Thursday was market day in Chichicastenango, aka Chichi for travelers and locals alike. For both visitors and sellers, the day started early and it involved a long bus ride uphill in twisty mountain roads.
I love markets. Sure, I usually don’t like to wander around raw meat stalls very early in the morning, and walking in packed alleys can be a tiring exercise. But markets, from Beijing’s Silk Market to France’s quaint Saturday food frenzy, tell a lot about a country’s culture.
It was a long three-hour bus ride from Antigua to Chichi. While the roads dramatically improved in Guatemala, the last part was a heart-stopping climb in the steepest mountain road you can imagine. The turns offered no visibility whatsoever and I had to mentally remind myself the driver probably knew what he was doing to prevent me from screaming. I was too sleepy for that, anyway.
Chichi is small rural town in the highlands that really only comes alive on market days. Still a major trading centre, Mayas from all the nearby pueblos make the trip twice a week. Parts of the market sell mostly souvenirs to tourists, such as carved masks and various objects made of the traditional Maya textile (bags, tablecloths etc.). Unlike in many Asian markets, there are no fake brand names here and no clothes either but for the odd souvenir t-shirt. The rest of the market caters to local who buy and sell chickens, cooking tools, fruits and veggies etc.
In 2003, we finished our trip around Antigua and bought one of the big “Maya blanket” that we still use every winter in Canada. This time, with still over a month to go, we didn’t want to buy much. Our backpacks can only hold so much! Feng bought a small tablecloth and I got a scarf. This is my traditional souvenir. I have a thing for scarves—they fold easily and are comforting when it’s cold.
Buying souvenir took us about 30 minutes. We kind of knew what we wanted and not much bargaining was involved. Unlike in Asia where it can last for half an hour, prices in Chich weren’t as flexible. We were quoted a price (too high), we counter-attacked with another price (too low) and agreed on a suitable price at the third attempt. In total, we spent about $15 for the scarf and tablecloth. Fine by me, I’m not going to argue just for the sake of saving a dollar.
We spent the rest of the time in Chichi taking pictures. It proved tricky at first: the light wasn’t great (too bright and shadowy around the stalls) and the streets were packed. But I found the people fascinating and I wanted to capture it.