Chichicastenango Market

An additional 30 minute drive near where we turn off of the Pan-American highway to descend towards Lake Atitlán is the town of Chichicastenango. The Mayan town is famous for its market, which is held on Thursday and Sunday. We had heard a lot about the town and market and were finally able to make a visit on Sunday as we returned from the lake.

Oh Chichi, you were everything that we anticipated – packed, gritty, chaotic and totally authentic. We held our breath a bit as we finally made it into town, hoping that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a parking spot. We had been told that a good option was to hire one of the official tourist guides wearing a vest to show us around. Since this was our first visit, we decided that would be a good option and we were able to get a guide lined up in the parking area that we pulled into.

After making sure we left with minimal items and cash secured in zippered pockets, we headed into the market with our guide. The market is quite large and there are numerous alleyways and streets all lined with vendors and their wares. We were definitely glad that for this first visit we had our guide to lead us around, especially since we only had about an hour or so to spend.

Maneuvering our way through the crowds, I felt even taller than I normally do. Even DiploMom commented that she felt like a giant, so I guess as we headed even further into the Mayan highlands, the people were getting even shorter. All the white tourists totally stand out as we are easy to spot towering over the rest of the crowds.

We weren’t too far into the market area when a big procession complete with drums, wooden recorders and incense was making its way through the street. Our guide quickly led me to the building they were headed to so that I could grab some photos. They were bringing Saint Thomas to the brotherhood (several Mayan residents of the town) that are responsible for him.

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This area was right next to the Saint Thomas church, which was built in the 1500s on the site of a Mayan altar. The stone steps are what had led up to the altar and here they sell flowers, incense  and other items to burn on the steps. Photographs are not allowed inside of the church, but it is another example of the syncretism between Mayan religious rituals and Catholicism. I’m not quite sure if anything particularly Catholic even takes place at the church anymore, given the heavy Mayan influence. The inside of the church resembled much of what one would expect to see in a Catholic church, save for the various stone altars on the ground that lined the main aisle where Mayan rituals take place.

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After seeing the Saint Thomas church, or guide directed us down another street towards El Calvario, an essentially smaller version of the Saint Thomas church, complete with the original steps that had led to a Mayan altar.

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Outside of this church there was a stone altar and when we arrived, a Mayan shaman was preparing for a ceremony.

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We went inside the church for a look around and when we exited, the ceremony was underway.

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Here is the view looking out from the steps towards the Saint Thomas church and the market area below.

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After these visits, we headed back down into the market for a little haggling and shopping. I picked up a couple of wooden Mayan masks and DiploMom drove hard bargains for several covers to use as cushions for our dining room table chairs. We loved our visit to Chichicastenango and will definitely return before our time is finished in Guatemala. It was quite an experience and I want the opportunity to take more photographs of the market and to explore the areas that we were not able to see.

 

San Juan La Laguna Artists

I don’t know if San Juan simply has a concentration of talented artists, or if, as I mentioned previously, that they simply have their act together as far as encouraging tourism and commerce based on the skills of the residents here, but there about six or seven galleries on the main street from the dock. I haven’t noticed any galleries at the other towns we have been to, but perhaps they are simply more dispersed.

We had decided that on this visit that we wanted to purchase some paintings to go in our dining room and we ended up with three pieces that will look great there. We saw so much that we liked that it was hard to decide. I wouldn’t be surprised that on any return visit that we pick up a few more pieces.

Here is one of the artists working in his gallery and the painting that we purchased from him.

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Here are the other pieces that we purchased from two other galleries. Next step is to get them framed and we’ve been able to get some good recommendations on a couple of places to do this.

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DiploTot’s New Friends

While we were are the lake, we were able to pay the housekeeper for the rental property to prepare dinner for us on Friday and Saturday night. This is a great setup as we didn’t have to plan out what to bring and she is able to earn some extra money in addition to what she is paid by the owner of the house.

The woman and her family live in a town near the house (Santa Cruz La Laguna) that is walkable from the house. On both nights, she had a couple of her younger children with her – Carolina (10) and David (6) – and what a gift that turned out to be! They quickly became friends with DiploTot and they all had fun playing hide-and-seek in the two bedrooms.

The kids were so great and sweet playing with DiploTot. They were very attentive and careful running around with her and making sure that she didn’t stumble or fall. It was a great break for us to have them all playing and it got lots of extra energy out of DiploTot.

