Guatemala: Markets, Volcanoes, and a Lake
There are a couple of famous markets in Latin America, and the Chichicastenego Thursday and Sunday market is one of them. This is where I headed next and decided to get into town the night before so I could take a stroll around town before the hooplah began. Chichi, as it is affectionately called, is a nice little town with a prominent archway marking it`s entrance. It has very steep cobblestone streets (which I must admit my ankles are getting tired of) and a very colorful cemetery on the top of a hill. Within an hour I bought a bedspread. Why did I buy a bedspread? This is not a logical thing for a person with limited space to buy. I don`t know what happened, but this cute little Mayan lady chased me around the market (this is the night before pre-market, not even the real deal yet, keep in mind) and found me about 3 different times until I give in. Kudos to her. I blame my mother. The next day she found me again, somehow within the masses of peoplem, and tried me again for a tablecloth. Lucky for me, I had gotten smarter and left ALL my money in my hotel room! I got up early to watch the market being set up and had a great time doing so. It was a flurry of activity and by 6am was in full swing. I was most impressed by the guys (some of who were very old) who carried a ton of weight on their backs and with a strap across their foreheads for support. It was crazy to watch. On the steps of the church the ladies setup shop to sell flowers. They have huge bundles of flowers, which they spread out on the steps amongst the fruits and chickens and whatnot. I was fascinated by these women who wore outfits equally as colorful as their flowers. There was also some sort of religious ceremony going on, a mix of Catholic and Mayan rituals. They would light a fire at the bottom of the stairs and do some chanting and then make their way to the church doorway where they would wave around some incense for awhile before going inside. I didn`t entirely get it but watched until I got smoked out. By mid-morning busloads were arriving and the passageways to the market got unbearably crowded so I got my bags and hopped a bus to Antigua.
This was my first authentic chicken bus ride in Guate. For those who aren`t familiar with the loving term….when we in the US consider a school bus too old or broken, we retire it. But, it still has a good 20 years left in it, somewhere in Central America. They are all flamboyantly painted and the windows become smothered with Christ Almighty stickers, intermingled with Looney Toones characters and nearly nude women. They are a riot!! Most of them still have the good old Blue Bird line bus seats in them. As you can probably recall, these weren`t all that comfortable when we were kids….and they still aren`t. They were designed for people 4 feet tall or shorter, so things get a bit cramped with a bunch of adults sitting in them. In a regular seat, where 2 of us would have comfortably sat, down here we can easily fit 3 adults and 2 children, or 4 adults if they are little old Mayan women. It`s never a boring ride. This particular one broke down. Twice. But nothing 15 men standing around arguing couldn`t fix.
Which reminds me, it`s been interesting to see so many of “our” recycled and donated items throughout Latin America, mainly in the remote and poor areas. In addition to the school buses, on which you can sometimes see the old school district name faintly under the bright new paint job, I`ve also come across a firetruck that says “Snowy Hill Fire Department”, and t-shirts that say things like “I survived Johnny`s Bar Mitzvah”, “KPMG Bowling League,” “Race for the Cure 2001”, and the “Fairfield slow-pitch softball tourney”. It`s good to see all of these castaway items going to good use by people who truly need them. And it goes to prove that one man`s trash is another`s treasure. Of course, my favorites have been Hawkeye gear. We saw a man standing in a doorway on Easter Sunday in Argentina with an Iowa Cheerleading tshirt on. Another guy in La Paz had an Iowa sweatshirt on, (whom Laurie chased him down to get sneakily get a picture of) and recently I saw a guy with a Hawk baseball cap on. The guy in La Paz could have legitimately had a connection to IA, but the other two – I highly doubt it. So keep on donating your old clothes and items – don`t throw things away that can still be used!!
Anyway, I was on a bus to Antigua. Antigua is Guate`s most popular city and is unarguably the most beautiful. I was thinking I was getting a bit jaded with the colonial/cobblestone thing, but I feel in love with it as soon as we rolled into town. It someways, it was like a time warp and in others it is a bit disappointing to see how it has conformed to support the mass of foreign visitors. This town has about 10 churches per square block, and most of them are OLD! Many are crumbling so you can`t go inside anymore but they have a powerful affect and are very influential to the character of the town. As beautiful as it is, it is a town overrun by visitors and there are thus tons of language school (in other words, drunk college kids). Prices are listed in USD; it`s not “salon de belleza” but “The Hair Studio”; my first meal here was served sans ice cubes and with peeled tomatoes – fully adhering to the gringo rules; and there are enough tourists to support a McDonald`s, Burger King, Subway and Domino`s. But it is still a beautiful town surrounded by gigantic volcanoes and only 30 minutes away from Guatemala City.
The Pacaya Volcano is the one I decided to hike up. It is one of the 3 that remain active out of Guatemala`s 39. The hike up was beautiful with wonderful views of Guatemala City. After about an hour we reached the hardened lava and had to work our way through the maze of hot rocks. We weren`t very lucky as there wasn`t much lava spewing that afternoon, and only were able to see some in the distance, so I was a bit disappointed, but was still a good bout of exercise and pretty climb.
The rest of my stay in Antigua was spent walking around, sitting in the very crowded park on Saturday talking to people and for 3 nights straight I became a groupie for a group that played at this great little restaurant. They were an Andean band, so it was music similar to that I heard in Bolivia-Argentina, and was run by a cute retired couple from Nashville. They had t-shirts that said “I`m leaving tomorrow…..” which you got for free after saying that 3 days in a row. I can easily see how that would happen in a town like this.
My final stop in Guatemala was Lago Atitlan, claimed to be one of the most beautiful in the world (which is a pretty bold statement.) Because sometimes I choose to act like a 20 year old, I missed my 6am direct shuttle, which Iֲ´d already paid for, and so in the afternoon had to make my own way up there by chicken bus. It took 4 transfers and a lot more energy than I had to get up there. By there, I mean Panajachel, the gateway to the lake, and a town so full of gringos that it is referred to as Gringotenango. The first views of the lake as we came into town were amazing. It is a lake that is nestled down in between several volcanoes and jagged mountain peaks and has a string of little villages all the way around. In went in a boat taxi that made its way around these villages and got off at San Pedro la Laguna for a night. It was a very laid back town, with tons of hippies and beautiful views of the lake. They had these women who carried around baskets full of fresh chocolate and banana bread that were to die for. They almost made it worth staying an extra night but for my second night, I headed over to the town of Santa Cruz la Laguna (all the town names sound similar and thus made things a bit confusing). There wasn`t much here in this little town but it was peaceful and a perfect place to spend my last night in Guate!