Road Trip to Chi Chi Market
Trip Start Mar 23, 2012
12Trip End Apr 06, 2012
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
As we left the rough cobblestone streets of Antigua behind and began to climb into the surrounding hillsides, we noticed a strange, astringent odor wafting into the car. Our driver, whose name was Carlos, told us (in Spanish--thank goodness Lucy, who is Mexican, was with us as interpreter) that the smell emanated from nearby coffee plantations. Apparently the used coffee bean husks that have been discarded while preparing the beans for distribution are mounded in large piles and then are left to ferment outside
Soon we were traversing rolling hillsides, covered with a patchwork quilt of colors ranging from bright green to iridescent aqua. Carlos told us this is the agricultural center of the country. We saw acres upon acres of broccoli, cabbage, beet, strawberry and squash plants, and dozens of greenhouses containing tomatoes. This went on for dozens of miles. The volcanic earth is evidently very fertile for growing these types of crops. And the crops change as the seasons do, of course. This is definitely the place to grow a cornucopia of produce.The road became more twisty with steep drop-offs as we rose in elevation. The farmlands changed with the countryside, becoming more and more terraced the farther we went. Homes and villages all clung to the pine-forested hillsides everywhere we looked. We began to see local Mayan people, going about their daily business. Women in particular were quite prevalent, usually seen walking on the sides of the road, wearing colorful long skirts and blouses, and carrying heavy loads of firewood, or balancing baskets or bundles on their heads.
We became hungry, having had no breakfast, so we asked Carlos if we could stop someplace for lunch. He dropped us off in the small town of Tecpan, where we enjoyed fresh fried chicken and fries, with small packets of spicy green sauce which we tore into and poured onto our food. Once sated, we climbed back on board and continued our journey.
Upon arrival in Chichicanestango, Carlos parked in a lot where all the other tour vehicles parked, to wait for us, while we made our way to the market itself. Turns out we arrived at a good time of day, when a lot of our fellow tourists had already cleared out
We paused at various stalls to peruse the different items for sale. Bill and I agreed that the sellers of the Chichi market were much more pushy than anywhere we'd ever been before. Here's an example. A woman, who had a dozen colorful shawls thrown over her shoulders, interrupted my foray into the market in order to give me the hard sell on her wares. After about 5 minutes, I ended up buying a tablecloth (that I didn't really want). Another woman, also with a dozen colorful shawls thrown over her shoulders, noticed this transaction and proceeded to follow me through the market, for at least 20 minutes, trying to sell me a tablecloth. She went everywhere I went, constantly keeping up a monologue of how she would sell me the tablecloth, how she would lower the price, all the while staying just 3 inches behind me. This went on while we looked at other stalls, wandered around, checked out the nearby cemetary, and witnessed a firecracker display on the steps of the local church. At one point, Bill tried to distract her with an offering of some pistachio nuts he'd earlier purchased, which she gladly accepted, but this did not daunt her from her goal
The four of us did have some other sightseeing opportunities while at the Chichi market. One was the above-mentioned firecracker display on the steps of the local church, the Iglesia de Santo Tomas. This church was built more than 450 years ago atop an ancient Mayan worship site. Each of the 18 steps up to the entrance of the church represent a year in the Mayan calendar. Obviously these steps and the church itself are very important to the Mayans, which was very apparent to us. Aside from the many clusters of people sitting in their local garb on the steps, we saw incense and candles burning everywhere, and a guy wearing a very colorful outfit, lighting firecrackers while shouting very loudly while another guy banged a drum. There were sightless beggars standing at the base of the steps, holding bowls in their hands. It was colorful, confusing, and very loud, particularly when the firecrackers went shooting off into the crowd. There was one unexpected explosion in particular that nearly punctured our eardrums. After witnessing this spectacle, we made our way to a side entrance of the church to see the interior. It was quite dim inside. Instead of the expected pews, we witnessed makeshift alters lining the walls, lit candles everywhere, and pine needles scattered all over the floor
We also wandered to the local cemetary. All of the tombstones and tombs are above ground and painted in pastel colors. Those who evidently did not have enough money to afford a tomb of their own were buried very shallowly (it appeared, by the big mounds--see the attached picture). It was a bit creepy, and we didn't stay long.
We all wanted to get something to eat before heading back to Antigua so selected a nearly deserted restaurant for a meal.Bad decision. It was our worst meal so far. There was only Western stuff on the menu. Lucy and Patrick had odd-tasting hamburgers, Bill got spaghetti with meat sauce which was dotted with cut up hot dogs and served with tortillas, and I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich which didn't come with any ham and only a slice of cold American cheese. Well, you live and learn. We should have known better though.
It rained on the way back to Antigua, and we got caught up in a very long traffic jam near the end, but we did make it back to our rental home. Patrick and Lucy decided they wanted to go out and see the nightlife, so they left and Bill and I watched an old movie on the tube before going to bed at an early hour. It was an eventful day. Tomorrow we head for Panajachel.