A trip to Totonicipan promised opportunities for me to wear my new “Toto” traje (suit) and for all of us to share a view the ancestral homelands.
At 7:30, the van pulled up and there was everybody — all excited – what a dear moment.
Rosa and I shared the front with Alejandro. And, as soon as I could fork them over I handed a movie camera and a Kindle with a PDF file on the destination back to reaching hands. (The kids know all my passwords and enjoy reading on the Kindle.) Rosa had organized a trip for as many of us as we could stuff in the minivan and we would go for a merry five hours, round trip, to the place that means “Hot Waters.” Nestled in among the sixteen kids were Rosa’s husband, Marco; mother, Damiana and Wendy, an exuberant parent.
The ride went smoothly as the kids chatted quietly up the Pan American Highway. We passed Nauhala and headed towards north and east of Xela stopping only twice for the boys to pee and little Diane to vomit. At last, “Toto” came into view sprawling across a wide valley – the Kindle told us the area was famous for wood and Barro pottery. The road narrowed and descended and after snaking through town Alejandro found an underground garage. We emerged from there stunned and blinking at the modern buildings and followed Damiana into her old church (1820’s.) Everyone already in the sanctuary of St. Michael the Arcangel looked just like Damiana — tiny, wizened with bright eyes and furrowed faces. (We are contemporaries, she and I – as close in age as sisters.)
We walked past a marimba band to the other side of the plaza and down one block to the Museo – Casa de la Cultura Totonicapense. Off the atrium there were offices and the curator unlocked a room packed with masks and costumes for every occasion. Under the balcony, rocks, pot shards, a stuffed squirrel, a snake in a half evaporated bottle of formaldehyde shared a half shaded bookshelf. A stout mimeograph c.1950 stood firm on the floor and delicate examples ofBarro pottery and different regionional traje lined cases and filled vitrines. Rosa collected a printout of what ceremonial dress for Totonicapan consists of and we headed across town to the market for lunch.
The kids made it so easy to navigate the crowd they stayed close enough to us and still I wished I had had a multiplex of arms like a Buddah to hold their hands. Somehow we gawked, dawdled and backtracked up to an eating area where Rosa’s lady had a stand serving the local specialty. It was meat, carrots onions and corn cobs prepared in heavy broth with these thick and giant kale like yummy leaves.. Tobic(?). This was superb.
With that and after picking up some official Barro whistles in the market, we headed for the public baths. This was a scene right out of Fellini’s “Roma” everyone casually shrouded in droopy cloth. Steam rose out of giant turtles (yes.) Grannies and babies moved in and out of cement tortoise barely moving the murky waters and haze…Alas, the kids had run down all the equipment batteries by then.
And, we would make one final stop. This was a reunion that included a most elegant demonstration of the dying and weaving technique that makes the Toto cloth so distinctive. The old weavers received Rosa and Damiana and beckoned the herd of us to straggle up the hill and into their neat adobe compound. This house had a small open courtyard with a loom room to the left; a typical reception cum bedroom was straight ahead. Apparently the wife worked out on the porch stretching her threads out and banding before dying two times. She supplies her husband with threads and he puts them exactly on the loom – lining every color up before pressing the fibers together forever into cloth.
Mayans are hospitable and they dispatched their clearly dependent adult son out for sweets and drinks. When he returned we watched some Hollywood (ultra blow-dried) Jesus dubbed in Quiche talk about walking on the Red Sea. And almost as miraculous we learned that there was a short cut back to the highway.