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Cheap thrills in Chi Chi

Chichicastenango, Guatemala’s most famous market

overcast 21 °C

You know those place names that just get stuck in your head? They’re usually the ones that are really fun to say. When my sister was tiny she use to love saying Buladelah (or rather “Bu-LAH-de-LAH!”) after visiting the country town on a family road trip up the coast. Well I have a new one and it goes by the name of Chichicastenango. That’s Chee-chee-cas-ten-an-go. But let me tell you, there’s much more to this little highland town than a cool name.

Chichi is famous for its HUGE market. Vendors come from far and wide to flog their traditional wares to the hundreds of tourists who pour in every Thursday and Sunday. The place is so lively and interesting, even reluctant shoppers like Brayden get swept up.

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— The town has been, since pre-Hispanic times, one of the largest trading centers in the Maya area.

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As soon as we entered, we were overwhelmed. Every stall is stacked high with all sorts of goodies. Wooden masks, pottery, jade jewellery and the most beautiful textiles especially caught my eye. As we proceeded through the maze, not only were my eyeballs in overdrive, so were my nostrils. This was especially the case as we wondered past the 450 year old church of Santo Tomás. The air was thick with the scent of incense being burnt and the sweet smells of the flowers being sold by women on the front steps.

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— Santo Tomás, built in 1540. It's Catholic but Maya priests use the church for their rituals.

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While I’d take a bustling market over a sterile shopping centre any day, there’s one thing about markets I loathe. Haggling. Oh how I hate the haggle. It’s a sport I find so incredibly tedious. To me, every time you enter into a negotiation, you are no longer a shopper but an actor, taking part in a pantomime. The script is always the same and always involves the most dramatic facial expressions and eye-rolls from both parties. On top of that, I had forgotten to revise my numbers in Spanish (my Achilles heal of the language) the night before, so I was weakened before I had even entered battle. Overall, I bought a few bits and pieces to send home to our families. I’m sure I paid too much for all of them, but considering the workmanship, I felt like I’d committed daylight robbery.

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— We took our trusty guide and mate Pablo with us. Here we are out the front of another beautiful old white-stucco church.

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— The three of us ate lunch at one of the small eateries or comedors in the heart of the market. I later read tourists should avoid this, unless they enjoy having the runs.

For a change of pace, we visited the happiest cemetery I have ever seen. It’s only a short walk out of the market but feels like a million miles away. The mood is peaceful, but the colours are loud.

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Chichi cemetery is typical of those found all over Central America. To Latinos, burial grounds should be cheerful places. Indeed, even death itself is celebrated. Once a year, countries such as Guatemala and Mexico host the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which sees hoards of people pour into cemeteries to repaint the graves of their loved ones, fly kites, picnic and party. It’s a much different approach to what I’m use to back home, but I really like it.

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— During our visit we were lucky enough to witness a shaman performing a cleansing ritual.

After about 8 hours on our feet, an empty wallet and enough bartering to last me a lifetime, it was time to say adios to Chichicastenango (I'll never get sick of saying it). Next stop Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second biggest city.

Stay posted.

Posted by elyshahickey 06.09.2012 16:31 Archived in Guatemala Tagged culture market shopping mayan indigenous textiles

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Comments

No more meditation, yoga and fasting - back to shop, shop, shop. That's my girl.Looks so colourful there. Missing you, Mum xx

07.09.2012 by lorraine

Oh I wish I was there shopping with you. I would enjoy that immensely. I dig the grave yard (pardon the pun)May be Central Americans have the right idea about making graveyards colourful and happy after all christians believe the happiest day of a christian person's life is the day they die because they will be with Christ.
With your lunch at the market I hope you proved those tourists wrong!!!
You both look good and happy and awesome. Missing you heaps - Love always - Grandma xxx

12.09.2012 by alisa peacock

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