Tuesday, April 21, 2009 10:53 AM
Guatemala Road Trip - Market Day in Chichicastenango
Up to this point on the trip, we have been fairly restrained in our souvenir purchases, in anticipation of one big blowout shopping day at the world famous market in Chichicastenango. On our way, we made a short detour just west of the Cuatro Caminos and made a visit to the tiny hillside village of San Andres Xecul, to see what may be the most often photographed church in all of Guatemala. A veritable cacaphony of colors and carvings, this church and the small, friendly market were well worth the side trip.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that indeed, contrary to recent reports, there are chickens on the ubiquitous Guatemalan "Chicken Buses". After seeing this, I'm not sure what is less comfortable, the seats or these baskets.
With the exception of the mercado in Antigua, each of the market days we have experienced so far has been a "locals only" affair, not really meant for tourists and little to draw them outside of cultural interest. The market in Chichi, is the second largest in Guatemala and "the" place to buy textiles and handcrafts from all across the country. We had our sights set on colorful woven blankets, table coverings and bedspreads and we were not disappointed. On the contrary, the whole experience was rather overwhelming.
Nothing you read in the guidebooks or travel reports can really prepare you for this level of sensory overload. We had been warned to hide our money and only keep on what we needed for the day in an effort to thwart pickpockets reportly working the market days in search of unwary tourists. We were pleasantly surprized that at no time did we ever feel like anyone was trying to rob us. The shopkeepers with stalls were appropriately aggressive, but we were unprepared for the tenacity of the walking vendors, particularily the older women selling piles of embroidered and woven pieces. Once they saw that we were here to buy, they were on us like bees to honey. It was not unusual for a group to follow us and make their pitch for 20 minutes to a half an hour as we walked along trying to ignore them without being rude. They do get rather close and have no problem touching your arm to get your attention. If personal space is important to you, you may be very uncomfortable in the Chichi market. As we were here on a mission, I didn't take too many pictures, but I have a truckful of gorgeous textiles and masks to remember the day by.
Exhausted from a long day of shopping, bargaining and hauling packages, we were blessed with an easy one hour drive south into Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We quickly found our hotel, Dos Mundos, which turned out to be far nicer than we had anticipated, dumped our stuff in the room and immediately went out in search of food along the main drag, Calle Santander. Pinguinos was featuring a charming (hokey tourist atraction) Marimba band which the kids just loved. I recorded a short video clip of the band which I will upload to YouTube and edit in to this post when we return home.
After dinner, one of the young musicians let Birdie play dress up in one of the authentic regional "trajes" of nearby Santiago Atitlan. How cute is that! The perfect end to a perfect day in Guatemala. Tomorrow, more of Panajachel on Lago Atitlan.