This day was one of the best experiences I have had travelling. It has made it into my Top 5. It was an emotional day and this is where, I felt, you get to see the ‘real’ Guatemala. Chichi (thank gosh it’s shortened to that!) markets are held on a Thursday and Sunday. I went on a Sunday. I caught the bus from Antigua, taking about 2 hours. When I arrived, I didn’t quite catch the directions to the entrance of the markets with my limited Spanish. Being ok with getting a little lost, I took off walking around town. It doesn’t take long to find the markets and before you know it, you will be weaving and pushing your way through small cobblestone stone streets with markets stalls on each side. These markets are huge! You will no doubt lose your bearings and get a little lost. Don’t worry that’s all part of the fun!
Being pushed and pulled, mainly by locals, I found it overwhelming and at the same time I was in awe. There is handmade everything, food stalls, and anything you could possibly think of in-between. After an hour of pushing my way through the hoards of people I was drained. I plopped myself down on the nearest table that resembled something like a cafe. I told you I was drained! Running my eyes over the menu I ordered the first thing I understood in Spanish, a Te Verde (a green tea.) Gathering myself and looking around I realised, I had landed in the cutest little vintage style cafe. The people watching from this place was amazing!
There was a fruit stand across from me and holy moly, that’s how you cut up fruit! I’m telling you, if you could cut fruit like these guys did, do you know how much time you would save!? It was incredible! With my tea finished and feeling like I had recovered, I threw myself back into the markets. I made my way to the 400 year old, Santo Tomas Church. There are two churches in Chichi, Santo Tomas being the larger of the two.
I paid 2Q (20c) as a donation to get into the church. I am not religious all, but this was my favourite part of the day. Due to this gorgeous little girl, about 10 years old, coming up to me clearly begging for food. With my limited Spanish I didn’t catch all of what she was saying. I handed over the pineapple, cashews and crackers I had in my bag. I can’t believe the gratefulness this little girl radiated! She was so grateful for this tiny bit of food, that was just a measly snack for me for later. She sat next to me for a few more minutes talking away, touching me, playing with my hair, all the while still thanking me. When she politely got up after a shy ‘Adios,’ that’s when the tears came. I told you it was a day of rollercoaster emotions for me!
That morning I was pissed off that I couldn’t find my sunscreen anywhere. It was gone! And, here was this little girl, so happy over some nuts and fruit. This is one of the many reasons I travel, to put the things I take for granted back into perspective. Never should I complain about my first world problems or take the basics I have access to everyday for granted. I wiped away my tears and left the church.
When you come out of the church be sure to find yourself a space on the stairs over looking the market. The view at the top of the stairs is awesome and the best vantage point for some serious people watching. You can look down at the markets and watch the locals passing by carrying their purchases on their shoulders, while you take a breather. It’s hypnotizing and I could of done this all day.
This is what I wanted to do when I came to Central America, fully immerse myself in the local culture. Siting on those stairs watching the markets pass by, was the first time I felt that I was away from the ‘Gringo’ side of Central America. I only had 2 hours left at the markets, so I tore myself away from my place on the stairs. For the next 2 hours I just walked, bought a few goodies of course, and took in as much as I could until I got back on my bus onwards to Lake Atitlan.
I experienced friendly vendors, to a vendor that snatched back his placemats I wanted to buy, when I asked for 5Q less ($1) to what he was asking and push me out of his store. I had children laughing at me taking selfies with my selfie stick in hand, to an old lady get cranky at me because I wouldn’t buy a scarf off her after she painfully unravelled every one to show me. I didn’t want one and said no from the beginning, humouring her was obviously the wrong thing to do! I watched the locals buy their food, put the heavy load on their shoulders and haul it through the crowds of the markets. I sampled the sweetest honey, and ate the best ceviche. My emotions ranged from overwhelmed, happy, sad, awed, enchanted, disbelief and gratefulness.
If I had the opportunity to live this exact day again, I would. I will cherish it forever and if you only get to do one thing in Guatemala, make sure it’s the Chichi Markets!
When: Sunday and Thursday
Where: Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Bus Company: Tropical Travel Associates
I still don’t know what to make of this travel company. At the end of the day it was cheap and it got me to Chichi, from Antigua, and then onwards to Lake Atitlan. They just seemed really confused, most of the time they didn’t remember who I was and they nearly drove off with my bag still in the other van, after I told them my bag was still in the other van.