Brush with Mayan traditions in the highlands
Of all the Central American countries, Guatemala is where the indigenous culture remains most alive . Nowhere is it more visible - in clothing, rituals and language of the people - than in Chichicastenango, a small , sleepy town in Guatemala, Western Highlands , life rises every Thursday and Saturday during the arts and crafts market .
My friend and I reached Chichicastenango late on a rainy afternoon - with much relief . From the sprawling , polluted streets of Guatemala City , it was a three hour trip in a converted American school bus brightly painted , deeper and deeper into the mountains. And what a ride !
The bus collected through crowded intersections, roared on steep hills , swung at breakneck speed around hairpin turns , chugged streets of almost rolling clouds before dipping into another lime green valley hidden, but it finally screeched into Chichicastenango . We pounced on a nondescript street , still unsteady on our feet from the eye - Expansion drive , and seconds later the bus pulled .
The next morning we started bright and early to explore the place . The town itself was fairly unremarkable. While most of the story buildings in bold yellow, orange or pink were painted , many were just concrete. For a place that is meant to be home to 50,000 souls was , it seemed rather small.
After walking a few blocks , we had already reached open on the main square , where very few of the booths were, as everyone was obviously for the next day , the big market waiting . Still, it was a pleasant , quiet atmosphere in the hotel, with a few cars driving through the cobbled streets unevenly .
I also liked the way the women dressed : in a riot of colors . They all wore thick dark blue or dark gray skirts, with fine vertical stripes of alternating darker purple with lighter gray motifs. Their blouses were heavily embroidered with enormous roses or a diamond pattern, blazing pink, yellow and blue. Each individual bundles they carried was wrapped in coarse striped ceiling , again drawing from all colors of the rainbow. It was a natural kaleidoscope , definitely do not put on a show for tourists.
After visiting the place , we walked to the pine-covered hills south of the city to Abaj Pascual , a sanctuary of the Mayan earth god Huyup Tak'ah . The shrine was little more than a meter high ring of blackened stones with a Christian cross in the middle of a clearing , but even here the proven traditions very much alive , as we watched an elderly couple burning some herbs as victims.
When we were on the way back to the center , it began to pour , so we found shelter under the roofs of makeshift food stalls in the middle of the market and ordered two cups of coffee piping hot watery. Women were expertly patting corn dough into tortillas, then she hit on the grill and cook. The gesture is widespread throughout Central America , but we were surprised to see dark tortillas. " They are made with black corn ," said the woman on the various bags of grain .
Corn is a major staple food here , to the extent that it forms part of the Mayan mythology. " The gods created man from corn, " the woman reminded us . "I 'm from Europe, so it was from wheat ," I joked back . Immediately shot back with the eternal where - are - you - out of question . My travel companion came from El Salvador - the country literally next door. But the woman had no idea where she was. " How many hours by bus ," she said . As in my home country , France ... as from the uncertain look on her face , I might as well come from Jupiter. It occurred to me that she never had the chance beyond their mountains, to dare a poor campesina sell tortillas every day of their lives.
The next day for the craft market , the city was so busy it was barely recognizable . The stalls in the square were bursting with carved masks, jade jewelry , cloth dolls with button eyes and purses in all sizes and of course blankets. We pushed through the crowd , trying not to the women who had simply spread their baskets of fruit on the floor between stands on. A few other light-skinned tourists stood in the crowd , all at least a head taller than the Guatemalans .
On the steps of the 500 -year old church of Santo Tomás , the seller had covered every available inch with buckets of irises , chrysanthemums and lilies. A young girl reading the newspaper , her legs wrapped in a red and green blanket , while a very matron puttering around, living with three chickens. A gray-haired man in corduroys and a sweatshirt , kneeling at the top of the steps , brandishing a pot of incense , the whole scene shrouded in thick fragrant smoke .
I felt privileged to be witness to an authentic scene. Guatemala types themselves as still not sold their way to the small trickle of tourists, " the soul of the earth," and in fact , in Chichi the townspeople .