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Published: April 22nd 2011
Via Guatemala city I arrived in Chichicastenango
on a Saturday morning, in time for the famous Sunday market. I had traveled together with the two Ozzie ´moles´ from El Péten region the day previous, and then taken a chicken bus (3 hrs) to the market town which lies at 2175 meters! The roads lead through mainly mountainous terrain, making the bus trip a rollercoaster ride of the type that might give you a whiplash. With sweaty palms we held on to the bars on top of the seats in front of us for deer life. Equally sweaty buttocks caused some serious sliding movements, which meant the poor soul at the window was being absolutely squashed. The term chicken bus
refers to the fact that livestock used to be transported on these buses alongside people. I have not seen that happen yet, but the number of people that are squeezed in is huge. I couldn´t help but wonder during our white-knuckle ride what would happen if that bus drove of the mountainside. We´d be sardines in a squashed can...!
Upon arrival I was met by a very short Mayan woman, (she came up to about my hip!) who owned the Posada Telefono
at the back of the town. I decided to follow her across the plaza where I got my first sight of the famous market to come. At first I got a room downstairs which I later swopped for a room on the third level, overlooking the very colorful cemetry. Again, I couldn´t help but wonder what would happen if an (quite frequently I believe) earthquake would strike. It all seemed built very haphazardly with lightweight materials. Next to the guesthouse was a construction site, an excavation in the hillside, with the walls almost touching the foundations of the houses to its sides and back...
After settling in I walked up the hill to the Mayan sacrificial place. There was an older man just working on unfolding rolled up corn shells and taking out round pieces of what looked like blackened, crumbly pieces of oats and other grains. I also notices intricate placings of salt or sugar, in circle shaped forms. Walking back down I thought I´d take a shortcut which didn´t work out too well; I ended up in somebody´s back yard with 3 growling dogs around me.... Aaahh...
I walked around a little more around town after and
met up with the ´moles´ who were staying at another place. We had drinks together on a balcony overlooking an intersection of the narrow cobbled streets where we were 'pestered' by kids selling book page holders and other items of Guatemalan make. Very cute kids who were very persistant! Back in my room with the moonlight falling through the windows on 3 sides of the rooms, I felt perched on top of the town, high up and ready to tumble down any moment. I might have in my dreams actually...
I woke up early, as usual, at dawn with the call of the roosters sounding throughout the town, one trying to over-do the other which in turn would be followed by one thinking it could do even better. Impossible to continue sleeping anyway, so I got up and strolled around town where I watched the setting up of stalls on every little available space possible. A lot of handicrafts, beautifully woven with local colorful thread, garments of the same material and lots of wood carvings of course. Other items on sale were chunks of limestone that the locals use to whitewash certain items, so I was told. The center
In the center of the market
of it all, the main square, is filled with food stalls, lots of Mayan girls slapping their hands together in a continuous effort to prepare small tortillas, some of white dough, other of greyish dough. I bough myself a cap bearing the Gallo logo, partly made of hennep. The white stairs of the St. Thomas cathedral were filled with flowers, Mayan women with burning cans of incense waving them back and forth, and whole families observing the market unfolding below them. Apart from the tourists it is a market for locals too. That´s how it started of course. So you can see families coming from outside the town doing their weekly shopping for food, clothes and everything else.
Lots and lots of local boys, ranging from 4 (!) to 12 years old roam the streets for want of Quetzales. They hope to earn these wanted coins by polishing shoes, for which they carry around little stools and wooden boxes with materials. After saying ´no´many times, I fnally gave in and had 2 boys polish my shoes when I was sitting in the little park enjoying the warming up of the day. The boys, of which one spoke English, (most
boys can say the word ´shoeshine Mr?´). I asked them about their ages and names and other stuff as best as I could with my limites Spanish. As I sat there I really had the urge to do some voluntary work. I could see myself staying for a few weeks teaching English at their school. Unfortunately the boys told me schools were closed for Easter. Too bad, maybe a next trip to Centro Americana?
I had breakfast and lunches at a great little spot, tucked away in a courtyard, with low prices but great service by a blind man and his (grand)children. The market cleared late afternoon, after I had had a little nap. I hadn´t slept very well that previous night, being quite cold at this altitude. Temperatures dropped to below 15 degrees I believe! That evening I met up with the moles again and we I joined them in a little decadent drinking of wine. Conversations ranged from swopping travel stories, getting-to-know-you exchanges to more personal dialogues I wil not get into now. Let´s just say we soon found out stuff about each other that usually you only learn after marrying that person... Good fun hanging out
with these albeit older but very fun ladies 😊
I really loved the town, perched high up in the mountains, all these kids with their dirty T-shirts, big black eyes and naughty smiles trying to sell stuff or polish your shoes. The traditional dress of the Mayans and the interesting language as I was listening in. Would really love to come back here!
We (I and the moles) met up again and got another chicken bus to Chimaltenango, the drop-off point for exchanging buses to Antigua
, where I was planning to be for the festival of lent, ot Semana Santa, the week leading up to Good Friday. Famous for its processions for which people come from all over Central America (and the world), it was going to be challenging to find accomodation. More on that next time!
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