From Panajachel, we made a day trip to the famously huge market of Chichi (short for
Although there are many tourist shuttles that run between Panajachel and Chichi every morning, Laura insisted on riding an early morning public (chicken) bus to the market town. Here is what we learned about the trip to Chichi: Some buses are direct, and some require a transfer at Los Encuentros. Leaving Panajachel, the buses that stop facing south (down towards the lake) on the main strip will immediately go out of town, whereas the ones facing north (towards the central square) will take a long time going through other parts of town collecting passengers before heading out. Oh, and if you can, try to choose a healthy-looking bus that can readily get up the steep hill out of Panajachel — our run-down bus filled with nasty diesel smoke as it slowly labored up that hill.
We paid Q20 (US$3) to get to Chichi in a bus that was stuffed to the gills with people. We thought we had been on crowded buses before, but this one was simply hilarious!
In Guatemala, the ayudante doesn't gather fares at the door — instead, he has to remember who has paid and who hasn't, and sporadically squeezes down the aisle collecting fares. By the time we passed through Los Encuentros, the bus had 3 to 4 people on each little seat, the aisles were packed with standing riders, and we finally had actual chickens on our chicken bus (transported in wicker baskets). To collect his fares, the ayudante climbed up and over people, putting his feet on the backs of seats, reaching down from near the ceiling of the bus. He finally left the bus through the rear emergency exit to avoid having to force his way back to the front.
When we arrived in Chichi, it was time for breakfast! We ate at Tu Cafe, a little place with outdoor seating opening up into the market. There was plenty of food options in the market, but this cafe let us sit and watch the world go by — and eat an egg breakfast that Chichi's market comedors didn't seem to be serving. Unfortunately, sitting right in the market also puts us on display for people selling trinkets. This was the only time in Guatemala when we were pestered with people persistently trying to sell us their wares — kids and elderly men with masks, toys, musical instruments, and textiles. But these people still weren't really all that pushy, and we didn't mind chatting with the kids a bit.
We aren't shoppers who are used to the routine of bargaining, and so we were a little intimidated having to do so — but we practiced our skills here in the market, buying some vegetables, rock jewelry, and beautiful textiles.
The market is generally known for its textiles, but the indoor vegetable market was also amazing to watch. The vegetable market is held in an indoor basketball court, with a 2nd floor balcony that is a great vantage point for watching and taking photos. Families come from various surrounding towns, each wearing their own distinctive local huipiles. Identifying the many huipil patterns is a bit like bird watching!
There are two main churches in town where, again, Christian and traditional Mayan beliefs mix. Outside, ceremoniously dressed figures set off fireworks on the front steps, where candles were lit and offerings were made. Inside are sculptures representing various saints, stained almost black from centuries of candle soot. On the floor are rectangular marble blocks, where one can make offerings next to the symbols of health, travel, marriage, children, etc.
At one point, we were approached by a tour guide wearing a faded official INGUAT (the official Guatemalan tourism bureau) vest who offered us a quick tour and then guilted us into paying her Q60. We felt a bit uneasy about the whole situation.
Beside the traditional wares, we also found these salespeople pitching cure-alls made from snakes, eyeballs, and herbs:
We hiked up a little hill to Pascual Abaj, a site where Mayan rituals are performed. This place also offered a great view of Chichi's colorful cemetery.
Bus Ride Home
We spent most of the day exploring Chichi, and then took a bus back to
Panajachel via Los Encuentros. We caught our bus from near the arch north of
Back in Panajachel, we watched as everything you can imagine got unloaded from our chicken bus.