uatemala didn’t have enough gold in the ground to please the Spanish conquistadores. They just needed to look around more—gold is where you find it, and there is plenty of gold to find in the landscape, on the people and in the skies.
Golden tones are around all year, but this is a special month to spot gold in the Holy Week processions and in the designs created on the cobbled streets over which those processions pass.Golden-toned petals, colored sawdust and even golden bottle caps are used in the alfombras, intricate carpets made in every city and town during Lent for the various processions, none more elegant than those of La Antigua Guatemala for Holy Week. The gold is soft in the pre-dawn light, then brightens with the summer sun of daytime as the processions wind through the streets.
That same sun during this holiday period sparkles on the golden sands of Pacific and Atlantic beaches and along the lowland rivers. Its verano, summer in the land of yeararound spring, with long vacations for Holy Week sending many families traveling in search of those golden sands. All year, though, golden tones are woven into many of the elegant huipiles, blouses created by Maya women throughout the country and especially in some highland villages where mercerized thread in yellows and oranges seems like spun gold in the sunshine of open-air markets. Piles of golden carrots, golden fruits and golden flowers shine in the sun of those markets, usually outside churches with their own golden altars on display.
Fields are gold with wheat stalks much of the year in the higher farms, where peanut vines stretch across the steep hillsides, their own golden tones complementing the many shades of green in other crops. Golden roses seem especially intense in the clear air as they’re prepared for export, gold going to the flower markets of Europe and the Americas.
The precious metal is around Guatemala, too-gold in jewelry holding special Guatemalan jade and other stones, gold leaf on elegant frames holding Spanish Colonial paintings, gold in the Guatemala City cathedral and churches that was moved from La Antigua after the 18th century earthquakes. A beautifully designed gold one-quetzal coin came after this century’s treaty of peace, the stylized wings of a bird forming Paz, peace. But of course these coins aren’t real gold, not for a single quetzal, and use has diminished their glitter in the few short years since they were issued.
To find real gold in Guatemala, just be patient. Several times a month, gold is in the sky, usually around sundown. Keep looking. Every few sunsets, golden rays fan the air just like those sun drawings we all made in primary school, a golden ball with golden rays of our Crayolas. Remember those drawings? They come to life, just as you drew them, in the sparkling Guatemalan air. Gold in Guatemala, everywhere you look for it. —