SOLOLA AND CHICHICASTENANGO MARKET:.
I took the boat to Panajachel from Santa Cruz La Laguna at 9 am on a Sunday morning. It was a sunny, clear and windy day. The day before I had decided to make a trip to the famous biggest open market of Central America, Chichicastenango, which is less than 2 hours away from Panajachel. A shuttle was awaiting for me once I arrived at Pana’s main dock. I had decided that it would be a good idea to visit Solola’s Market first, because I had heard it was also a place that was worth visiting because of the varieties of goods that are being offered inside and outside its installation.
Once in Solola town I walked around to get to know it first, and I learned that Solola is a mostly catholic community, and that it has a hospital, a university nearby, a gas station, restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, and ATM’s. Doctors and attorneys are to be found in most of its streets, and there are many hardware stores around town too.
I headed toward the market, which is in the northern part of town, it’s easy to get, and once there, the first businesses that one can see are the fried chickens and french fries (chips) carts, that seems to be everywhere in Guatemala.
The market has a two main entrances in the front of the street. Its big gates open early in the morning, and the market paths leads toward the different stands with different goods that are for sale. Men, women and children’s clothes, accessories, herbs, spices, fresh seafood, livestock, meats, seeds, dining spots (which offered breakfast and lunch), vegetables and fruits. I could find anything that I wanted here. I even tried fruits that I’ve never seen before in my life. Really good stuff that made my mouth watered once I tasted it. I even bought a couple cool funny shirts at the Pacas (which is the name given to stores that sell 2nd hand clothes).
After walking for a bit, it was time for me to go back into the shuttle and head to Chichicastenango. From Solola to Chichi (the name the locals call the town) takes about a hour. A drive through the mountains and a few towns on the side of the road. Guatemala is a country with many natural views that can vary in a short lapse of time while on the road.
Once I arrived at Chichicastenango I was surprised to see how big the market really is, I mean, when first entering through the first passage there is at least half a block filled with little sales spots that offer different kind of knittings, masks and little souvenirs. But once that half a block is over there is a long white building on the left side, that is the church where the indiginus from town go to give cult to their divinities, and at the same time the Catholic community attend mass, something I’ve never seen before. Inside church, in the middle there are many circles that are use to position the offerings and to burn the candles for the indigenous rituals. I found the front of the building fascinating because it has a set of twenty painted white stairs made out of rock in a semi circle shape, and which meaning is the 20 different Mayan Nahuales that symbolises the evolution in life and time of the humans. It reminded me of some kind of some ancient temple I’ve probably seen in a movie before.
And while on top of the stairs one is able to observe the magnitude of size the market really has. It goes many blocks in the horizon, and there are many sales spots on the left and in the right side. A curious details is that on the right side while exiting the church there is a soft red building that is the indiginus municipality. Chichicastenango has a major and many delegates that work for the indigenous community inside that building. Inside it, is possible to observe, as I call it, the cane of power (which is hold by the major), and the whip of punishment, the last one is used to publicly humiliate thieves, and for people that somehow has broken the indiginus rules. It is a way to maintain the peace and the good values in town.
While walking through the market I saw many beautiful fabrics that are worked by the local ladies, and turn them into beautiful scarfs, sheets, traditional dresses, among other goods. The colors they use are fantastic because they are so bright, and many of the details on their patterns are impressive, to make the patterns takes them time, sometimes a long time just for one piece, so they are very valuable, and most of the time expensive, but it is important to take into consideration that these pieces are originals and uniques, and that is very probably to find them only in this part of the world.
After walking for a while through the market I took notice that there was a cemetery in the other side. So I adventured myself to walk in between the graves and was able to watch a few rituals performed by shamans in the middle of the cemetery. They would burn candles and allow the smoke to enter through the halls of little buildings while the shaman would be praying for a deceased’s soul. Something curious is that at the end of the cemetery, on the west side, there are sculptures that form a circle, two sculptures are in the middle of the circle, one facing north and the other one facing south, facing to the cemetery. The town built this area in 2012 for the commemoration of the end of a cycle in the Mayan Calendar, the Baktum. And while observing from above I could watch a ritual going on, something different from the ones I’d seen inside the cemetery. There was a shaman that was holding a long, thick stick and was praying over a burning circle with eggs around the circle, there were two indigenous ladies observing the ritual from afar inside the circle, they were under the shade of the sculptures in the middle.
Because of the heat, the eggs surrounding the burning circle exploded at different times, this action represents a wish or tought that has been inside the egg, and because of the shaman it has been heard by the divinities making the egg explode to make that wish or thought travel towards the gods, and eventually make this wish or thought come true.
The structure is below the cemetery and represents the communication that the persons alive can have with the souls inside the infraworld. The living with the dead, because the Mayans believed that after this life there was another life in the other side. The sculptures had carvings on their base that represented the carnage of the colonization by the hands of the Spanish fighters, some of them show bearded men wearing helmets and on horses holding spears and using them to cut through the indigenous soldiers. On top of sculptures’ base there were divinities wearing animal heads, tucan, snake, jaguar. And the details are very well preserved.
After a bit, I noticed a regular man passing close to where I was on the way to get his car, we chat for a bit about my whereabouts, and he recommended me to take a visit to Pascual Abaj, a place nearby the cemetary, a place where more rituals take place, and a place that produces mud masks.
From the sculpture circle to Pascual Abaj it took me about 15 minutes to get there. It’s a house that has a Maximon altar and many masks in its walls. And above the house there is a hill, on top of the hill is where the rituals take place. So I decided to hike the hill and take a closer look to it and what was going on there. After being in Lake Atitlan for 2 months, I’m getting used to hike most days, and this was one that took me about 10 minutes, I found a couple small groups of travelers that were coming back from the top, but apparently this place is not very known among travelers.
On top of the hill I found myself being on one of the highest hills in town, I could oversee the cemetery and the the outsides of the town holding the market in the middle. And then noticed that there was a lot of smoke coming out from the east side, next to a construction that seemed as a open dining room or a place for hanging hammocks under a roof. I walked towards the smoke and found out what was about, there were two shamans burning different colors candles, each color represents something in the nature, the green ones represent all the green in nature, like trees, mountains, plants, etc, the purple ones represent God, the yellow ones the sun, and the blue ones the sky. They also had eggs surrounding the big fire they were working on, and I saw one man kneeling while being clean up with a little mop by one of the shamans, while the shaman was cleaning the man, the eggs were popping, and seeing such a devotion and belief from part of the kneeling man, made me realise what a privilege it is to observe and watch how this little town, that is close by Lake Atitlan, is so different from the other ones I’ve met so far in my journey, how they still keep their same traditions and rituals, and get to practice them without the meddling of any church or authority, how they keep themselves to hold their identities as a culture, and on how the practice of their traditions keeps the community together. Something to think about, because communities that work together have power over policies and new laws.
I head back to Lake Atitlan with all these thoughts inside my head, while thinking which way should I head in my next weekend adventure. Guatemala is an impressive country with some many natural resources and so many ecosystems. It’s definitely a gem in Central America.
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