Monday, January 19, 2009


Chichicastenango, or "Chichi" as everyone calls it, is the centre of the Quiché region and the commercial heart of the artesanía business. This is the best place to buy handicrafts in all of Guatemala.

Chichi is a fairly small, sleepy town that comes alive every Thursday and Sunday for a vast market, in and around the central square. The campesinos come into town on Wednesday or Saturday evening, set up their stalls and sleep around the edge of the square, ready to open the market at dawn.

Most of the sellers are the Mayan women who live in the mountains around Chichi, dressed in traditional huipiles (tunic-like shirts).

The town itself is in the pretty colonial style of much of Guatemala's western highlands. On sale are all manner of arts and crafts around the outside of the market, such as wooden masks, hand-woven fabrics and carved wooden objects. Further inside the market locals can buy everything from hats to superglue and batteries to lunch.

The fabrics are beautiful and exquisitely detailed. Some of them are fairly expensive and can take months for someone to make. The price the stall owners first quote though is always negotiable!

Perhaps you can get a sense of the market from this picture of Rach standing on the steps of the church. The main church combines a fascinating mix of Catholic and Mayan ritual. Inside the gloomy interior, people burn candles and incense, and make offerings of maize, flowers and other food to the Mayan ancestors buried underneath the nave. It was incredibly atmospheric but, unfortunately, photography is not allowed, so you'll have to imagine.

The most interesting activity there is people watching. I had to give this guy a couple of Quetzales (about $0.30) to take his picture, but I think it was totally worth it.

Black tortillas. They're made from black maize, of course.

So, did we buy anything? Yes. Here's a Mayan lady cutting up a piece of fabric for us. It's on its way home as I write this (I hope!) along with a traditional mask.

By the way, I should point out that a lot of the photos in this post were taken by Rach. I think she did a pretty good job!


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