colourful textiles at a market in Chichicastenango
During my stay at Lake Atitlán I made a detour together with my Bulgarian buddy to CHICHICASTENANGO. The one who can read me the name of this place error-free the first time, gets a beer or a coffee from me haha.
The small town attracts tourists from all over the world because of the largest market in Central America.
"The most difficult word is not Popocatépetl like the mountain in Mexico
and not Chichicastenango like the place in Guatemala
and not Ouagadougou like the city in Africa.
The most difficult word for many people is: THANK YOU."
You can get there by shuttle, but we didn't want that. In the tourist centre they explained to us how to get there by public transport from Panjachel. We had to change buses twice, but this also saved us a lot of money compared to the more comfortable tourist shuttle.
Moreover, it is much more adventurous to get to our destination in the old American school buses and watch the Guatemalans in their daily life than just being crammed in with tourists. The journey through the Guatemalan highlands takes about 2 hours.
colourful and lively market activity
Chichicastenango or in short Chichi, as the locals call it, is known for the largest market in Latin America, which takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. The market stands are located near a destroyed Mayan temple, which the Spaniards razed to the ground at their Conquista in the 16th century to build a church and to facilitate the conversion of the locals to Catholicism.
Today, however, the place of the destroyed temple is still used by Mayan shamans who light incense and candles on it and sometimes offer animal sacrifices.
Many merchants with their colourful traditional costumes sit on the stairs of the Spanish church Santo Tomas and offer flowers for sale. All kinds of things are sold in the surrounding market stalls: Handicrafts, household appliances, food, ceramics, medicinal plants, candles, copal (traditional incense), millstones, machetes and other tools or even pigs and chickens. And, of course, a large number of brightly coloured textiles. None of that I desired because my eye was already delighted just by looking at the many colourful objects.
There was a lot of activity amid all the colourful stands. Often the salespeople passed me with heavy bags on their backs or on their heads. And at, nearly every stand they asked me in a friendly manner: "Adelante! Que quiere?" (Come in! What do you want?). I must admit that annoyed me a little after a while.
The gullibility of the local population is also exploited by a few cunning merchants, who with convincing eloquence promote a new miracle cure for all kinds of diseases and ailments. In all likelihood they are just ordinary (natural) medicine, but some people were willing to pay a lot of money for it.
Guatemalans marked by civil war
Most of the salesmen belong to the indigenous people of the Maya. Many of the Maya earn their money as small farmers and also as merchants. Their current poverty is also the result of a devastating civil war that raged in Guatemala for 36 years between right-wing government troops and left-wing guerrillas. More than 200,000 people lost their lives.
This war began some years after the coup d'état initiated by the United States in 1954, which, with the help of the CIA, forced the democratically elected president to be removed from office in order to prevent the spread of communism. The intervention was made at the insistence of the US company, United Fruit Company (now Chiquita), one of the world's largest banana producers, which saw its economic interests threatened by the planned land reform in Guatemala.
Even today, these banana companies still have great power in the Central American countries, since a withdrawal of these companies would ruin the countries economically.
ancient Mayan rituals on a hill
We climbed up a small hill where a few Mayans were holding an incense ritual. Some of the Mayans don't even master Spanish. About 7% of Guatemalans do not speak Spanish, but one of the many Mayan languages, 7 of which are officially recognized.
We started the return journey to the hotel and were glad that our minibus did not take off, with the speed with which it rode over the road, and we arrived again at Lake Atitlán.