The market in Chichicastenango happens every Sunday and Thursday and is said to be the largest outdoor market in Latin America. I am very happy to be here as I love markets outside the U.S., everywhere, as they convey so much about the local life. This market can be descriptively divided into a few segments although they are not located in separate areas but scattered together: (1) local food, in both a concrete sales area and from small individual sellers in temporary sale stalls, (2) new clothing for the population, such as shoes, running pants, kids clothes, (3) used clothing found in piles to be sorted through, (4) traditional local clothing for women, which includes a black woven skirt fabric and brilliant embroidered panels, and (5) tourist items. The last group is perhaps the largest and displays include numerous cloth and leather bags with bright embroidered flowers and birds, hats, women’s embroidered tops, purses of all sizes, small gee gaws galore and jewelry of all types. Bargaining is required as most items can be purchased at least 50% of the initial asking price and sometimes much less. It is hard to resist.
As we had a leisurely lunch, we have time only for a brief overview of the market and free time to shop (which we all did, even those, like me, who insisted they would not buy anything). Our hotel, the Mayan Inn, was built in 1932 and some parts of the bathrooms look like they have not been remodeled since. But the setting of the rooms among small gardens and the antiques scattered around make it an interesting stay — and in fact they are almost the only option in this central part of town. It was cold at night and someone of us were wise enough to ask for wood fires to be lit in our fireplaces and some instead chose several extra layers of blankets. We heard one room with a warming fire had a piece of burning firewood fall onto the floor requiring some quick thinking to get it back in place without anyone getting burned.
The town is set up around 2 churches facing each other across the plaza, the San Tomas Church and the Capilla del Calvario (Church of Cavalry). This is because the two churches were originally Mayan step temples which traditionally were constructed opposite each other, the sun and moon, man and woman, dichotomies of the world. These two buildings were replaced by forms of churches in about 1540 with the coming of the Spanish and advent of the Catholic Church into local life. These buildings represent attempts to merge the indigenous local culture with the new belief system from Europe. This confluence of the two different world views created a life style formed by a mixture of the two religions. Today, there still remains in both churches existing sacrifice alters in the form of stone slabs, where people often bring offerings of certain foods and herbs to offer to heaven.
We are at San Tomas Church on the day celebrating high school graduation and we see a line of students in their gowns and mortarboard hats standing to be professionally photographed at the alter (no tourist photos allowed). They then moved outside for a school gift and a blessing by a priest.
Our visit to the local cemetery, which was established in 1894, was a marvel of colored crypts and graves, sometimes brightly painted in the deceased’s favorite color. As November 1, the Day of the Dead, was just a few weeks ago, almost all of the graves and crypts still hold the remains of bouquets of flowers brought on that day so that the dead who come down to visit once a year can enjoy their beauty.
Back into town, now almost empty of tourist stalls but the practical shops selling hardware, pharmacies, paper goods, and metalworking, remain behind to keep life moving ahead. But not quite — some hand made quilts attract our group’s attention and two large bed covering are purchased by two of our members. Our last stop is at a wooden mask making shop where mask are made for ongoing traditional dances that happen during the year. The present here continues to link back to the past and an ancient way of life.
We are now on the bus on our way back to Guatemala City, caught in Friday afternoon traffic (it is the same all over the world) and our group of 9 will disperse this evening. Only 3 of us, Marge, a gentleman from near Boston, and myself, will spend an additional day visiting one of the great remaining Mayan temples complexes before flying back to the U.S.
I have had reports of two friends being very sick right now so I am sending my own form of spirit offering to them and reminding everyone to enjoy each moment as you can.