Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chichicastenango and Mayan Families Party, Thursday, December 10

Thursday was the transition day for Michael and me. We had finished four long days of volunteer work with Mayan Families, but we hadn't yet said our goodbyes.

Since we only had four full days during our April trip to Guatemala, we only saw a small part of the country. One of our objectives on the December trip was to see a bit more.

Our first destination was Chichicastenango for its world-famous market day. "Chichi," as it is called, is less than 20 miles away from Panajachel as the crow flies. However, because of the mountainous terrain, the trip by bus can take up to three hours.

We opted for a tourist mini bus and left a gloriously beautiful Panajachel at about 8am. The bus wound up the roads that had become so familiar: the turnoff to San Jorge, the city center of Solola, and the road that had taken us here on Saturday. But then we encountered new a whole different micro-climate, it seemed. The sun disappeared behind the clouds and fog started to descend.

We went through an agricultural checkpoint as we left the department of Solola and entered El Quiche. I noticed differences in the women's cortes (skirts) -- theirs had a horizontal band a few inches below the waist. Michael remarked that we would no longer be able to use our limited Kakchiquel we (or, rather, he) had picked up in Pana. The Quiche are a different people than the Kakchiquel and have a different language.

Finally, we arrive in Chichi. It had only taken us about two hours, thankfully. The weather was chillier than we had expected, but at least I had a scarf to wrap myself in. Michael and I dove into the crowds, looking for the center of the market.

There were hundreds of stalls lining the streets, selling primarily decorative items for tourists. We pressed ahead, knowing that the famous church and the local part of the market were awaiting us further in.

And finally we saw Santo Tomas, the church I had seen before in photos and paintings.

Amazingly, it looked very much like what I had expected. There were all sorts of vendors on the steps with flowers, and there were shamans burning incense.

A registered tour guide approached us and asked if we would like a tour of the church. Unfortunately, I did not get a shot of her. But we agreed, and she led us in the side entrance. The front door of the church is reserved for the shamans, she said.

Photography was not allowed inside the church, so I will have to describe it to you. Inside it was rather dark. There were no lights -- rather the illumination came from open doors by the steps and the side. This is a Catholic church, but the locals are allowed to practice their Mayan traditions on certain days. Thursday is Mayan. Sunday is a mix of Catholic and Mayan, and I believe the rest of the days are Catholic.

All down the aisle of the church were low stone slabs, about a foot off the floor, that are used for Mayan rituals. We saw people kneeling at the slabs lighting candles or arranging small bottles of alcohol wrapped in corn husks as offerings. Each slab was apparently dedicated to a different thing: good luck, health, marriage, etc.

The church is over 400 years old and was built on the site of a Mayan temple. So in order to convert the natives to Catholicism, the powers that be had to allow them to continue to practice some of their Mayan traditions. This is called "syncretism," and it's something I'm curious to learn more about.

Being a Catholic myself, it was very surprising to see a very different use of a church than I ever had before. There was something mysterious and fascinating about it, even if it did strike me as somewhat questionable from a religious perspective.

After the tour of the church, we asked our guide to take us to the food portion of the market. We really wanted to see the meal vendors and learn a bit more about local cuisine, but we had a miscommunication, so our guide led us to the fruit and vegetable market.

Then we decided we'd explore the rest on our own, so we paid the guide and set off.

While looking for food vendors, we found our way to the back end of the market and the famous Mayan Inn. We decided to stop there for a beverage and a brief rest.

The hotel was awash in Christmas decorations, which seemed a little incongruous with the lush gardens and parrots for someone like me, who has spent every Christmas in a cold weather climate.

If you look at the painting above the fireplace, that is a depiction of the Mayan candle-lighting ceremonies in Santo Tomas.

Outside the Mayan Inn, you could see a brightly colored cemetary in the distance.

Then we went back into the market. Michael bought one of these little orange bananas. The seller was very surprised that he wanted only one. I asked if I could take a photo, but he motioned that I could only take a photo of the fruit.

We also bought some delicious blue corn tortillas, fresh off the grill. When I asked to take her picture, the woman selling the tortillas asked me for more money, so we moved on.

There were so many possible things to buy. The huipiles, cortes, and belts (women's traditional dress) were so beautiful. But we reasoned it wouldn't be that practical to buy something for display. We have prints we bought a few years ago we still haven't framed...when would we get around to doing something creative with any of these?

The paths through the inner market were packed. One of the more bizarre traffic jams we encountered involved a man holding a large, live turkey!

But we wanted to buy a few souvenirs from our trip, so we made our way over to the more touristy area. There were so many textiles, wood carvings, and more. It was overwhelming.

We stopped at this stand and were admiring the handmade wall-hangings. Of course, the vendors always want to find out what price you would pay for their wares, so they can trap you into purchasing something! I gave my price, but the woman was not willing to go that low.

So Michael and I moved on and started walking down the narrow lane filled with vendors of similar items. But the woman would not let us go. She followed us and offered a price lower than she had originally said. I continued to state my price, and we walked on. The woman kept following us, and we said, "No, gracias." Finally, it looked like we had lost her. But then, and this had to have been at least a good half mile away from her stand, she reappeared and offered a price that was a few dollars away from mine.

