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Travel to Chichicastenango, Guatemala


Gemma and I hopped on a chicken bus in Antigua (taking several more along the way) to the famous market town of Chichicastenango (try and say that 3 times fast!) We sat, leaned or stood on several chicken buses that morning: jam packed, laugh out loud ridiculously tight quarters, unfathomable. I took as many pictures on the bus as I could to give a better sense of how packed the buses get. You practically have to crowd surf to get off the bus. I was so glad to hop off the bus when we arrived in “Chichi” as I had started to feel nauseated from the rattle and roll of the roller-coaster ride.

Surrounded by valleys, with nearby mountains looming overhead, Chichicastenango seems isolated in time and space from the rest of Guatemala. When its narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs are enveloped in mists, it’s magical. Mashenos (citizens of Chichi) are famous for their adherence to pre-Christian religious beliefs and ceremonies. You can really see versions of these old rites and around the Iglesia de Santo Tomas.

Although officially Catholic, this simple church, dating from 1540, is more often the scene of rituals that are only slightly Catholic and more distinctly Maya. The front steps of the church serve much the same purpose as did the great flights of stairs leading up to the Maya pyramids. For much of the day, the steps smolder with copal incense, which indigenous prayer leaders called chuchkajaues (mothers-fathers) swing censers containing estoraque (balsam) incense and chant magic words in honor of their ancestors and the ancient Mayan calendar. It is customary for the front steps and door of the church to be used only by important church officials and by the chuckajaues (tourists enter from the side doors). Inside, the floor of the church may be spread with pine boughs and dotted with offerings of corn, flowers, and bottles of liquor. The candles and offerings on the floor are in remembrance of the ancestors, many of whom are buried beneath the church floor just as Maya kings were buried beneath pyramids.

The market is full of the typical market staples: paintings, carvings, jewelry, textiles. There is also a huge farmers market where indigenous Mayan’s sell their harvest. I had great fun here taking pictures of all of their beautiful crops! Inside the market we stopped for a quick-lunch which included fried chicken, rice and a raw vegetable salad (with a stew pot full of hot peppers!). We ate our meal amongst all of the tortilla stands so I will forever remember the soundtrack of our meal being the smack smack of hands forming tortillas and wacking them onto the griddle. Once finished up at the market we grabbed a quick bite at the countries famous fast food joint Pollo Campero and hopped back on a bus bound for Lake Atitlan.

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