Uniform villagers


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Up in the highlands near the Mexican border is the village of Todos Santos. The village is famous for the traditional dress of the locals, mam - a Mayan language, the use of a 260 day Mayan calandar and the murder of a Japanese tourist in 1998 for taking photographs. So armed with my digital camera I boarded a bus bound for Huehuetenango where I could change bus for Todos Santos.

Sharron and Ann from school decided to accompany me... well actually - Sharron had planned the trip and kindly offered to let me accompany them. We left at 7am, stopped at McDonalds for coffee and a sausage and egg muffin, yep McDonalds has made it to Xela - sorry world I've eaten there now.

The chicken bus to Huehue took 2 1/2 hours, an hours wait in Huehue, 3 1/2 hours to Todos Santos. 7hrs, we'd expected just over 4hrs. On the chicken bus I spoke to the guy I sat next to. He was a Indigenous guy of about 25. He told me that Spanish wasn't his first language, that he spoke Mam as his first language. He charmingly told me that Todos Santos es grande.

There are three things to do in Todos Santos.

1) Look at all the villagers in uniform. Amaze at the red trousers and floral blouses.
2) A chuca - a mam word for a type of sauna.
3) Climb the mountain and look down.

So for around half an hour we were amazed and astounded by an entire village of identically clad men and women. Saturday morning had been market day, after the market the done thing amongst the men of the village is to drink from 10am on market day. Arriving at 3pm many of the men folk were wandering the streets, blind drunk - but looking great in their uniforms. After half an hour we had grown blaze with the whole concept of wearing the same kind of clothes.

We searched for food shortly after no longer being amazed at identically clad people. Sharon is from Glasgow... alas we could find no deep fried mars bars or chips like the ones back home. So she settled for pizza, it even had a fruit on it, pineapple. The pasta and pizza was good at the small restaurant but service with a smile is something unheard of, it reminded Sharon of home. Ann is great with kids, really friendly and always smiling. The kids of the village warmed to Ann immediately, she was able to get photos of them for only 10 Quetzels, about 10p.

The chuca looks like a pizza oven, has small chimney, a small room, no light, much smoke and lots of steam. If you're claustrophobic a chuca would be a nightmare. After 12mins in the chuca I felt like I had smoked 50 cigarettes and was sitting in a small pool of my own sweat. Enough.

After the chuca we drank in the local bar, listed in the rough guide as where the gringos hang out. Ok - so we were the gringos, no one else was really hanging out. At eight thirty the bar shut. We found another bar, were waited on by some charming children of say 10 years old. At 10 this bar shut as well. Nothing else to do in the town apart from avoid stepping on the villagers that had passed out in the street in the afternoon and make our way back to the hotel. 10'o 5 pm and the hotel was completely shut... after knocking on the door and trying all the doors we eventually awoke the owners... stupid us we hadn't known that if you go right around the other side of the hotel there is an unlocked gate. Hotel Casa Familia, the best in town.

The next day we awoke at 5am to the sounds of buses with horns at full blast. The evangelical church started up an hour later blasting the worst "music" I have ever heard via megaphones across the entire valley, then cats leaping around on the tin roof. No wonder everyone goes to bed so early - it's the only way possible to get sleep.

We decided to do the remaining activity in the village - climb the mountain. After searching for about 20mins for the main path up the hill we decided that we couldn't be bothered and wandered into the outskirts of the village. In the outskirts of the village the people were really friendly - we said "buenos dias" to everyone. Everyone responded. Some of the kids wanted me to take a photo of them - I was a little wary of this due to the Japanese tourist story, but did so anyway. A moment of inspiration and I showed them their photo on the little screen at the back of my digital camera. They were so impressed they called over their parents, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives to look at the 2inch screen on the back of their camera, I took lots of photos of the kids and some of their families. Madness, the Japanese tourist had been taking photos and the villagers had thought that he was a devil worshiper come to capture their souls and take them to Satan. Here I was, not only taking their souls but showing them how I had trapped them in this 2 by 2 inch box.

As I left that part of the village the kids came running after us with their friends and their machetes. They wanted another photo. I took more photos - one with their machetes raised in mock anger... boy are they gonna get in trouble from mom. (Sorry Mum more Americanisms... this one seemed apt.)

On the way back into the village Ann chatted to a woman weaving one of the brightly coloured blouses. How long does it take? - about a month. Tiny little knots are combined to form the beautiful patterns, painstakingly tied one at a time. Paying $10 for such an item didn't seem like so much... it also showed what great money the kids were getting for photos. The husband of the weaver was in America for two years working and sending money home. We asked how they communicate, as the telephone is so expensive... they email - this Internet thing is everywhere. Had some great panqueques (pancakes) at the hotel, Sharon ate more fruit. Caught a bus after waiting 3 more hours.

I made it out of Todos Santos alive but I am wondering if I have made things more or less difficult for future tourists. In future maybe no one will want their photo taken except with a digital camera... or maybe this will be proof that souls are being carried off in these small boxes.

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