meant purchasing and bringing these as well. An early addition was a shallow crepe pan. This trip we began to search the kitchen for it, without success. Awhile later Jon glanced out the window: "I think I found our pan," he said. Yes.... and here it is, to your left. A new use for a strange, unfamiliar tool.

Anna Lopez and grandaughter

Preparing lunch for Jon and myself

Portable game room used for fiestas

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