Yo coso recuerdos cuando viajo. Por favor autographia mi colcha. Gracias. (I stitch memories when I travel. Please autograph my quilt)
My fiber art project while exploring Central America was a wee crazy quilt. Of course the quilt and embroidery police are shaking their heads (what, THICK wool, not fine silk or cotton. The stitches are sort of wonky. It’s not very traditional…) I’ve finished it and am enjoying revisiting the memories I’ve stitched into it.
As I was getting ready to travel, the box of advent calendar yarns from Allison Barnes Yarn were looking at me. It started as I was taking the skeins and winding them into balls – my thoughts about the pink had changed from – meh, pink – to OMG, it’s all the colours of the Alberta Wild Roses. Thin sock yarn looked to me like chunky embroidery thread, so I wound about 10 meters of each colour onto thread holders. Just in case I wanted to do finer embroidery, I added my spools of Wonderfil Elana, a thick machine wool thread. I added a crazy quilt square that had been sitting around for ten years (it had originally traveled with me to Australia in 2009 and then been mailed home when I realized that it was silly to think of spending hours hand embroidering every day when there is so much fun happening around you). My thimble, a couple of needles and a thread cutter completed the package.
I actually started this before I left with a winding golden path machine sewn from square to square to guide the journey.
The start and finish to the journey. I did about half of the wild roses as I traveled from the airport in Fort St John to Mexico City. I purposely left it unfinished until I returned home when the wild roses were in full bloom on the trails. Thanks to Cathy who still has pennies and contributed one to my quilt.
Three weeks traveling from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen with Adrianna and a great group of folks then switch over to another group with Reyes for Tulum before heading onward to Belize. My memories included the incredible flowers in the markets. Roses were USD 1 for a dozen and we even saw some “typical” bouquets for a wedding reception with 500 dozen roses. The coin is a 5 centavo which would be less than one cent. Showing is the Mexican coat of arms – eagle holding a snake on a cactus.
From Tulum, we traveled into Belize with Reyes. Of the many fantastic memories, I chose to remember the day snorkeling at Caye Caulker. The reef is reputed to be the second best in the world, behind the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. My fellow travelers from Australia just rolled their eyes and said this was much better. The first place we snorkeled, there were hundreds of different kinds of fish, but a preponderance of long white ones with yellow tails. After that, it was turtles, sharks, and everything imaginable. And, yes, the water is turquoise. The Belize dollar is officially pegged at 2 to the USD, making it easy to figure out how much everything costs. We had to make sure that we exchanged all our money at the border as it isn’t exchangeable anywhere else.
The national flower/plant is the Ceiba tree and that is what is on this square. Felted into the branches is some of the Ceiba cotton (harvested at Copan across the border in Honduras) and around the roots is some natural brown cotton fiber I begged at a shop in Antigua where I was buying a lovely hand woven scarf of cotton and silk (actually, ceiba and bamboo, both local to Guatemala). Guatemala calls itself the heart of the Maya world and the indigenous people have been weaving fabrics for thousands of years. The coin shows the ceiba tree and is a 1 centavo. Guatemala has quetzals (not dollars), recognizing that for the Maya, the feathers of the quetzal were their currency.
In Antigua, we changed groups and headed toward Honduras with our guide Dennis. Our time in Honduras was less than a day, just long enough to visit our last Maya site, Copan. Hot and humid (rainy season was in full swing), I remember incredibly beautiful birds and a small new town inside the border built for the archaeologists exploring Copan. I harvested ceiba cotton from the ground to add to my Guatemala tree and took the liberty of signing my quilt with my Maya name which had been given to me by Reyes. Currency in Honduras is the Lempira (named after an indigenous chief that resisted the Spanish) which is worth about 5 cents. So this wee coin, 5 centavos, is worth almost nothing but the memory.
In Succhitoto, I spent a day on an incredible hike to explore one of the areas most involved in the Civil War of the 1980s. One of the revolutionaries, a man younger than me, described what had been happening and why. By coincidence, one of the group was a local fabric artist who had lived through the 80s as a refugee in Honduras before coming home. She showed us how the traditional indigo baths worked as we passed them and I learned that it was the indigo (royal blue) that was as important to Spain as the gold of Peru. My square has imaginary flowers made from hand dyed indigo fabric from the artist’s shop in town. El Salvador uses the US dollar as its official currency but also mints its own coins, loosely based on American coinage. My “dime” would only be usable in El Salvador.
We got to Nicaragua by ferry across the Golf of Fonseca. Actually, it was more of a tour jet boat, with stops to see interesting sights along the way. An unofficial customs stop (if you email the day before, they will open for you) and then a basic bus along back roads to Leon. What to use for my memories of a country of empty houses and boarded up businesses with friendly helpful people everywhere we went? Where we avoided Managua because of demonstrations and riots that didn’t make any first world news. The white dimensional flower is a May flower – trees everywhere with huge white flowers. It was also the stylized emblem on the doors of the National Theatre in Granada as we walked past on a deserted street as we headed toward the riverfront and the square. The fabric is from a hand embroidered handkerchief that I bought at an artisan’s market just outside Grenada. The Nicaraguan Cordoba is worth 4 cents Canadian (and not exchangeable outside of the country) but this 10 centavo piece is perfect for the golden yellow center of the May flower.
Costa Rica (and then Panama) is very different from the other countries of Latin America. No Maya influence and very little Spanish presence initially as there was “nothing of importance”. Ecotourism, strong economy and a large expat community meant we blended in more easily. Before, my attempts to communicate in Spanish were met with a friendly smile and an attempt to use English for me because I clearly was not local. Here, if I spoke Spanish, the first assumption was that I might be fluent. We explored cloud forests (finally saw Guatemala’s national bird, the Quetzal), volcanoes and the beach, as well as some great museums in San Jose. Our guide described Costa Rica as emphasizing its Spanish rather than indigenous history. Other information suggested that Costa Rica was an area of transition – not strongly influenced by the Maya or Aztec to the North or the Inca to the south. By chance, the fabric for this square was perfect – butterflies flowers and leaves for all the natural beauty. With 500 or so Colones to the US dollar, this was one of those places where the paper money had lots of zeros (and the word mille meaning thousand not million). I needed to do some searching to get my 5 colones coin for this square.
How to describe Panama? Snorkeling in the Atlantic (Bocas del Toro), cloud forest with flash floods and incredible scenery (Boquete), snorkeling in the Pacific (Coiba National Park just east of the Galapagos), the Panama Canal, snorkeling in the Atlantic (San Blas Islands). Heat, humidity and rainy season. I created another underwater scene with the orange starfish and the iridescent clown fish we visited at Bocas del Toro. Three days on San Blas before coming home is represented by the curling conch shells that were everywhere – small, large, brightly coloured, bleached white, broken into interesting shapes and blown to call me to meals. Panama’s coinage is the Balboa which is par with the US dollar. Balboa is the conquistador who conquered and settled Panama. I chose this ¼ Balboa (25 cents) for its design and unique pink accents. I also discovered that Panama loves to create commemorative coins that looked like our loony but were only ¼ Balboa.
Next task, work though my hundreds of photos and put my memories into words.