Chichicastenango. Yes, this is a real word.

After the disappointment with the monja blanca, I made it to Guatemala City the same day. It was too late to keep going west to Lago Atitlan, so I was going to be spending the night. I felt perfectly safe in ¨Guate¨ during the day, but I was told by many to not even try to go out at night. If you ever need a layover in Guate, as it is called by everyone, get ourself over to Zona 10, Avenida 6, to this great backpackers Quetzalroo. Manuel and his sister Ana Isabel run this awesome place. It´s completely clean, it´s in a safe location, it is quite popular, and they insist you make yourself feel like home. I was cooking in the fully stocked kitchen, there is a supermarket a few blocks away, and they have tons of movies to watch. Oh also, there is this crazy shopping mall called Oakland Mall right next to the supermercado. You walk in there and forget where you are.

As usual I was dressed like a freak. I had on my hiking boots and Bear Grylls pants as I like to call them– the legs zip off into shorts. I also hadn´t washed my hair in about four days. So I walk in, and there were the most wealthy fancy Guatemalans I had ever seen, the ladies with their gold hoop earrings, huge espadrilles, a full face of makeup, and they all had their nails and ¨hair did.¨ I suddenly felt hugely self-conscious and ducked into The North Face. Seriously? At least I felt more at home in there, pretending I was going to buy some outdoor gear. Also in this mall there is a waterfall, a carousel, and a movie theater. The bathrooms had automatic flush toilets,- this scared me, because I wasn´t expecting it, and the sinks had sensors for the water. I was way out of my league. I promptly went back to the hostel, washed my face, and then picked some of the dirt out from under my nails.

The next day I got to Panajachel on the lake, about 4 hours west of Guate. People love Pana; I was bored out of my mind. No, no, I´m being a little too hard on it. First of all, as usual, I´m visiting it at the wrong time. Since it´s the beginning of the rain season, there is this haze and cloudiness hanging over Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately there was no good view of the lake on the water´s edge in Pana, because the fogginess was so thick. Despite various boat rides to pueblos around the lake, I was never actually able to get a view from one side of the lake to the other. This would have potentially been cool, because Lago Atitlan is surrounded by mountains. With a good view, I think Pana could be really cool. There are great crafts to be had on the main street leading down to the water. Some lady was very aggressive and cornered me into buying a necklace for myself. I mean, she really cornered me. Our noses were almost touching, and as I backed up into the wall, I started knocking down all her crafts, shirts, handmade bags, and earrings she had hanging there, and they were all falling on the ground around my feet. The necklace anyway is pretty awesome. It´s these cool green rocks. It might be jade. I don´t remember, because I was getting really worked up and just started pulling money out of my pockets to make the lady give me some space. The fact that I managed to walk away and take the necklace along with me was probably an accident. I just wanted to escape, with or without the necklace.

Either way, this is generally what the main street in Pana looks like- just vendor after vendor:

As I was saying, I was bored, mostly because Pana is really small (basically two intersecting streets–one with cool shops, vendors, and restaurants, one with tour operators and bus stops) but luckily I ran into these Peace Corps volunteers. P.S. I have hardly met ANY Americans while traveling through Central America. The Canadians and the Dutch are out in full force, but I guess the Americans are all at work? I ran into these Dutch guys who didn´t really know what to do with themselves. Their company was forcing them to take their compulsory 3 weeks paid vacation… what can you do. Anyway, these Peace Corps kids were so sweet. Joey and Grace seemed to feel sad that I was traveling by myself, even though I have been quite happy and have been enjoying the solo thing infinitely more than I would have expected. So they invited me to their friend´s birthday party, which was a really pleasant evening, and we were all staying at the same place anyway. By the way, Joey from San Diego and Grace from New Jersey, if you read this, I remember you told me to find you on Facebook, and I have been looking, but can´t find either of you! You are very elusive.

So if Pana itself is sort of boring, what was I supposed to do with myself? Just the name in itself– Chichicastenango– was alluring enough to make me want to check it out. About an hour give or take from Panajachel, ¨Chichi¨ is a customary day trip. You chicken bus it from the intersection of Pana´s two streets to Solola, switch to a bus to Los Encuentros, in Encuentros catch the chicken bus that says Chichi. Anyone will tell you in Pana to just a bus directly to Encuentros, but I waited 95 minutes — sheer joy — and obviously the direct bus never came. Maybe because it was a Sunday– market day in Chichi is Sunday and Thursday. Chichi was SO FUN and may have been one of the highlights of my entire trip. I´ve always loved markets. I actually ended up not buying anything in Chichi because I was so overwhelmed. When I explain Chichi to people, I say that I imagine it´s what India is like– I have never been to India. But all the books I have read about India offer up amazing colorful visual descriptions and the mind-numbing auditory details that goes along with all that, and the smells! Weaving through the stands in Chichi, you have to shove through people, keep a tight grasp on your money, dodge the swarms of flies, and watch out for that lady who is chopping the heads off chickens. The heads are for sale proudly on display on her table. I don´t know if the bodies are for sale. There was a tremendous puddle (lake) of blood under and next to her table, so this is the kind of obstacle you have to dodge at Chichi. I assume (and hope) that the blood lake is coming from the severed chicken heads. P.S. I haven´t eaten a morsel of meat or animal flesh in 8 weeks now, and what with seeing the heads and blood everywhere under the direct sun with the nasty black flies dancing around scavenging off of everything, I felt as if I had made the right dietary decision.

