After reaching out to the organizer of the ExpoTaTToo Gt 2017 / 7a. Edition (Guatemala) I secured an invitation for Jessy Knuckles, Allison Riot, Emily Elegado and Katie McGowan to attend their tattoo convention which took place October 14 & 15 2017.
Arrived into Guatemala
We arrive at La Aurora de la Ciudad de Guatemala (GUA) airport Wednesday, October 11 and are greeted by organizer, Jose’ Farnes. I arrived after everyone and upon landing I made the dumb decision to exchange some money in the airport which is the worst place to do this. I had also forgotten that the US dollar is by far the most widely accepted foreign currency in Guatemala. 1 USD is 7.80 Guatemalan Quetzal.
Making tortilla’s in Guatemala
We’re loaded into a minivan and now travel as a group for the rest of our stay. We drive through bustling Guatamela City for lunch and arrive at La Casa Chapina. It is at this moment, during this meal, that I learn if you use the google translate app and switch to camera mode it will translate an image that contains text. **Mind BLOWN ** I use the app and scan my menu to choose my lunch instead of bothering Jose’ to translate my food options. After dining on traditional Guatemalan food, we each had the honor of making our own tortillas by clapping it between our hands and then carefully placing it onto a flat metal stove. There has been a woman making them our entire lunch. She’s centered in the middle of the restaurant with tables all around her as she works- handmaking tortilla’s and putting them on huge flat oven to cook.
Female Tattoo Artists in Guatemala
At lunch I speak at length with Jose’ about why he invited 5 women tattoo artists to this tattoo convention. He explains to me he wants to change the opinions of the general public in Guatemala about tattoos. 45 percent of the population is Catholic and 42 percent Protestant. In speaking with Jose’ I learn for him the purpose of this convention is to represent tattoos as beautiful body art. To many in Guatemala tattoos still represent the stigma of being in prison or gang related. He invited female tattoo artists to showcase the femininity and beauty of the tattoos. Little did I know the endless amount of media and interviews we were about to experience during this trip.
After our meal we are brought to our lodging for the weekend. A large home with many bedrooms called Palacio de Jocotenango Hotel. Megan Massacre, Babiery Hernandez and Jhon Campuzano are also residing here and attending the tattoo convention. All of us together took over every room in the home. There were no other guests. When we arrived, we were greeted with the drink Indita de Jamaica. It is a sweet Guatemalan favorite. It is a fruity, hibiscus-flavored aguardiente that comes in a signature bottle depicting an indigenous woman in traditional costume. Cheers!
Media Day in Guatemala
The next day, Thursday, we were up early, packed into the minibus and brought to a TV set called Matutino Express for live morning interviews. Thankfully Aj Gonque, a Guatamelan PR representative and press tour manager, is with us to coordinate and to help translate for the ladies. As we move from one destination to the other, I’m in awe of the Guatemalan “chicken buses”. They are colorful, some are privately owned, all are named, decorated buses that transports goods and people between communities and towns.
After the TV interview we are shuttled to Hooters who was one of the official sponsors. As we walk inside, we see more than 50 media people in attendance facing a panel. Before Megan, Jessy, Katie, Allison and Emily sit down on the panel, there is a historian speaker explaining the history of tattoos. Once she has completed her informative slide presentation, the artists sit down to answer all the media questions and pose for photo opp’s. What a whirlwind and great job by Jose’ and his team!
Hike to top of The Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
After the exciting media event, we pile back into the minivan and drive through Guatemala City to a historic church. The Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario / Templo de Santo DomingoCiudad Guatemala, zona 1. which is a seismic neoclassical Catholic church located in the Historic Center of Guatemala City. It is where the miraculous painting of the Patron Virgin Mary of Colombia is kept by the Dominican priests, patronal shrine of Colombia. It was built at the end of the 18th century and has been rebuilt twice: after the 1917 earthquakes and after the 1976 earthquake. The parking lot in front of the church is full of vendors selling everything from candy, coffee, and chocolate.
We enter the church and are educated by looking at a miniature replica of what the church and surrounding government buildings resembled before the earthquakes. The church was crowded and there was a line of highly devoted people waiting for confession. We climb a few stairs to experience an art exhibit on the top floor. This is where we can get a spectacular pinnacle view of the entire church which is covered in colorful paper crafts. Paper crafts are when artist uses paper or card as the primary artistic medium for the creation of two or three-dimensional objects. Next, we are being escorted around the outside of the church where I learn we are going to climb the roof to the very top peak of the church! Steady footing … no rails … ending in one of the coolest photos of all of us ever high above Guatemala City.
