Once again we woke that morning to the sound of our pal Paco - apparently on the hunt for his girlfriend (another nearby pet parrot). Desanuno (breakfast) in the hotel was delightful as ever and once we were stuffed we headed out to spend a few hours wandering the older part of Panajachel before our private shuttle to our next stop over in Chichicastenango.
Old Panajachel was a little different from the main drag, there weren't many wandering ladies selling their handmade textiles, there weren't local children trying to sell you wooden flutes and key chains. Instead there were a few old dilapidated buildings scattered about without signage, so their purpose still remains a mystery. A large church, St. Francis of Asisi, stood in the centre of Old Panajachel, where they seemed to be setting up for some sort of an event.
We wandered the town until it was time to meet our shuttle in the early afternoon. This was definitely the nicest shuttle we'd been in thus far. The driver, a good friend of Jose, was headed in our direction with his family that day, and offered to take us along with him, his wife and daughter. They were all very friendly and pleasant and all spoke English (of various proficiency)! The trip to Chichicastenango consisted of some friendly discussions about Guatemala and what we had seen, along with a couple of naps along the way. For once, we arrived at our destination during daylight!
Chichicastenango is a major destination when visiting this part of Guatemala. Many tour groups are taken to "Chichi" on either Thursdays or Sundays, which are the only days during the week that the market is open. We planned to go to the Sunday market, as it is the larger if the two, and the area churches conduct a Sunday service - something we were very curious about. I was interested to arrive early to be able to watch the market set up and shop around when its not ridiculously busy, as well as being able to witness some of the religious services and ceremonies taking place Sunday morning. Most of the shuttle/tour groups only stay for a couple of hours mid-day and that would just not be sufficient for all that we wanted to experience.
The hotel itself was definitely a budget hotel and a bit run down. To be honest, I was kind of relieved we were only staying one night. The hotel was small, for the most part clean, had warm-hot water and was basically across the street from the market - which made it all worth it. The entire hotel consisted of a small parking lot, a small check-in /restaurant and probably about 15 rooms in the two story building.
After a bit of confusion because of a Spanish/English language barrier we got the keys to our second level room. The room was a fair size with two beds, a desk and an old CRT TV. The room was a bit chilly (for me) and the washroom a bit scary as I found a few fairly large bugs in there among the flickering lights and dripping faucets. I made a mental note to always carry the flashlight when going to the washroom, just in case!
Once settled into our room, we decided to go look around town for a bit. I suppose the locals were not used to seeing tourists in town other than with tour groups or on market day because we were getting a lot of attention! Much of the town was preparing for the following days events, the designated marketplace already had vendors unloading boxes, baskets and bundles wrapped up in cloth. We passed by many of the vendors and once we were spotted, they would quickly approach us with whatever goods that had unpacked - they were always prepared to make a sale. During our exploration we stopped for a brief moment at the base of the stairs of Santo Tomas Church to admire the building when suddenly a short Mayan woman approached us with a giant golden smile trying to convince us to buy a tour of the surrounding area with her basic English. She was certain to point out that she was a legitimate tour guide as she was dressed in the official registered INGUAT tour guide vest. Steve, being a tour guide himself seemed to instantly want to take her tour. I was a little hesitant, most of the time I prefer to explore on my own. I enjoy spending as much time in one location as I want without feeling like I need to rush, but the moment she mentioned Pascual Abaj I was in. Pascual Abaj is a ancient Mayan altar which is still in use, it would be nice to have some information on the site - as I can only assume there wasn't going to be any information plaques and definitely not in English.
Our tour guide and her daughter began walking along a pathway towards Pascual Abaj and first brought us to a little shack a long the way. Home to hundreds of handcrafted and painted masks, apparently if you're in the market for a mask, this was the place to go. There were all sorts of Mayan gods and various animals ranging from bright multi coloured pieces to mahogany or jade pieces all very well crafted. Inside the shack sat a replica Maximón figure, not to be confused with the genuine Maximón who resides in Santiago Atitlan, which Steve says is an experience absolutely not to be missed.
After awhile of walking we finally go to the dirt pathway that would take us up to the altar. I wasn't really prepared for this uphill hike and had to stop to catch my breath a couple of times. Our destination was on top of a hill overlooking some of the residential areas of Chichicastenango as well as the cemetery off in the distance. There was a large fire pit filled with crispy and smoking charcoal, fresh from a recent ritual. Just behind the pit was the altar, with several crucifixes and rocks that surrounded it. In addition to the charcoal, there was also a lot of various plant, flower, pine needle and candle wax offering debris on the altar and surrounding area. Our tour guide explained some rituals and some common offerings (cans of Pepsi?) that are placed on the altar as some scavenging stray dogs arrived in search of any chicken or other animal offering remnants without much luck. On the way back down, a group of people were winding their way up the path, lead by a Mayan Shaman herself. Chanting, they climbed the hill to make an offering.
Once back on solid ground, we paid our tour guide for her excellent tour, bought a couple of colourful hairbands from her daughter and struck out to wander a bit more. While wandering, we stumbled into a marching band! Still not quite sure what they were celebrating or if that performance was just a common occurrence on a Saturday afternoon in Chichicastenango but enjoyed it nonetheless.
With grumbling stomachs we were on the lookout for a good dinner spot. Chichicastenango didn't seem to have an abundance of restaurants but somehow we managed to find a hidden gem. Los Cofrades was located on the second level of a two story building. The first level consisted of a foyer of various shops and services, some open, some looked like they had been closed for decades. There was a hallway to the side of the shops with a sign indicating there was a restaurant and indicated which way to go with an arrow. The arrow pointed to a staircase, and at the top of the staircase was an open iron gate leading to a balcony with another restaurant sign in the ground pointing us again in the right direction - so we continued to follow.
Los Cofrades was a large restaurant with multiple rooms covered in small wooden tables draped in red and white striped locally handmade table cloths. The lighting was probably my favourite thing about this place - light came shining through old bowls, colanders of sorts and various pottery hung from wooden grates which hung from the ceiling.
I began feeling a little ill and by the time the food came I couldn't really finish it, not even half of the delicious meal.
We decided to call it an early night and went back to our hotel and watched movies on the old television set in the room until we fell asleep.