The tongue twisting town of Chichicastenango is thankfully known as Chichi to pretty much
everyone. Although, imagining bus drivers yelling "Chichicastenango, Chichicastenango, Chichicastenango!!!" out the open bus door is an entertaining thought indeed.
Chichi is home to what may arguably be Guatemala's most touristy massive market. The market is held Thursday and Sundays and attracts backpackers, fancy tour groups, day trippers, national tourists and locals from the surrounding mountain villages. We arrived the day before the market so we could hit the market before the tour buses arrived. It was almost immediately apparent that Chichi relies heavily on tourism for survival. Randoms asked for money in exchange for directions, everyone followed 'Hola, Amigo!' greeting with: 'Come into my shop' and no one was particularly friendly without making their ulterior motives obvious. We were ready to leave almost as soon as we got there, but really, I suppose, what did we expect? It was actually worst the day before the market. It reminded me of when we were in Kathamandu in low season (August) and got super harassed by hawkers. When we returned in October during high season, we barley noticed it. With more tourists, the attention really gets spread around better and wasn't so overwhelming.
But, Chichi grew on us like a fungus. We found a few good places to eat, our hostel had a nice view
But, Chichi grew on us like a fungus. We found a few good places to eat, our hostel had a nice view and the market itself made for a fun day. Funnily enough, the view from our hostel was not just of the beautiful surrounding hills, but a cemetery. Probably the most cheerful cemetery we've ever laid eyes on. It was comprised of little brightly coloured houses, their luminosity highlighted by the dark green backdrop, and when we were very lucky, a ray of sunshine. The only bad thing about being so close to the cemetery was that locals seem to like setting massively loud fireworks off there. One morning, without exaggeration, all at the very same time, which happened to be 5am, there were fireworks, barking dogs, a car alarm, roosters crowing AND a honking contest. So, that was some sort of record for us.. The most fascinating part of Chichi for me was the church, Iglesia de Santa Tomas. While its a Catholic church, the Mayan religion is woven right into the fabric of the belief of the villagers, and this is most apparent inside the church. By almost all accounts it looks like a traditional Catholic Church in Latin America. Its whitewashed and set above the main town square. Inside there are wooden pews, an altar at the front and paintings of saints on the walls. But, there are also large stone slabs lining the church's centre aisle covered in thin burning candles. These candles are lit in remembrance of passed loved ones. Food and flower offerings are scattered at the churches entrance and spiritual leaders chant magical words to stone plaques in-bedded in the walls. It was a very interesting experience and our first with the Mayan faith.
When all was said and done, Chichi provided some great photo opportunities and the beautiful array of colours and textures brightened the gloomy skies.
Where We Stayed: Posado El Telephono- with a fresh coat of paint, less rickety stairs, a few well thought-out sitting areas, and the general fixing of things that are broken, this hostel could be really nice. It is in a great location and has a really nice view from it's terrace. As it is, its super cheap (Q60, $8USD, private room with shared bathroom) with friendly owners. Everything is very simple, but pretty clean.
Where We Ate:
Comidas Tipico El Centro- I wish we had found this restaurant sooner. Its on the second floor of the shopping centre, you can see the sign above the street on 5a Av, north of the plaza. Great value, excellent food and friendly service made up for its plain atmosphere.
Restaurant y Cafe Pop Wuj- On the expensive side but good food, friendly service and right on the main plaza. Its on the second level with mini balconies looking out on the plaza.
Cafe LaNeveria- Good coffee and insanely decadent frozen coffees, made with icecream, chocolate sauce and whipcream- just what you need to re-energize half way through your market day bargaining adventure