Children at a roadside vegetable market

Traveling along the road that leads to Guatemala City, there are many small roadside stands that appear in the middle of nowhere. We stopped at one, and there were a huge variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers arrayed on stands outside of a concrete block building. But the real treasure were the children that appeared to arrive from no-where. Suddenly a band of them were standing and staring. I took a couple quick snapshots, left behind some change, and it was not until much later that I was able to look at the image, and see the array of children, from the little Mayan girl on the left with an on-demand smile, to the little face of a boy peaking out from behind another.  It is perhaps one of the favorite photos I have ever taken.

The Mayan and Catholic faiths are merged in this church in Chichicastenango




A fire is constantly tended on the stairway entrance to the 400 year old 
Cathedral of Santo Tomas, Chichicastenango


Weaving through a dense maze of shops and people in the town square, you break out of the crush of stores and items for sale, and before you is the visage of this venerated church. Women tend a fire at the center of the stairs leading to the entrance, as men weave back and forth at the entry way, guarding the door from entrance. 

Entering the church from the side, a deeply spiritual presence can be felt. A melding of both Catholic and native Mayan beliefs, the church stands as a rare entity, and fully Mayan.

Inside a Mayan family kneels and prays surrounding lit candles as they focus on their payers. Similar to so many places in the world, the lit candle is a focus of spirit and prayer.

Chichicastenango is an important centre of culture and religion for the local Indigenous population.

It is also the home of a large population of Maya Quiche Indians, said to be the purest descendants of the ancient Maya. These people still maintain much of their ancestors' culture, including their religious beliefs and practices which are only mixed with the Catholicism forced upon them by the Spanish conquest. It is this relationship with the past, with the old traditions still omnipresent in everyday life, that makes Chichicastenango so fascinating as a commercial center, with deeply spiritual roots

About the 1000 people, mainly ladinos (people of mixed Indian and Spanish blood, who reject the traditional lifestyle), live in the village itself. They work as tradespeople or local officials, or they operate the small number of hotels, shops and bars in town. However, over 20,000 Indians live in the surrounding hills, most of them farmers on small plots of land. It is on market days that Chichicastanango comes alive, as Indians pour into the tiny village to sell wares, buy provisions and partake in religious ceremonies.






The Trip to Guatemala

What a huge difference there was between Honduras and Guatemala. Although we visited Mayan ruins at Copan Ruinas in Honduras, the real flavor of the Mayans came through as we crossed the border into Guatemala. An isolated road with a small stucco building was all to be found at the crossing. We were stamped in and out by walking from one open air window on the Honduras side, to an open air window on the Guatemalan side.

There used to be money changers there, but one was robbed recently by thieves, so the money changing ends long before the border crossing is closed each night. 

The first real change was that I noticed some very pricey Mercedes once we had passed the border into Guatemala. I also started seeing roadside stands, with vegetable for sale. As we drew closer to Guatemala City I was reminded of Caracas, a huge city with massive areas of extreme poverty.

Getting through the city, we saw active volcano's belching smoke, and a changing landscape. The rolling hills of Honduras were replaced by mountainous climbs, and spectacular vistas.

We were headed for Panajachel, Lake Atitlan.

From there we visited Chichicastanengo and Santiago Atitlan




Panajachel, Lake Atitlan

I was quite amazed at Panajachel. After hours of barren roads we started to descend the side of a mountain, and were astounded at vistas of a lake ringed by volcanos. 

Arriving in the town, it was packed with people and shops. Woven goods of every type imaginable, the streets were crowded with bargain hunting tourists from all over the world, and shopkeepers eager to give them a "good deal". The shopkeepers were quite fluent in English, and skilled at negotiations.

One evening we went for dinner and a walk along the streets crowded with handcraft markets. At some point we became aware of two brightly dressed, barefoot young Mayan girls, one perhaps ten, the other six or so. There were many children on the streets, but these two had selected us for their sales pitch. They had goods for sale, and approached us. We said hello, but were not interested. A short time later they re-appeared at our open air dinner table. They were beautiful young girls.  The ten year old spoke some English, the six year old spoke none. I asked them about school. They went to school during the day, then went out in the evening to sell the woven goods that their family made during the day. The younger sister was "in training", listening and watching closely the older sister. I can't even recall what it was she was selling, but it was nothing I particularly had a use for. She persisted. I bought an item from the older one, her younger sister, upon conclusion of the deal immediatley thrust an woven eyeglass strap at me. I laughed at this entrepenurial couple, and purchased the strap as well. I had known their names, but have long since forgotten. I wish I had a snapshot of them for my memories, they probably would have charged for that as well, and I would have gladly paid!



more images from Guatemala

link to Chichicastengo website




Statues merge Catholic saints with Mayan images