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.
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.
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.
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.
Before getting to the church, though, we had to go through the market. I let the photos show you what that was like.
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.
As we shopped for masks, other people came in, and Miguel organized an impromptu bull dance.
After shopping and the church, we went to lunch. This is what I had:
After Chichicastenango, we got back in the van with Walter, who drove us to Lake Atitlan, which I’ll post about another day.