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Art and Travel Writing Workshops in Guatemala
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Writing Workshops in Guatemala

Courses Provide Inspiration and Structure

Guatemala

No vacation is more rewarding than a learning holiday in another country. Hoping to improve my writing skills, I surfed the net and found Art Workshops in Guatemala. Run by Liza Fourre, a native of Minnesota, it had just what I was looking for: professional instruction, a structured vacation with people with similar interests, and an immersion in the culture. Also, the price was right.

Workshop participants receive plenty of pre-trip information, so when we arrived in the Guatemala City airport there were no unexpected glitches. We traveled by van to the World Heritage city of Antigua where we were housed in a large family home with a flower-filled courtyard garden.

The large dining room table seated all 18 of us, mostly women of various ages. We soon got acquainted at the communal breakfast served every morning: fresh squeezed orange juice, zippy jalapeno bread, homemade granola, yogurt, huevos rancheros, and Guatemalan coffee.

Ms. Fourre has run the workshops for more than 10 years. Every year she repeats the favorites or introduces new programs on demand. The choices range from the practical skills courses in photography, Spanish language, or expository writing, to the more specialized like back strap loom weaving, hand painting on silk, fiber art, or workshops on specific Mayan traditions. Her aim is to combine the learning experience with an appreciation of the culture of the country.

Instructors come from across the U.S., Canada, and Europe. “Finding them is no problem,” says Ms. Fourre, “I have a file full of resumes from experts with all kinds of skill awards who want to come to Guatemala to teach.”

Our instructor designed his program for beginning writers. Starting with the usual workshop introduction, we established who we were, why we had come, our past experience, and what we hoped to do with our new skills. Then each day we read our previous day’s assignment to be gently or not so gently critiqued.

For my first assignment I headed to the Univ. of San Carlos, just adjacent to the central park, to find a bit about the history. In the 17th century the central park had been an open square. Now the park is filled with wide paths, park benches, and struggling grass. Students studying Spanish come here with their grammars and dictionaries. Indigenous women, in their brilliant, hand-embroidered huipils (blouses) and navy skirts come to tantalize the tourists with their distinctive Guatemalan handicrafts.

By day, the great wood doors of the mysterious houses open to reveal their secret courtyards, the crisp white tablecloths of an elegant restaurant, or rows of computers in an Internet café. By night, the doors close and the dimly-lit cobblestone streets are shrouded in mystery.

Assignments and Field Trips

While we were painting our word pictures the photographers explored the city with their cameras. Up at dawn, they captured the morning sun rising over a smoking volcano or hiked to the central market for a photo shoot of the farmers unloading bags of onions, heaps of potatoes, fresh-picked melons and tomatoes. In the evening they discovered the secrets of editing, cropping, and enhancing their images on the computer. For those with SLR cameras the local camera store had a quick developing process.

To get a snapshot of family life, we clambered into the back of a pickup truck and headed down a dusty road to the little village of Santa Catarina Barahona. Zoila Garcia and her family of children and grandchildren led us to her open kitchen at the back of the house for a cooking lesson on preparing pepian, a Guatemalan specialty.

On the weekend we boarded a van for a 3-hour trip to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, where we took a boat to El Arco de Noe, a small inn overlooking the water. We ate a gourmet dinner by candlelight with guests from five countries.

Our instructor answered our questions and helped with our writing problems in one-on-one sessions on the flower-filled terrace while the photographers captured life in the small villages surrounding the lake.

For our last night the workshops convened in the big house for a “show and tell.” The photographers won in every category. Their disciplined approach to their work paid off in stunning pictures of the beautiful country.

Did the writing workshop fulfill my expectations? My initial reaction was “No,” but on second thought the answer is “Yes.” I found considerable inspiration from working within a group and I would return for another workshop in a nanosecond. Next time I would learn more about the Mayan culture and join the textile lovers for a weaving workshop and a tour of the highland villages.

For More Info

Art Workshops in Guatemala, 4785 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN 55409-2304; 612-825-0747; info@artguat.org, www.artguat.org. Prices vary between $1,600 to $1,750, including tuition, lodging, full breakfast, field trips. Airfare not included.