Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chichicastenango!

If that's not one of the funnest place names in the world, I don't know what is. Chichicastenango! Say it out loud -- if you can!

As you might guess, we went there this weekend. The whole idea was to visit what everyone says is one of the best Sunday markets in Guatemala and get our Christmas shopping done. We bought a lot of nice stuff. For ourselves. So if you were really hoping to get a fine hand-woven huipil like those crafted by the indigenous Guatemalans for centuries, or the masks used in the traditional holiday story play at the local church/Mayan temple, or even a turkey, you're out of luck this year.

Anyway, the market was a lot of fun. It was great walking through the peaceful town and the rabbit-warren of stalls in the main square while people were still setting up and the place wasn't overrun with shoppers. By mid-morning the place was a zoo; to some extent fellow gringos, but mostly so many Guatemalans that you could barely push your way through to feel up the roosters to see if they're too scrawny to be worth your time.

The real fun was the night before. First we climbed a nearby hill to the shrine of Pascual Abaj, which is a vaguely (very vaguely) face-shaped rock, flanked by crosses and surrounded by smoldering fires. The spot is one of the best examples of how the native Mayan religions have blended with catholicism -- despite the crosses, some evidence of the ancient art of chicken sacrifice was present. Unfortunately, most of the fires looked to have been untended for some time, so we just had to imagine from the voluminous trash left behind what had transpired before our arrival.

Moving swiftly from the sublime to the ridiculous... we went back to relax after the strenuous twenty-minute hike with a cool beer. We went to a restaurant with a balcony so we could watch the town going by. Before too long we noticed people lining up on the sidewalk. Soon, it was too many people to just be a bus stop. And not much after that, the people in giant cartoon-character costumes started coming through. Apparently as part of their town's annual festival, there is one night of Mickey, Minnie, Cruella DeVille, and thirty other comic-book characters dancing the merengue and salsa. After a few numbers, the crowd broke up, only to reassemble a little while later at the church to salute the people who risked heatstroke by dancing in a giant plastic/fur suit all night. (Just like many a young American visitor to Disneyland, some of the local kids had a hard time resisting the urge to take a whack at the giant puffy entertainers, thus demonstrating the common bonds that unite our two peoples, or at least the universality of eight-year-old boys' violent instincts.) On the drive back today, there was an even tinier town with about twice as many cartoon costumes dancing salsa in a line on the highway. It was never made explicit whether this tradition also dates back to the ancient Mayans or not.

1 comment:

EEK! said...

Since when does the Ally McBeal dancing baby rank as an animated celebrity?