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Chichcastenango

Guatemala Journal
Wanderings

 

 chichicastenango

29 mayo
One last weekend trip. I visited Chichicastenango when I first came to Guatemala and got lost in the huge, crowded indigenous marketplace. This time I found it less mysterious and more inviting. Before the trip, however, I needed to get my little car in shape. Four of us were planning to go - only one other had a car and it was an automatic and couldn't make the hills. A week before we left I drove to school with a full car and it kept bottoming out, so I checked with my mechanic who said it was actually the car hitting the tops of the tires. The tires I had bought were too big for the car (they apparently didn't have the right size tires so they sold me what they had) - no wonder I've gotten so many flat tires this year! I replaced the tires at a place he recommended and we were ready to go.

As before, we stopped for breakfast in Tecpan at Katok, a favorite restaurant, and decided we had time for a diversion. Up above Tecpan are the Mayan ruins of Iximche. My friend Kami, an American who has lived in Guatemala over 15 years, convinced the guard in her impeccable Spanish that we should pay the local entry fee, many times less than the tourist rate. We walked around the rectangular low walls of the well preserved site, climbing one of the few intact stairways to get a sense of the whole site from a gentle hilltop. We marveled at an acorn tree where woodpeckers wedge acorns into the thick grooves of bark to store them. A round bricked structure in the center of a courtyard was used as a sacrificial altar.

Driving back down through Tecpan, the streets were blocked by well dressed people walking, mostly in indigenous dress. We parked towards the front of the procession to see the bride and groom led by small children. "Felicidades! Que linda!" Kami called (Congratulations, how beautiful!). The smiles and waves of the family welcomed us to watch and photograph.

My brakes were burning on the way down the steep hills into Chichi, and once at the bottom we made our way through the narrow cobblestone streets dodging chicken buses to find our little hotel. Thursdays and Sundays are market days in Chichi, it was quiet on a Saturday afternoon as vendors began setting up stalls by tying logs together for the next day. A short walk to the cemetery overlooking the town - colorful above ground monuments housed entire families since the late 1800's. Manuel, an energetic 5 year old, offered to take us up the mountainside to see Pascual Abaj, the Mayan altar still in use, for 5 quetzales (less than $1). With a stop at a museum of indigenous masks, we climbed the steep trail to find a still smoking group of black rocks with two large wooden crosses. Sacrifices are made daily by residents hoping for favors in exchange for a chicken or other small animal. The current day Maya people have evolved their own unique religious blend of Christianity and ancient Mayan gods and ceremonies. Manuel pulled up a large mushroom which he carefully carried back as he led us back into town.

On Sunday morning, the vendors tote enormous loads of fruit and wares on their backs to their stalls. It was a treat to wander the streets early to see the market come to life, followed by coffee and breakfast at the formal, traditional Spanish style Hotel Santo Tomas. Later in the day, the steps of the large white church in the center of the maze of market streets are covered with women selling a profusion of flowers, and topped by men with swaying incense burners at the thick wooden doors. The smell of the incense and smoke floats over the milling crowd examining woven and wood crafts, a scene that has probably been repeated for centuries in Chichicastenango.

The last weeks of school are full of ceremony - Colegio Maya doesn't do anything in an ordinary way. After the close of exams, seniors descend the stairs for a celebratory pizza lunch outside, punctuated by fireworks and serenaded by Mariachis. The graduation ceremony includes an elegant candlelight ceremony where each student give his or her parents flowers and are given a candle, a light for their future.

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