The Market at Chichicastenango
04.07.2010 - 04.07.2010
On Sunday, I visited the famous market at Chichicastenango with some of my fellow students at Migel Angel Asturias Spanish School. Our guide was Martine, the same guide from the Volcan Sanata Maria climb (that I still need to write about. :/)
We met up at the school at 6:00 AM for the two hour drive west through twisting moutain roads and past landslides from weeks past. (Don't worry mom and dad, no landslides this time, just bliding fog on the return trip.) We arrived in Chichicastenango just in time for breakfast at Hotel Santo Tomas, which seemed like an oasis compared to the bustling dusty market town it sits in.
The courtyard garden was ringed with perches for red and green parrots.
I feasted on a ham and cheese omlette with toast, fresh fruit (peeled of course), fresh squeezed orange juice and some much needed coffee. After breakfast, and a pit stop in the hotel's immaculate bathrooms (a true luxury here where most toilets are missing their seats), we weaved our way through the market on our way to the museum of ceremonial masks. After a 10 minute hike (not trip with Martine would be complete without a brisk hike), we arrived at the top of small hill above the museum where some locals were participating in a religious ceremony. (My spanish is not good enough to know what they were saying and some of it was in Ki'iche, a Mayan language.)
From the hill we could also see a colorful cemetery on an opposite hill.
After we descended, we stopped in the museum which was really just a room filled with antique masks...
...and San Simon a Guatemalan god that is represented by statues or mannequins in various districts. Believers make offerings in the form of food, beer, liquor, cigars and even coca-cola.
After we completed the culutural aspect of our outing, we headed back to the market for shopping and to learn the fine art of haggling. I learned that it works best if you really aren't interested in the item you're inquiring about. I asked a vendor (who looked alot like Buddy Hackett) about a carved wooden maske and he said it cost Q400, which I simply didn't have on me. So he wanted to know how much I could offer for it. Unfotunately, I could only offer Q50, which I felt was utterly unfair. I didn't really need the item, I just wanted to price it for my reference. He kept bringing the price down from his original of Q400, but I really wasn't interested so I walked away. Later one of the girls in my group told me he would sell it to me for Q50! (About $6.25, down from $50!!!)
Unlike the little markets in Xela, where the locals go for their produce, sunglasses and clothing needs, the market at Chichi is much more geared to the foreign traveller, for better or worse. Women with handmade textiles and children selling worry dolls and colorful, woven bookmarks will surround you as you walk from booth to booth and even follow you back to your tour bus, trying to secure a sale. It was pretty easy to say "no gracias" to the adults, but the children, some that looked as young as 4, took much more effort to resist. In the end, I was able to walk away having only spent Q150, or about $20. (I can't tell you what I got, or that would spoil the surprise for the recipients.)