Chicken busses. This is going to be our modus operandi to get to the market at Chichicastenango or Chichi. When school busses in the US have reached a retirement age, they go to Guatemala and start their second life…they are painted, cleaned, and decked out. Then they become the public busses. For about a dollar an hour, you cram into these busses, may times FOUR adults to a seat, with people everywhere in the aisles. Aside from the big bus terminals in towns there are no real bus stops. The conductor often hangs out the door, and will make a palms up gesture to people walking on the road. If you don’t want that bus, ignore…if you do…return the gesture, and then get ready to run! Many times the bus just slows down, starting to pick speed up again as soon as people have one leg in the door. (Although we noticed they always came to a complete stop for women and children, and would often wait for elderly to get all the way up the stairs.) We get on the bus early in the morning trying to get to chichi as early as possible. Since this was a market day, people had brought things to sell. Large, packages wrapped with colorful cloth, they were tied on top of the bus. Often the conductor would still be on top tying things down when the bus started to pick up speed! And speed they do. I think the drivers take it as a personal challenge to see how fast they can go around hairpin mountain turns. Not to mention passing other vehicles(and chicken busses) in blind curves. Every bus we rode on had sayings pained on them, which roughly meant that God rides and protects. I seriously hope so.
Personal space isn’t something that you get much of on the busses. At one point someone had one of their children between my boyfriends knees, and another basically on his lap! As we got closer to chichi I noticed the language changing. No longer Spanish, it had turned into one of the many local Mayan dialects. (The traditional clothes woven design also vary from village to village, and i spent considerable time trying to match people together based on the brightly woven cloth) finally after about three hours we reach chichi! The market to end all markets!
Before we actually get into the heart of the market, I see the cemetery. I’d heard that the cemeteries were a must see, since all the tombs and gravestones are brightly painted, but this was an added bonus because it was the weekend of day of the dead, all souls, and all saints days. The cemetery was packed. There were people everywhere, and almost every grave had been decorated. Here in the states, cemeteries often are quiet, respectful, mournful places…you come for a few minutes to look at a blank gravestone, and then quietly walk away. Here the cemetery thrummed with life. Children ran around playing tag a
nd flying kites, whole families sat near headstones and unpacked lunch to eat. People celebrated the lives of the ones they had lost. There was laughter, not tears, as they came together as whole families to be near their missing loved ones.
Walking around was sensory overload. So many things to see at once, and the colors!! They have EVERYTHING you could want for sale here, traditional woven cloth, chickens, food, blankets and hammocks…as well as touristy trinkets (worry dolls and bracelets come to mind.) There are even tables selling what looks like broken bits of pottery, which I sincerely hope are a scam for tourists, and not priceless Mayan artifacts. The women follow us through the crowds, saying “business is business, how much you pay?” I quickly learn that my Spanish skills are seriously lacking. Add that to the fact that I have to do the exchange rate in my head as we haggle, and I’m in way over my head. Everything starts out ridiculously high…but haggling is part of the game, and people approach it with gusto. We suddenly have lots of “special friends”, giving us “special prices”. Finally after making some purchases, we head back to the chicken buses…next stop is Lake Atitlan!