Chichicastenango in Guatemala is a popular tourist destination due to the twice weekly massive market; but, it is not just a market town. There is so much to see! After we had our fill of the market at Chichi, we found a guide, Oscar, who offered to give us a two hour tour of the local Mayan culture for Q300 (quetzales) (about $45 for both of us). It was more than we wanted to spend, but since his English was pretty decent, we decided it was worth spending the money to get a good explanation of what we were looking at. Our stroll began at the pig market, a little space off the main road where they sold, what else, pigs!
Next, Oscar led us to a small door with a pine branch on the side. This, he explained, was where one family at a time spends a year watching the altar. We walked down a narrow alley-like space into the shrine; a room nearly entirely occupied by an alter decorated with flowers and lined by many candles.
Crepe-paper cutouts lined the ceiling while little Christmas-ish lights twinkled in the air and wind-up musicbox-like sounds played in the background. An elderly woman sat on a side bench smiling at us, while nodding her head to the beat of the music. It was rather odd, but interesting!
Oscar explained that we could leave our offering (of money) on the altar. He, then, led us to another shrine, this one much larger, and watched by six families. Here, Oscar informed us that our prior offering had not been enough. We must leave more money, he said, for the families to buy the candles and the flowers. This time we each gave Q5. I hope it pleased the deities.
Our next stop was the mask shop. Here, the masks for the celebration held in November are both stored and made. Each mask represents one of the Mayan gods. Some of the masks were nearly 100 years old. Carrie tried on the monkey mask, the one worn by the pole dancers during the festival. I donned the mask of the Last Mayan.
In one corner of the room sat a box with a frame of sorts around it and fireworks strapped to that. This is worn on the head of a man who dances in the celebration – while fireworks explode off his head. We are not sure how one gets selected to be the dancing fireworks box guy, but it does not seem like the ideal job! In another room sat a figure of a Mayan “medicine man” shaman – aka “Mashimo.” Here, you could seek help for negative behaviors like gambling, drinking and smoking, by leaving an(other) offering.
Our favorite stop was the costume factory (one guy) and shop. This is where the elaborate costumes worn during the celebration are made. We were allowed to try one on! By now we knew enough to leave another offering…this time to the costume maker. (He earned it!)
The tour continued with a trek up a small mountain where we came upon a Mayan ritual blessing taking place. The Mayans go here to receive blessings for health, crop, travel, marriage, and so on. We asked Oscar if it was okay to take a picture and his response was, “It’s okay, I think, but you see, the problem is, if you want me to ask you need pay me.” Oscar was rapidly becoming very annoying. We decided just to snap a quick pic and skip the offering necessary for permission.
Our last, and by far most interesting, stop was the cemetery. It sits on top of a large hill overlooking the main part of town. Oscar flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to the top and waited patiently while we made yet another offering. Sigh…
There were many Mayan blessings taking place at the cemetery. The blessings are accompanied by burning incense encircled by sugar. The colorful one with the red candles is a marriage blessing.
After Oscar bid us farewell, we went back to the hotel Pop Wuj, said our “adioses” to Emilio and checked out. We had to be at the Santo Tomas hotel at 2:00 p.m. to catch the shuttle to Panajachel on Lago de Atitlan. We found the hotel okay, but weren’t sure where exactly or which shuttle was ours. I went to buy a water so Carrie approached some shuttle drivers to ask which is ours. Their only response was to attempt to point her in the wrong direction and laugh. Not one would even look at the ticket she tried to show them. Out of nowhere Oscar appeared! He scowled at the shuttle men and led Carrie back to the hotel entrance scolding her for walking away from the hotel. He told us to stay here and he would find our shuttle for us. A few moments later he came running back to us, scooped up Carrie’s bag and took off up the hill, “follow me, come come!” So…once again, we did. There, around the corner was our shuttle about to leave! Oscar earned our most earnest gracias …and a generous offering.
Panajachel here we come!
Audrey and Carrie – two suckers who have nothing left to offer