It was a highlight of the weekend seeing these little Mayan kids playing with DiploTot and hearing them call out her name as they were scrambling from hiding place to hiding place. I imagine it was a special treat for the kids as well, being able to run and play in the house, which I bet isn’t the norm with every guest that is staying there.

It was all so basic and simple, which added to the charm of it all. No need for a bunch of toys, just kids doing what kids can do, making their own fun with what was available.

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At one point, we realized it had gotten pretty quiet, so I peaked my head into the bedroom to check on things and found them all sitting together with David “reading” a Dr. Suess book to DiploTot.

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It was a very special memory and I look forward to the day when I can recall the story to DiploTot. If we rent this house again on any future visits, these kids will be a big reason why.

Back To San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna has quickly become our favorite town on Lake Atitlán. The town is a model for how other towns can increase tourism and commerce by keeping the streets clean and promoting the products produced in the town. The town has its act together!

We used the same tuk-tuk driver to take us around and to show us other areas we had not seen on our previous visit, including another women’s cooperative that is focused on preparing and dying cotton.

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Another demonstration of preparing the cotton.

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Our friend Julia trying her hand at the process.

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A demonstration of how the cotton is dyed with various plants to get the desired color.

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DiploMom ended up buying some of these place mats for our table.

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San Marcos La Laguna

We were back to Lake Atitlán this past weekend as DiploMom had a friend in town for a visit. We have really enjoyed being able to visit many of the towns around the lake, as each one has its own distinctive feel and personality. We started our morning off with a first visit to San Marcos La Laguna, where we had a nice breakfast and enjoyed wandering some of the narrow walkways that lead to the various yoga, meditation, and holistic centers in the town.

San Marcos is the town for all things esoteric, and for lack of a better term, spiritual. It made for some interesting people watching as we constantly speculated on what had brought the motley assortment of gringos to this place, what their stories were and how long they were going to be in the area.

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Visiting Maximón

Ancient Mayan religion and the influence of Catholicism collide in syncretistic fashion in the Evil Saint, known as Maximón. Maximón is venerated in the western highlands of the country, especially around Lake Atitlán, where he is moved to a different house each year. He is quite fond of drinking and smoking and these items are typically brought to him, as well as being indulged in by those there to pay their respects. The locals will ask Maximón for blessings and success, but also for revenge or success at the expense of others.

We were barely off the boat in Santiago Atitlán before I was being approached about visiting Maximón. I had read in our guidebook about Maximón, so I knew I wanted to visit, I just wasn’t immediately sure if I had the time. Besides, DiploMom and my sister-in-law where busy browsing the market and weren’t ready to visit at this point. If I wanted to go, it would just be me. I started negotiating with one of the men who had approached me. It would cost more to be there to see the ritual, which would be interesting, but I didn’t have a full hour to spare. I mainly just wanted to say I visited and to take some photos, so we worked out the details – the fee for him to take me to the house, what it cost to enter and how many photos I would be able to take. I probably could have driven a harder bargain on his fee, but I was in a bit of a hurry and frankly didn’t feel like extending the process for a couple of dollars.

I paid him about $9 to take me there, a couple of bucks would net me 2-3 photos and about a buck would get me into the house. With the details essentially settled, I headed up the road with my guide, hoping that it would be easy to find DiploMom on my return. We hadn’t been walking too far when he indicated we needed to turn off the street. What we turned into was a really narrow alley that seemed like the perfect place for a gringo like me to get mugged for his camera and money. For a split second I started doubting the wisdom of my visit, but we promptly took another right turn and I found myself outside of Maximón’s house.

I was the only tourist in the house and my guide explained a bit more to me about Maximón, much was what I had read in our guidebook, but I also learned that Maximón also understands German and Italian, besides English, Spanish and the Mayan dialect spoken in the town. My cost was going to be around Q85, but I only had a Q100 bill. Fortunately for me, Maximón had change tucked away, so I was able to pay my fee and take some photos.

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The coffin on the left with the festive Christmas lights is apparently Maximón’s father.

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Once I took my photos, it was pretty much time to wrap things up. As we got up, my guide told me I could make any requests to Maximón, which I politely declined. On our way through the alley to the main street, I passed another group of about 5 tourists on their way in. It would have been interesting to have had a bit more going on at the shrine, but if we make it back to the town, I might visit again if I have more time to see the ritual. And for a few quetzals more, I can take as many photos as I want.

I’m glad I made my visit and I had no problems reuniting with DiploMom. They had made their way up the street and I promptly found them on my way back down.