On Sunday, I embarked on what would be one of my most interesting trips in Guatemala so far–a trip to the Sunday market in Chichicastenango.
*I’m warning you in advance this is a long post, because it was a long day.
At 6am, five other students from my Spanish school, led by one of our teachers, made our way across Xela to the bus station (which was really more like a street corner), to catch a camioneta. These buses, which serve as public transportation in Guatemala, are actually old school buses (like those big yellow ones you rode in elementary school), with a brand new colorful paint job. Apparently, once upon a time a foreigner visiting Guatemala saw a chicken on one of these camionetas, and ever since tourists have referred to the buses as “chicken buses.” (Nope, I didn’t see any chickens–or any other animals for that matter–on any buses during my trip this weekend.)
The chicken buses are usually pretty crowded, with three people usually squeezed into the seats of the bus that are made for two. This means that the people in the aisle are awkwardly sitting halfway on their seats (one cheek on and one cheek off) and pretty much blocking the entire aisle. People enter and exit the bus through the front doors or by jumping out the emergency exit in the rear. It was a wild ride but I actually enjoyed the experience.
After a couple of hours of riding in a chicken bus that was going about 60 mph (Snapchat verified) on the highway, we arrived in Chichicastenango. First we headed to Cafe Popol Vuh, where I had a big breakfast complete with fried eggs, black beans, fruit, queso fresco and fried plantains (all time fave).
Then, our teacher/guide took us on a short historical tour of Chichi. We walked through the cemetery, which was a stunning array of brightly colored tombstones and above-ground graves.
Near the small chapel in the back of the cemetery, an older man approached our group and offered to lead us to a newly built monument in remembrance of the 2012 completion of a cycle of the Mayan calendar (remember, December 21, 2012, when the world was supposed to end?). The monument is a circular arrangement of Mayan statues, representing the Mayan belief that “Todo inicia donde todo termina y todo termina donde todo inicia” (“Everything begins where everything ends, and everything ends where everything begins”).
Next we went to two cathedrals, which actually face each other, with the market plaza in between. When we went in the larger of the two, Iglesia de Santo Tomás, I was in awe of how huge it was, and our teacher/guide explained how the Catholic church incorporated Mayan rituals such as candle burning and bringing flowers to worship, which we could still see in the cathedral. I couldn’t take any pictures inside, but I managed to capture how lively the steps of the church are, with women selling beautiful flowers and people mingling in front of the church.
Finally, it was market time. One of my best friends and I broke off from the group to do our own shopping, and we had quite the market experience. There were so many gorgeous hand-made table cloths, blankets, huipils (traditional Mayan blouses) wood carvings, jade statues, purses, belts, painted skulls, and more. One part of the market had live animals: chickens, roosters, dogs, and kittens (so cute). Another part had all the food: fresh cut fruit, fried chicken, french fries, fruit smoothies, tacos….
We wanted to look at everything. But the thing about markets is that the vendors can be a little, um, aggressive. Vendors followed us showing all the different blankets they had. We would ask how much their items were, they would say something that seemed far too expensive, so we would say no thank you and walk away. And then they would continue to follow us, asking us to name a price instead, and we would still say no. Now you gotta love determination and perseverance but at the same time it was a little exhausting trying to shop when people are literally following you trying to convince you to buy their wares. But my friend and I, due to our pretty impressive negotiation skills, were able to find some good products for decent prices.
Overall, I enjoyed the market at Chichi. I was expecting the vendors to be a little pushy, and to have to haggle a lot, and those expectations were met. I was also expecting to find beautiful, unique handicrafts at the market, which I saw plenty of, but I also noticed that some items looked mass-produced and catered to tourists. But altogether, the market plus the tour of the cemetery and churches in Chichi was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And I didn’t spend all of my money (go me!).