This morning we leave Antigua and drive for a few hours to reach Chichicastenango. It is a small town located in the highlands of Guatemala. The mountain roads are curvy and winding and definitely scary at times. Cars trying to pass each other with hardly any room…come on, relax everyone! I’d like to get through this drive without having a heart attack!
Arriving into town, it’s bustling with activity. That’s because we are here on the day that the famous market is open. Pedro (our tour leader) takes us to a family owned restaurant that’s located in their house. Today they are serving up a 4-taco deal. Sounds good to me! While we wait for our food, we take a short walk up to the cemetery.
This place is unreal! It is one of the world’s most colorful cemeteries. The rainbow of colors celebrates the afterlife; it might seem a little odd but the Mayans believe if you honor the dead it allows you to make peace with the inevitability of death.
The colors also represent the deceased persons family status -or it might just have been that person’s favorite color! White is for purity, turquoise is for protection, yellow is the life force of the sun.
This cemetery features headstones of all sizes in the shape of crosses and large mausoleums. I absolutely love wandering through the rows upon rows of graves, reading the names of the people who are laid to rest here. A lot of graves have offerings on them – flowers, food, burning incense.
And every year, families repaint to keep the colors fresh and vibrant. The views of the surrounding mountains and the town below are breathtaking; I love that there is so much beauty in a sombre place.
Now it’s back to the family’s house for our lunch. They are so nice and the effort is there…but my tacos are not good. It is a mix of chicken and beef in the tacos, and it doesn’t have much flavor and the pieces of meat are gross. I feel bad, but I cannot eat this!
After lunch I pair up with Brigitte to explore the many stalls in the vast market.
It’s not as busy today, so we don’t have to push through the crowds and it’s much easier to be aware of pickpockets. I must say though, in all my years of traveling to 45 countries…I have never been pickpocketed!
There are ladies making tortillas, the smell of their freshly baked treats wafting through the air.
Boys are wandering around with wheelbarrows full of nuts, there are stray dogs that have seen better days (like some of the worst I’ve ever seen), women carrying around babies wrapped in thick colorful blankets tied over their shoulders.
You can find pretty much everything here…but the focus for me today is souvenirs and a gift for the family we are staying with tonight. I don’t need a chicken, thank you. There is one annoying girl trying to sell me pens and she follows us around for what seems like forever. I keep telling her no, but she doesn’t give up! We garner a lot of stares and giggles from the locals (maybe it’s my blue/green hair?) …. I just smile back and wave hello. The colorful textiles on display provide a beautiful sight!
Since there are so many options, I like to find one stall that has everything I want and just buy all at once. I end up with colorful blankets, masks, a purse, pens. Oh, and magnets…because that girl from before finds us again and she wears me down..haha.
When we are finished our shopping, we head over to the meeting point, a grand white church- the 400-year-old Santo Tomas.
There are 18 steps that lead up to the church up on the platform. Each stand for one month of the Maya calendar year. There are many vendors sitting on the steps with buckets of flowers for sale.
Brigitte and I sit on the steps and wait for the others; this is the perfect spot to watch life go by in the markets..never a dull moment here!
Back in the van to drive to the small village of San Jorge La Laguna, located along Lake Atitlan. More crazy driving and this time, a large chicken bus is passing on a sharp bend in the road and ends up in our lane. Everyone in the van gasps…like it is coming for us head on. Thankfully, our driver Eric is a superstar and I guess maybe these locals are used to this kind of driving? Again, a heart attack worthy drive. As we get close to the village it gets really foggy which makes it even scarier for driving. Seriously.
We arrive into the town square, which is a large dirt area in front of a pretty white church.
It had been raining, so there are lots of puddles and muddy places to avoid with our luggage. Intrepid tours set up these homestays, where you get to meet a local family and see how they live. Tonight, I am paired with Aimee, and the mom from the Loarquez family comes to get us from the square. She doesn’t speak much (if any) English, but she leads us to their house which is just a short walk down the road.
There is a large black gate that opens to a flight of stairs that leads up to the concrete house. It seems to be a decent size. Our room is just to the right; it’s spacious and clean with religious icons and pictures of the family adorning the walls.
There is a small seating area and toilets outside the room. To the left is a large storage area that seems to be mostly firewood. We set our bags down and then head up the stone steps to the rest of their living quarters. On one side is the sink…this is where they wash dishes, brush their teeth, etc. We head into the large kitchen, where one of the daughters is starting to make dinner.
Aimee and I offer to help, so she lets us make a few tortillas. I’m not very good at it, so that is short lived. Instead we play a few rounds of cards while the rest of the family rolls in from their day at work or school. The Loarquez family consists of Mom and Dad, 2 girls in their early 20’s and 2 boys in their teens. They decide I need a dinner outfit so I put on this colorful woven top, Guatemalan style.
When dinner is finally served, it is simple yet very tasty. We have steamed veggies, spicy spaghetti and unlimited tortillas.
We laugh at the ones that I made…very obvious! The conversation is pretty basic…how old are you, where do you work, what do you study. They have a scrapbook with messages from all the people that have stayed here, so we read them and leave a few words of our own.
This goes on until around 830, and then it’s time for bed. Aimee and I just chill for a bit on our little patio and then retire to bed to read and do some writing. While this is a quiet town, it’s not so quiet at night. There are a couple of dogs that bark all night, and then some noisy roosters in the morning. Before breakfast I head out to have a look around the town and to snap some pics.
When I return, breakfast is ready…..eggs, black bean mush (not my fave thing), fried plantains, toast and of course…tortillas!
We say our goodbyes and thank yous to the Loarquez family and hop into the van to continue on to our next destination!