In addition to the chicken heads, flies, noise, bustle, and smells, there is a lot more other stuff going on at Chichi to keep you entertained all day. A religious feeling permeates the entire town, both Christian and Maya, or rather the feeling is a mixure of the two. Right there in the middle of the crazy market is this cool church Iglesia de Santo Tomas.

Inside, flowers and liquor bottles are scattered around as offerings, and on the plentiful front steps, the Guatemalans work at arranging their goods they will sell for the day:

Or they are sitting or waiting:

At this point you´ve had enough of the crowds, so you head to higher ground for some oxygen and a view over all of Chichi. You hike up the decent hill to Pascual Abaj– the Maya shrine to the earth god. There´s an old guy up there pacing around with his incense container on a string– the same idea as the incense container thingy on the chain that they used in my grandmother´s Catholic church. He´s also in charge of the offerings of food plates and cups of cerveza for the god. And of course, there´s a lady up there selling cold drinks, but she won´t let you walk away with your drink. You have to finish it there and give her back the glass bottle so that she can turn it in at the end of the day for some money. This happened to me a lot in Africa, too. It´s the glass bottle protocol.

Notice the cervecita on the altar–

Did I mention the hell of a time I had getting to Chichi? It was a classic chicken bus ride. Yea, you pay 20 cents to get somewhere, and you quickly find out why. First it was pretty standard. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, four people in a seat meant for two. At least I was appreciative of the fact that I was one of the lucky ones sitting down rather than standing or swinging wildly from the handrails on the bus ceiling. So the bus pulls over, and this old lady busts on through everyone, and of course she sits next to me, shoving her butt in between everyone. She´s got her chicken in her purse, and its head is sticking out, and it´s upset, because every Central American chicken knows the word on the street– your first ride on a chicken bus is always your last, because you´re about to be processed at your destination. It´s not like they´re shipping you around for fun on a Sunday afternoon jaunt around the countryside. And guess who has to hold the four cartons of eggs? Of course. This in itself was no big deal.

Then we stop again and contrary to every law of physics and space a lady comes on with TWO kids. The guy to my left shoulder crawls over me and disembarks after hopping over the eggs, the chicken, and the lady. Now I get slammed up against the window. Lady with 2 children sits on end, but her lap of course is only big enough for one child. Well, obviously the lady with the chicken in her lap can´t hold one of the kids, so this kid bounces across all our laps, over the chicken, sits with one buttcheek on my leg and one sort of on the seat, I hand the eggs to the kid, and that´s how we´re all sitting comfortably. Gringa slammed up against window with child and child with stack of eggs. Lady with chicken in purse. Lady with child on the end. I know this sounds pretty wild, but if you have ever been on a chicken bus in Central America you know this is pretty standard. Ask Scott. One time he was telling me about bringing his bicycle in a large cardboard shipping box on a chicken bus in Panama, and now, having been in the same situation, I understand with great clarity the magnitude of what he must have gone through with a six foot box. But the beautiful thing about chicken buses is that anything goes. If I want my horse to accompany on me the bus, I don´t see how that could be a problem, and nobody is going to say anything about it. As long as my horse pays his 20 cents.

And then of course I´m just a few km away from Chichi, and a huge 18-wheel truck has had an accident and is blocking the entire road.

So everyone abandoned their chicken buses and we all walked as one big horde the rest of the way up the winding mountain to Chichi. It was worth it, because I saw great stuff once I got there–kind of the same theme as having to walk that beach to Los Siete Altares.

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5 Comments on “Chichicastenango. Yes, this is a real word.”

  1. cottontailsandcupcakes January 13, 2014 at 06:21 #

    I am crying with laughter. That bit about the chicken bus, the chicken, the eggs and the kids cracked me up!

    • Marisa LaValette January 13, 2014 at 08:22 #

      Thanks for visiting Savvy CitiZen Allie! Have you been to Guatemala? Then you’ll know exactly what I mean by the chicken bus story! It is the ultimate life lesson on the lack of personal space!

      • cottontailsandcupcakes January 13, 2014 at 09:54 #

        I haven’t been yet. I’m going in August so doing some planning at the moment. I was looking on how to get from the Lake to Chichi on a budget. I would say I’m looking forward to being sardined into a mini bus but I’d be lying! My experiences in Ghana were interesting at the least! Xx

        • Marisa LaValette January 13, 2014 at 11:10 #

          I don’t remember exactly, but my bus fare from the Lake to Chichi must have cost about 70 cents!

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  1. Treasure Island flea: the heart and soul of San Francisco | SavvyCitiZen - November 24, 2013

    […] marketplace stands out in my mind as the most robust source of cultural information- Guatemala has Chichicastenango, Mexico City has Bazaar Sábado, Cape Town has Green Market Square, and here in San Francisco, we […]

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