We could now do this in our sleep. Get up, eat the identical breakfast that we had the previous day, sleepwalk past Lake Atitlan, get into a Bajaj and off at the Pana main road and onto a Solola bound chicken bus, change to Los Encuentros and then...wake up! Because we are headed to the Quiche department today, but not as far as Quiche but only the 17km mountainous ride to the fabled Sunday market in Chichicastenango (termed Guatemala’s “mecca del tourismo” by one guidebook in a wild exaggeration).
Chichi (Pop. 72000, Elev. 2172m) does not have its own bus terminal and is served by buses headed to Quiche that stop near the market plaza. Once called Chaviar, Chichi was an important Kaqchiquel trading town before the Spanish conquest. Also known by Chuguila and Tziguan Tinamit by the locals, the name Chichicastenango was given to it by the Spaniards’ Mexican allies. The Masheños (citizens of Chichicastenango) are famous for their adherence to pre-Christian beliefs and ceremonies. Cofradias (traditional religious elders of the hierarchy) hold processions around Iglesia de Santo Tomás on Sunday carrying silver processional crosses and incense burners. We probably missed the procession, but we experienced the incense filled atmosphere in the dark interior of the Iglesia situated on the east end of the Plaza. We snapped a couple of pictures before remembering that photography is strictly prohibited inside this church. The whitewashed Church dates from 1540 and the rituals are more Maya than Catholic (reminding us yet again of our 2006 visit to Chamula in the highlands of Chiapas). Floral arrangements for sale, lined the stairs leading to the entrance. The floor of the interior was dotted with melted candles arranged in specific patterns and other offerings.
On the other side of the plaza (filled to capacity with the market stalls) is another whitewashed church, the Capilla del Calvario, which is much smaller but is more open to the air and offers great views of the market, town and surrounding mountains. The market was a huge throng with all manner of colorful items - tourist-oriented handicrafts, masks, textiles, pottery dominate one section while other sections cater to the needs of the locals.
We got our fill of the market exploring the many lanes and even managed to secure a bargain. Overlooking the market are several cafes and hotels and we could not resist a well made capuccino from one of these establishments. We had a brief moment of anxiety as we were refused entry into a chicken bus returning to Los Encuentros with the conductor pointing towards the micros (minivans that would have made the hour-long 17 km ride even more claustrophobically torturous). We wondered if this practice was as per strict Quiche Maya principles but were relieved when the next bus pulled us in for standing room only.
As we got off at Los Encuentros an hour later, we noticed that our hands had blackened with the grime from the steel bars that we had held onto as the bus had swayed wildly back and forth as it cruised through the mountains. Having had our satisfaction of the Guatemalan Highland villages over the past 3 days, we relaxed that afternoon in our hotel catching up on blog work.
We also dwelt anxiously on our impending departure from the area the next afternoon. Having procured the bus tickets to Tikal leaving at 9 pm for the overnight ride from Guatemala City, we had to report at 8:30 at the Fuente Del Norte bus terminal. The last tourist shuttle (we avoided Chicken buses for travel with our big bags as said before) leaves Pana at 4 pm which should be early enough to catch that bus.
The most popular boat tour of the lake is termed the Cuatro Pueblos (4 villages) which leaves Pana docks at 8:30 and returns at 3 pm. We had chosen our Monday departure date as the day to do this tour since this links loosely with the 4 pm Guatemala shuttle departure to catch our Tikal bus. We did not want to risk a Highland village chicken bus itinerary for this day since we did not want to get stuck in a remote place in case public transportation lets us down. And just to make doubly sure we booked the boat tour and the Guatemala shuttle with the same tour company with the stipulation that the shuttle would wait for the boat in case of delays. We were assured by the agent of this, but he dropped a bombshell on us after we had paid the money and signed the receipt. The shuttle bus to Guatemala would detour via Antigua (probably hooking up with other agencies with passengers bound for Guatemala from there!) He said that we still had plenty of time and in case there were enough people to go direct to the capital, a separate shuttle would be arranged for. This sounded hollow to us and we were also troubled that he waited till the payment was made before informing us of this potential spanner in the works.
Having enjoyed our coffee plus lentil soup combo of the previous evening, we opted to repeat the experience for another day. The winds were picking up and howling by the lake and we shut our windows to keep out the noise. We wondered if our boat trip tomorrow will go through or if we should make alternate plans to tour nearby villages instead.
Photo Album: Chichicastenango
Did you bid for a live chicken in the "sandai" a la the Lord :):) That will prove that the aforesaid compulsion runs in the family !!
How are you managing to stay live in this most meat eating of places ??
Interesting snapshot of M on the back of the chicken bus, practicing long forgotten techniques from the 8.14 Mankhurd local. From , on Jan 20, 2015 at 05:19AM
@Ramesh - Latin America is not as bad as some of the other parts of the world for vegetarians. Corn tortillas and frijoles (beans) are everywhere. And since the Chinese are taking over the world, they bring their food with them. And they can be manipulated into serving stir fried vegetables and rice without fleshly adornment. From, on Jan 20, 2015 at 06:22PM