Trendy Zone 4 are of Guatemala
After our hike to the top of the church we head to lunch in Guatemala City to a new and upcoming urban renewal area called Zone 4. We all sit down together at a long table to enjoy an incredible meal at the new Como2 . The chef comes out to greet us and asks all the tattoo artists to sign his chefs jacket.
Fancy Cayala City
The following day we explore the town of Ciudad Cayala which is in the heart of Cayala City. This town is an upscale outdoor shopping center with charming architecture & a variety of shops & eateries. Cayala has multiple stores from recognized brands, pretty impressive for a country that is located in Central America. I’m in LOVE with the Zeus statue in the center of the town. We explore, relax and get ready for a busy convention.
Later Jose’ shows all of us the empty space where the tattoo convention is going to take place which is inside the Arcakida Shopping Mall. There will be plenty of foot traffic that will be curious about the convention. We then walk through the mall to Abejorro bar and spend some time together into the evening listening to a live rock band.
Guatemala Tattoo Convention Time!
Saturday and Sunday are convention time! Jessy and Alison share a booth while Emily tattoos alone with her shop manager and Katie shares a booth with a male tattoo artist she has brought. Everyone is busy tattooing both days. Megan Massacre had a line of fans waiting in long lines that wrapped around our booths to meet her and get a photo with her. There are tattoo competitions and performances both days. Later Saturday evening surprisingly the lights dim and the stage lights beam, the extremely popular Guatemalan band Bohemia Suburbuna has entered the stage and now the arena is full of music fans.
On our final day, Monday, we’re off to explore Antigua. Antigua is a small city surrounded by volcanoes in southern Guatemala. Antigua was built in an earthquake-prone region, and a massive earthquake in 1773 destroyed much of the town. However, some of the main monuments in town were preserved and can still be seen today and date back as early as 16th century. As we’re driving into Antigua piled into our minibus we can see Volcan Fuego erupting off in the distance.
Jade’s history in Mayan culture
Our first stop is at Jade Maya, an original Jade factory and Museum. Here we are educated about Jade’s history in Guatemala. Jade was revered in the Maya world. Most indigenous peoples in Guatemala are of Mayan descent. We have the chance to search and find our own Maya Birthday sign/ symbol in the lunar calendar called “Cholq’ij or Tzolk’in”. There are 20 different symbols/energies called “Nahuales”. Each represent a special meaning and influence over people and mother nature. I’m pretty sure we all purchased some form of jewelry (necklaces, ear plugs, etc.) that contained our Nahuales symbol.
Exploring and Shopping in Antigua
We are then dropped off in a central location within Antigua and start to explore. We stop in a chocolate museum and sample 100% pure cacao. There are shops and ladies on the streets selling handcrafted, beautiful, colorful Guatemalan artisan goods everywhere. We make our way to El Carmen Church & Market to pick up souvenirs and gifts. While bargaining can be fun, I encourage anyone reading this to be mindful and willing to pay a fair price, as this is the artists’ livelihood.
After shopping we all want to experience a traditional a Guatemalan lunch. We are brought to La Cuevita de los Urquizu to dine. Upon walking into the restaurant you stop to look at and pick your meal from a selection of hot “stews” in clay pots. The waiter explains the name of the food and take your order which is a choice of one kind of protein and two side dishes. Fantastic food experience for us all!
Beautiful not to be missed landmarks in Antigua
It’s time to explore more of Antigua! When I travel to any new country I light a candle in remembrance of my mother who passed when I was 18. I had the pleasure of lighting her candle in Antigua Guatemala Cathedral built in 1541.
While exploring we saw Santa Catalina Arch, Iglesia De San Francisco church built in 1530 and the picturesque giant pillars and collapsed ceiling of the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral ruins. Amazing photos were taken in the old part of the church that was destroyed over the years from multiple earthquakes leaving behind a skeleton of giant Greek-looking pillars and arches. Finally we head back to our lodging for our last evening.
Wonderful people of Guatemala and Incredible Tattoo Organizer, Jose’
Inspired by all that we saw it is decided that each of artist would tattoo the other with their Nahuales Mayan symbol to commemorate and remember this great trip! This is very typical when traveling with tattoo artists to collect some type of tattoo symbol that bonds us and creates a great memory on the body.
In all the people of Guatemala are some of the nicest, genuine people I have ever met. Jose’ and his team truly showed us their beautiful country and I could not thank them enough for their hospitality! They have pure intentions and want to see you happy and smiling. Upon leaving the house mother gave me a beautiful scarf to thank ME for coming to her country. This gesture brought tears to my eyes and I’ll never forget the hospitality of so many on this trip.