November 16, 2016

Chichicastenango: market, art and Mayan rituals

By macu In America, Guatemala

Chichicastenango was one of the best improvised plans of my trip. I took a bus from Nebaj to Atitlan lake, trying to get comfortable for hours of curves and bumpy roads. While enjoying the view of the beautiful mountains, I started chatting to other passengers and found out that bus would be stopping in Chichicastenango, a town where a big crafts market was happening the next morning.

So I decided to get off there and find a place to sleep. Soon, a friendly tout approached me with a nice offer. Private room, private bathroom, WiFi… for about $5 a night. I decided to go and take a look where the owner was waiting. We crossed a dirty corridor where I met the other guests: scared chickens running around the hostel! Soon I found out there was no WiFi and the bathroom was shared. The other guests were not very respectful: the shower plate was full of chicken shit. I politely said I wanted to take a look to other hostels first. The owner insisted I wouldn’t find anything cheaper, so I replied I could come back later. “If you leave now, don’t come back again!“, he goes. “We are not poor people in desperate need of your money as you tourists think!“, his rant continues. Not the best way to find customers!

After a quick walk I found a clean hostel, although there was no hot water as you would expect for the freezing temperatures of the Guatemalan mountains. But waking up in Chichicastenango before the hordes of tourists arrived was definitely worth the hassle. I consider this crafts market the most authentic I visited on my Latin American trip. Judge by the pictures.

During my visit, I heard stories about a religious mayan ceremony that takes place every day outside the village. I am so glad I decided to see the spot! On the way going there, I visited a tiny museum where I met for the first time Maximón. This gangster-dressed folk saint gained the respect of many locals in central America. When people visit him, they offer him alcohol, money and lit cigarettes.

The mayan ceremony  dedicated to Pascual Abaj brought me inside Monkey Island! The master of ceremonies lights different fires on the ground. Full chickens and a bunch of ritual substances burns there, producing lots of smoke and a peculiar smell. Believers support the ceremony by praying and throwing alcohol on the fire. It is a very interesting mix of pagan and christian rituals.

Last but not least, I had the opportunity to visit the Galeria Pop-Wuj, a Guggenheim project that teaches locals the production of arts and craft. In there one can see the collection of paintings made by locals, the production of shoes and other small and nice objects. Very interesting indeed.



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