We left the comforts of our apartment in Antigua, loaded up our backpacks and walked to the local bus area (can't really say it's a bus station as really it's a big parking lot and people just direct you to the one you need and they seem to run so frequently that there is no need for a schedule). We took the "chicken bus" (Blue Bird School buses) to Chichicastenango which is a mainly a K'iche' Mayan town up in the highlands..so further away from the main tourist routes. "Chichi" still gets it's tourist (like us) but usually only on Thursdays and Sundays when the big market is held.. influxes of tourists come from Antigua or Panajachel in addition to the Mayan people from the villages around the town. (Chichi has the largest crafts market in Guatemala and the 3rd largest in Latin America!) But outside of those days.. it's just a Guatemalan town with ladinos and K'iche' Mayan peoples. The trip here took three different bus rides and was our first true backpacking experience.. running to catch the bus, backpacks tossed up on top, scrambling through the door in the back as the bus is pulling away, packed into the seats.. three people wide to a seat with shoulders out into the isle. The boys did great.. Sean had Liam on his lap while Eric and I were further back squeezed in with half bum on the seats and legs braced to get as much leverage as possible for all the twisty turns (going through mountains with many a hairpin turns). Sean said it was like the Mad Coaster app.
|ride was so bumpy/windy.. couldn't get a steady shot|
The bus eventually cleared out a bit and we got a bit more breathing room but it was quite the "bumpy ride" as they say in Harry Potter movie. We were dropped off on the side of the road in Chichicastenango and immediately felt "out there".. no sense of where we were and where we needed to go and no other tourists in sight. But, we pulled out the guide book which has basically been unused for most of our trip so far and trudged through the streets to find a hotel. The boys were asking if we could take a "tuk tuk".. but we held steady.. we could do this.. found one hotel.. it was full.. then trudged to another and was happy with our find (though Liam commented the next morning" is this what backpacking is.. staying at not so nice hotels?"). The boys did great and Eric and I felt much more of the travel adventure spirit roused in us.. a bit more of a challenge, as everything has been really easy so far.
Chichicastenango is one of the first towns the Spanish established when they conquered this area and they staked their claim with church and monestary, building it an top of a Mayan temple.. Santos Tomas was built in 1540. The mayan "confradia" (brotherhood) (who wear the traditional Mayan dress) look after it today and it has the interesting mix of Catholism and Mayan. They say that the 18 steps leading up to the church represent the 18 months in a Mayan Calendar year. Most women here wear the traditional mayan dress but we noticed the younger women have the skirts a bit shorter. The women carry their babies and young toddlers on their backs with the colourful weaved cotton blankets. We arrived a few days before the big market day so we'll get the full splendour on Sunday when the markets fill with people from the surrounding towns to do their shopping or to sell their wares and to make their offerings of copal or incense or flowers to the Santos Tomas church.
|Santo Tomas Church - 1540|
|roof top of hotel.. the roof tops are like the backyards..laundry lines and|
|view from restaurant.. down into the central market area..|
before the big market day
The next day after we arrived in Chichicastenango, we did a day trip and ventured a bit further into the K'iche' Mayan territory. We took the local transport system (mini-buses) to the original K'iche' Maya capital, Santa Cruz de Quiche and also visited the post-classic Mayan ruins of Utitlan or Gumarcaj as they call it in K'iche Mayan. The ruins itself aren't that impressive (especially after seeing Copan) but we really liked it because the ruins are still, today, used as a ceremonial site for the Mayan peoples. And we were there...we saw it all in action! We totally lucked out that it was actually a special day in the Mayan Calendar and there was a ceremony taking place in the same ceremonial centre that Mayan used back in 1200 AD! It's mixed now with a blend of Catholic and Mayan but there was music, ceremonial offerings and prayers and lighting of candles.
|ball court in foreground and ceremonial centre in the back|
|One of the temples of the |
Classic Mayan period (not excavated)
At the ruins there is a "cueva" .. tunnel like cave that are used for ceremonial offerings as well and there was a small group, a family it seemed, making their offerings and prayers. It was just so cool to see the modern day Mayan peoples in a ritual that has been happening for centuries.. though the offerings probably have changed since the early times.. there was Gatorade, cheetos, along with eggs and rice and not sure what else.. so a variety of stuff I guess the gods would like. We did see a chicken offering along with some flowers. The smaller group we saw near the "cueva" were saying their prayers in Quiche Mayan we think, it wasn't spanish.
|We waited all of 2 minutes for the mini-bus back to Quiche!|
The town of Santa Cruz de Quiche which was the transfer point to get out to the ruins was a neat town too.. it was alive with activity (Saturday).. markets, stores, people coming and going all in the central Park area. It had a good vibe.. Eric and I weren't sure what to attribute the "good vibe" to but we both felt it.. it just felt happier or more whole or something. (If anyone is reading this and considering a trip to Guatemala, we give our tour today.. Gumarcaj via Santa Cruz de Quiche "worth the detour" recommendation. ) And it was so easy getting there and back.. via the mini-buses that seem to run every 10 minutes.. public transport here is so well used you never have to wait and the cost is crazy cheap..3Q each for 45 min bus ride.. so about 25cents!
Seeing a bit of the country side was interesting too.. small plots of corn fields everywhere (the dried stalks still standing in the field) , mud brick homes, white washed, with clay tile roofs.
|mud bricks out to dry|
I'm liking the change from Antigua with it's colonial Spanish heritage to Chichicastenango and Santa Cruz de Quiche with it's Mayan cultural/spiritual heritage that is still very much alive today.