So, I said before that Guatemala City's Mercado Central is one of my two favorite places to get lost in the city. The other, I didn't so much get lost in as much as I just lost my mind.
I give you: Museo Ixchel (or Museo Ixchel de Traje Indígena, if you're nasty): respository of exquiste Guatemalan textiles of every description; visual encyclopedia of huipiles, cortes, fajas, tzutes and more; and just an all around fantastic way to spend an afternoon. This was one of my main reasons for spending a couple of days in Guatemala City, and even if we hadn't been so pleased with our other experiences in the city, this museum would have made the whole stay worth it.
The museum showcases clothing and fabrics from well over 100 pueblos, which collectively illustrate the astonishing diversity of the Guatemalan textile world. Traditionally, each pueblo had unique, easily identifiable traje - making it easy to tell if someone was from San Mateo Ixtatan or Todos Santos Cuchumatan or Zacualpa or or or.
When we started into the museum, I wasn't sure whether I was going to drop to my knees and weep or spontaneously combust from sheer excitement. Luckily, I was able to restrain myself enough to keep it to the occasional gasp and whimper.
Not only is the museum a visual stunner, it's a great place to get some background and context for the overwhelming tide of textiles you find outside (and inside) the capital city. It does a great job of displaying tradition alongside innovation, as Guatemalan textiles continue to evolve in virtually endless ways.
To get to the museum, we took a cab from the center of town to the campus of Universidad Francisco Marroquín. From the gates of the university (which don't let cabs through), it's a rather steep stroll down into the little valley where the museum is situated. If for some reason you need an extra reason to go, the excellent Museo Popol Vuh is also on campus, just next door to Ixchel.
In most American museums, you'll find a smattering of Maya artifacts, but here, you'll see a wealth of different forms and applications, all of which are riotously creative and masterfully executed.
A visit to Popol Vuh should appeal to just about anyone, but history buffs, art lovers and those planning a visit to Tikal or other Maya ruins should not pass up the chance to visit. Seeing these artifacts makes a visit to one of the ancient cities so much richer. You can imagine the paint colors that used to vivify the temples, the clothes people wore and the copal incense that mixed in the air with woodsmoke and the humid green scent of the jungle.
Once you're done with your museum visits, struggle your way back up the hill and head to the nearby Zona Viva, the hip and happening place where the youngs ogle each other in restaurants and shopping malls. Even if you feel a little old, you can get some serious tacos al pastor that are so good you'll forget all about being cool.