Michael was reminded of his grandmother and how much time and effort her handicrafts took, so he said he felt bad about bargaining the woman down any more. The question was, did I want it? There were so many beautiful things at the market. It was really hard to decide. But after this woman had put so much work into this sale, I decided to go with her. So we went back and bought the wall-hanging she is holding with the blue peacocks and the quetzal (the elusive national bird of Guatemala) at the bottom.

Then we were done shopping. It's extremely tiring to shop, even when there are thousands of fantastic items, when everyone is clamoring for your money. Not only were there many vendors whose stalls we visited, but there were also plenty of roving vendors holding up bags or quilts or toys every few paces.

So we escaped to the second story restaurant, Los Cofrades, where we could eat in relative peace.

When it was time to meet up at 1:45 for the mini bus to take us back to Pana, we came upon a dreadful scene. The mini bus was already filled with tourists, and their luggage, who had not been on the bus on the trip there! It was an agonizing half hour or so while we waited to see what would happen and small children and old women tried to sell us things.

Finally, we were let onto the bus and most of the other people had to go to a different bus. And then we were off. I couldn't wait to leave the throngs in Chichi. The church was really worthwhile, but the rest I could have done without.

As we made our way to Solola, the skies cleared, and it became a gorgeous day.

We stopped briefly at the mirador or view point to look down at Lake Atitlan.

That's a view of Panajachel from above.

After we returned, Michael went to find Chico (who had been released back to the street after recovering from surgery), and I took a tuk-tuk over to Sharon's. When I got there, they were all done for the day, so I wound up taking the tuk-tuk right back with Tricia.

The girls and I decided to go down to the lakefront for the sunset.

After our walk, we embarked on a power shopping trip. We had seen the little beaded ornaments and keychains earlier on. They are gorgeous and in the shapes of things like quetzals, angels, fish, donkeys, lady bugs, stars, etc. I found a store with an enormous selection and lower starting prices than other vendors. So we all went to the store, and Mary told the shopkeeper that we all were going to spend a lot of money and asked what was the best price he could give us for the items.

Once the price was agreed upon, we charged! I bought over 30, which I later gave to my co-workers and my family. There were so many other great things, like beaded purses (our friend, Seth, likened them to wampum) and fabulous necklaces and bracelets.

In the end, I think together we spent over $200 at this one store, which made that shopkeeper one lucky guy! It was so much fun for all of us!

After the shopping spree, I met up with Michael and we went on the hunt for beer and wine to bring to that night's farewell party for the volunteers at Patty's house.

We took a mad tuk-tuk dash to a supermarket. Unfortunately, there were only cans (no bottles) of Gallo left. But we got them and a bottle of wine. As we found out, cans are more expensive than bottled beer. Strange. I'd prefer the bottled.

Anyway, we got back and just barely scraped together the 20 Quetzales for the round trip tuk-tuk ride. That was one of the banes of our existence down there! No one ever had change, and most things were too inexpensive to use a 100 Quetzales note (which is the only kind of note the ATM gave out). By the way, the exchange rate was around 7.5 Quetzales to the dollar, but that fluctuated a bit while we were there.

Then we were let in through Patty's front gate. I was amazed at how beautiful her home is. In fact, of all the homes I have seen in my life, hers is one of my absolute favorites. Patty has a courtyard, where tables were set up for our dinner. There are trees and paths to different parts of the house.

Inside, there is an incredibly warm and inviting kitchen and living room area with a big stone fireplace.

Michael and I sat across from the fireplace for a while with this street dog that had snuck in. Not Chico, though.

It was an absolutely wonderful evening. Almost all the volunteers were there, and by now, many of them were good friends. We had a delicious salad and pasta meal. In fact, it brought back memories of my friend, Tanja's cooking in Berlin. And if any of you remember my post about her cooking, you'll know what a poignant memory that was.

The evening was pure magic, and it was the perfect way to end our time in Pana. We said our goodbyes to the Mayan Families staff and fellow volunteers and our wishes to see everyone again next year.

Thankfully, it wasn't overwhelmingly sad at the end. We made plans to meet up with Tricia's group early the next day for one last breakfast together!


Tricia said...

I AM LOVING YOUR POSTINGS! Holly, I never got to see your wall-hanging from Chi-Chi until now....I LOVE IT! IT IS BEAUTIFUL! How did you find it amongst everything else?! Great find, girl! Great find!

Dinner at Patti's was FABULOUS, wasn't it? Certainly a highlight for me and the group.

I love & miss ya! Wishing you & M the happiest New Year! :)

Kim said...

I think the best part of my trip in July was dinner at Patti's house. Isn't her place just amazing. I thought it was so warm and inviting and her cooking was very yummy. I'm loving your recaps!!

Holly said...

Tricia and Kim, I'm so glad you are enjoying my posts! It's taken a lot of effort to finally sit down and write them (especially when there are so many wonderful ways to procrastinate online!), so I'm really happy to have your feedback!