Suitcase and World: Chichicastenango, my kind of Mayan town!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chichicastenango, my kind of Mayan town!

It's dusty, dirty, noisy and absolutely packed with locals selling their wares but Chichi as it's simply called is the type of place that I absolutely love to be sucked into. It's full of local color, interesting people going about their daily business and enticing smells of cooked food wafting through the air.

Chichi is well known for its Saturday market where indigenous Mayans hawk their wares.  Translated, that means it's the mecca for shopping for Guatemalan handicrafts and where we would see the largest concentration of indigeous Mayan people.  Handicrafts I was certain I could get in any Guatemalan town though I had already planned on starting my shopping sojourn here.  I had in mind the colorful wood masks that I had seen in Antigua. 

We had a two hour stopover in Chichi today, on our way from Antigua to Panajachel.

We arrived into Chichi around mid-morning.  I don't know what compelled me to do it but I videotaped our arrival into town. Here's a view of small town Guatemala from the vantage point of a passenger seat in a car. :-)

Our van deposited on the side of a busy street. We all got off and followed Sue as she wove her way through the crowds. We walked down a narrow lane flanked on both sides by vendors selling pretty much everything under the sun.  Sue must have been on mission because she walked at a pretty fast pace.

Luckily, Mayans are a short people....even shorter than me so it was easy to spot Sue above the crowd of brightly colored dressed locals. 

The costume worn by the women is especially eye catching - a brightly patterned, hand embroidered cotton shirt and a patterned (usually striped) skirt held up by a brightly patterned woven belt.  Separately, none of the patterns or colors really match but collectively, it all seems to work together.

As I scurried along to keep pace, I managed to glance at the vendor stalls.  One thing that stands out about Guatemalans.  They love color.  Bright colors.  And they love patterns....geometrics, animals, name it.  Sometimes, the combination of all the colors and patterns can be a bit dizzying at first but after a while, it's such a welcome change from the subdued and drab colors I often see so much of in the US.

With all the vendors and their wares distracting me, it felt like it only took a few short minutes for us to make it to our destination and meeting point - the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás. The church is built atop a Pre-Columbian temple platform which explains the rough hewn stone steps.

Not surprisingly, vendors had set up shop on the steps as well.  Most seemed to be selling flowers which I'm guessing is for church goers to buy on their way inside.

Sue gave us two hours to explore the town.  From my reading before the trip, there really is not much to see from a tourist perspective.  Besides, the vendors were beckoning us with their cackles of good priced deals just for us.

There were several alleyways leading away from the church.   The boys and I just picked one at random and started walking.  It didn't take long for one of us to stop at a stall, ogle at the wares and start negotiating a buy.  I think it was me who was the first to get going and I had my eyes on the colorfully decorated carved wood masks.  I'm a wicked shopper when I want to be.  In a matter of a few minutes, I had bought 3 masks from 3 different vendors.  I go girl!

I might have been the first but it didn't take long for the guys to get into the act.  Who knew my brother had such an eye for woven textiles? :-)

Aside from haggling with a vendor over the price of an item, the most fun thing to do in Chichi was simply to people watch.

I have no idea what this guy was doing with his canaries but he was most certainly an interesting character! 

A young mother with her two children in tow.

A man hauling his chickens to market.

Of course, you can't go to the market and not be enticed by smell of food being cooked. In Guatemala, that usually means something either being grilled or fried. You can't go wrong with foods cooked with either way. Really.  You can't.

We stumbled upon this vendor selling the Guatemalan version of pork tacos. Basically corn tortillas served with pulled pork topped with sauteed onions, salsa and a brined combination of shredded cabbage and carrot.  The added touch was that he dipped and swirled the tortillas in a liquid that I think was a concoction of pork fat (yum) and the roasting juices (double yum).  Doesn't look appetizing but believe me, it was lip smacking good!

We started with two plates to share and ended up getting for plates, one for each of us.  We then discovered he also had some super tasty French fries calling our names.  Oh.....those fries were sooooo and best of all, they tasted super potato-ey. Nothing like the bland tasting things we call potatoes here.  We bought a serving and savored every bite.   What can I say, we're a greedy foursome!

Soon digging into his pork taco.

My brother drooling over the fries.

Valiant and Mark sitting at our *luxurious* dining table.  The local atmosphere couldn't be beat!

Soon videotaped the chef doing his magic. I'm posting up the video as my homage to this man, whom I will never know, but who gave me a tasty bite of Guatemala!

By the time we finished eating, we had just enough time to leisurely stroll back to the church....a bit of a challenge finding the place as the intersecting alleyways all started to look the same.  Luckily, we happened upon another church.  Soon scampered to the top of the steps and from there, he could see the bell tower of Santo Tomás.  Now, we knew which direction we had to head in. 

When we arrived back at the church, everyone else was already there waiting for us.  It had been a very short visit to Chichi but it was just enough for us to get a flavor of local Mayan life.  It's a great little place....a bit of an assault on the senses but so very, very interesting. Exactly my kind of Mayan town!!