Travels in Guatemala: Chichicastenango

The landscape north of Antigua, as seen from the Pan-American highway.
The landscape north of Antigua, as seen from the Pan-American highway.
chi2014-01-23 06.25.23 1-23-2014
Walter’s van

I spent most of my visit to Guatemala in Antigua, which you can see and read about here, but I also took trips to other parts of the country.

All these trips were put together Walter, the owner of the Don Quijote Travel Agency in Antiuga Guatemala.

Here’s Walter’s van to the right. Our trip from Antigua to Chichicastenango took about three hours, which included stopping for breakfast at a place high in the mountains. Though the roads we traveled on included the four-way Pan-American highway, it also included going though plenty of towns and villages and mountain passes, where the roads are twisty and traffic is controlled by speed bumps. Lots of speed bumps.

Crit and Walter.
Crit and Walter.

Walter is the best kind of travel guide — he knows where he’s going, he explains things clearly and he has a great sense of humor. On the morning of our trip to Chichi — as the town was called — I sat up front in the van with him, my camera on my lap. He pulled over now and then as we drove along so I could get shots, such as the one of the volcano/mountain landscape with thick fog in the valley at the top of this post, and (after I turned around) of him and Crit in the early morning sun.

So Walter said that me with my camera, I was like a frog in water. Then he explained that common Guatemalan saying by sharing a folk story about a frog that has been imprisoned and sentenced to die. The frog is given the choice to die by being burned to death at the stake or to die by drowning by being thrown in the lake. The frog tells his captors that he loves the fire, loves the heat, and so he wants to die by fire. His captors, sensing duplicity by the frog, tell him that because he prefers fire, then they will kill him the other way — by drowning him in the lake. So they throw him in the lake and the frog, being a frog, simply swims away.

The breakfast place.
Chichoy restaurant.
Chapin.
Chapin.

Off the highway, we stopped at a breakfast spot about an hour and half or so north and west of Antigua near the city of Tecpan. We were higher up in the mountains, where our breaths were white clouds once we stepped out of the van. Chichoy, Walter said, specialized in the traditional Guatemalan breakfast, or chapin, of eggs, black beans, farmers cheese, plantain and coffee. Good stuff.

After breakfast, it was about another hour and a half to Chichicastenango, where Walter picked up an official guide, a young man named Sebastian who is a Mayan who speaks K’iche’ (Chichicastenango is, after all, a K’iche’ Mayan village). The village is known for its very large market and for a church, Iglesia de Santo Tomás, that combines Mayan and Roman Catholic traditions.

Iglesia de Santo Tomás
Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Before the doors of Iglesia de Santo Tomás
Before the doors of Iglesia de Santo Tomás
Sebastian pointed out that the church had 18 steps leading up to it. The number 18 may not have much significance in the Catholic church, but for the Mayans 18 represents the number of 20-day months in the year (the Mayan calendar also includes an extra five-day period, to arrive at 365 days per year).

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the church, but Sebastian pointed out how in addition to votive candles burning in the back of the church and the traditional iconography of the crucifix hanging above the altar, the church included low concrete slabs where parishioners could burn candles that they could have purchased at the market, with different colors representing various Mayan gods. Inside the church, we saw Mayans praying at the kneeler before the altar, as well as a young couple who, on their knees, approached the altar rail while praying and, when the got there, got up, walked back to where they started, and kneel-walked back toward the altar.

A view from the Calvary Chapel over the market toward the Church of Saint Thomas.
A view from the Calvary Chapel over the market toward the Church of Saint Thomas.
A low concrete slab used as a Mayan altar at the Calvary chapel, which is identical to the ones inside the Church of Saint Thomas.
A low concrete slab used as a Mayan altar at the Calvary chapel, which is identical to the ones inside the Church of Saint Thomas.

Before getting to the church, though, we had to go through the market. I let the photos show you what that was like.

The produce market at Chichicastenango.
The produce market at Chichicastenango.

A butcher
A butcher
Candles
Candles
These parents wanted me to photograph their child. So I did.
These parents wanted me to photograph their child. So I did.
Lunchtime at the market.
Lunchtime at the market.
Scallions
Scallions
Hiupil
Hiupil
Chiles.
Chiles.
Fruits
Fruits
Blue-corn tortilla
Blue-corn tortilla
Textiles
Textiles
Textiles
Textiles

We also stepped away from the market to go to a shop owned by Miguel Ignacio, who masks traditional Mayan masks that are used in Mayan ceremonies and dances.

Miguel Ignacia, the mask maker, left, with our Chichicastenango guide Sebastian, center, and Deborah (front) and Crit (behind Deborah) shopping for masks.
Miguel Ignacia, the mask maker, left, with our Chichicastenango guide Sebastian, center, and Deborah (front) and Crit (behind Deborah) shopping for masks.
A wall of masks
A wall of masks
A skull mask
A skull mask

As we shopped for masks, other people came in, and Miguel organized an impromptu bull dance.

Bull dance
Bull dance

After shopping and the church, we went to lunch. This is what I had:

Traditional Mayan lunch, with roasted pork, tamales, rice, guacamole, refried beans, rice and potato.
Traditional Mayan lunch, with roasted pork, tamales, rice, guacamole, refried beans, rice and potato.

After Chichicastenango, we got back in the van with Walter, who drove us to Lake Atitlan, which I’ll post about another day.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Travels in Guatemala: Chichicastenango

  1. The “maskmaker” that you picture is Angel Ignacio (sic!). He is the youngest son of Miguel Ignacio Calel, now deceased who was the long time owner of the Moreria Santo Tomas. Angel Ignacio is the 5th generation owner of the moreria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s