Early to bed and early to rise! We woke at about 6am that morning and sauntered down to the hotel restaurant area, which was more of a room with a few card tables and a grill. We shakily ordered our breakfast in Spanish, hoping that we would get something that resembled what we were intending. Breakfast at the hotel was very simple, eggs, beans, toast and coffee. Still feeling a little queasy I ate my breakfast very slowly, unsure if it would stay down.
As soon as we left the gates of our hotel we were in the market. The market on market day pretty much takes over the entire town. Some vendors were already set up at that early hour and some were just getting started. We began to wander in the direction of the Church, which is in the centre of the market and the town.
As I've mentioned in a previous post, while researching places we'd want to visit on our trip we discovered that Chichicastenango is the only place worldwide where you can actually partake in both Catholic and Mayan religion fused under one roof at Santo Tomas Church. The 400 year old church was built on top of a Mayan temple platform, the 18 white stairs leading to the church are the original stairs that lead to the temple over 400 years ago. It still remains a sacred spot for the Maya civilization today. Each stair represents a month in the Maya calendar, and on market day these steps are filled with women selling beautiful flowers, plants, flower petals, fruit, candles and incense - everything you might need for an offering. Maya priests use the highly respected stairs and the inside of Santo Tomas to frequently burn incense and candles for rituals often during mass performed by a Catholic priest.
When we arrived at the base of the stairs, the area was busy and bustling with flocks of locals carrying their huge sacks of handicrafts to their designated stalls; young boys gazing over the crowds for shoe shining customers, holding portable shoe shine kits in their blackened polished hands; and groups of women sitting on the stairs of the sacred space selling Maya ritual items. At the top of the stairs there was a Mayan shaman burning a great amount of incense which created a great deal of smoke that blanketed the women on the stairs and filled the entire town with the smell of Pom and Copal - a traditional Mayan incense. The air was filled with the rhythm of a drum being beat by a man in a wide-brimmed hat reclining at the very top of the facade, beside the churchbell. Out of respect for local Mayan tradition, we weren't able to enter the church by the stairs, but instead through a side door. The church was fairly large, definitely the largest we had seen thus far in Guatemala. There was a large open space in the back for standing room, many rows of simple wooden pews on each side of the church, separated in the middle by a wide aisle. In the centre of the aisle there were a series of stone planks that lead to the front altar - a few of them had people crouched over them, lighting candles and praying. Each pew was packed full of locals and small children sitting on their mothers' laps. Each wall of the church was lined with more wooden benches facing the centre and every inch of space on the pews and benches were taken with locals sitting snugly. We remained standing in the back as to not disturb the Catholic mass that was currently underway. Mayans would come in and head over to the centre planks, sometimes setting down an offering like flowers or alcohol, always lighting candles and praying. During our tour of Pascual Abaj the day prior, we learned that different coloured candles represent different things to pray for. There were candles for every colour of the rainbow with meanings like health, healing, money, jobs, love, romance and freedom from evil.
The mass was lengthy, but we wanted to stay for its entirety to fully experience it. As the time got closer to the market actually opening, tour groups started trickling into the church. Some of the groups were very respectful, but I couldn't believe how disrespectful others were. People talking in their regular voice which carried through the church, others taking photos (despite visible signs indicating photography was prohibited) and people even taking photos with flashes and being very disruptive and ignorant.
The service was one of a kind and despite my legs begging me otherwise, I am so glad that we stayed through it!
By the time we walked out of the church, the market was in full swing! Prime time at the market, brimming with locals and many tour groups all wandering the aisles and colourful stall after colourful stall. We wandered around for awhile but became tired of the constant pressure the instant you approached any and all vendors. We encountered a young Mayan girl who had a backpack full of hairbands and bookmarks she was selling. We bought a few items from her which prompted her to continue to try to get us to buy more. She was one persistent little lady and followed us around for about 15 minutes. At first is was kind of amusing, but after the tenth time of telling her, "No, gracias" I decided to ignore her. Steve on the other hand wasn't able to and was starting to loose his patience as it seemed she was prepared to follow us wherever we went. He tried being a bit more stern with her without any luck and eventually harshly told her to go away. Still no luck. We decided to head over to the cemetery, another place high on our list to visit while in Chichi, I was certain she wouldn't follow us all the way there as it was a bit of a walk and not as busy as the market so she wouldn't have any other customers or people to harass. No such luck, though: she followed us the entire way to the cemetery, and at one point a local tour guide noticed her constant struggle to sell more and our lack of interest and annoyance, he took her aside and gave her a mini lecture and sure enough she wandered off in the direction of the market. We were grateful at this small act of kindness.
The cemetery was simply stunning! The people of Guatemala honour their dead with rich colourful tombstones, grave markers and mausoleums. Some of the wealthier families have family mausoleums where the remains of all their family members are buried within the one mausoleum. We wandered around the colourful grounds in which the dead reside, and came across some Mayan Shamans at one of the mausoleums with what I can only assume were family members of someone recently departed. We kept our distance but tried to observe what we could without being disrespectful.
We wandered around the market a bit more and headed back to our hotel to pack up and head to the Santo Tomas Hotel to meet our shuttle. We were headed back to Panajachel to board a boat to San Pedro (our next destination) We arrived at Santo Tomas Hotel and I instantly wished we had stayed there instead - it was gorgeous! We walked though the entrance into a beautiful and rustic green courtyard filled with all sorts of exotic plants and flowers. There were several macaws feeding and sitting at designated posts getting treats, tons of attention from all the tourists and enjoying the live marimba music - once in awhile you could catch them dancing to the music! On one side of the courtyard was the hotel restaurant that looked just as gorgeous. I spent the rest of the time waiting for the shuttle introducing myself to all of their parrots.
The shuttle came (late) as expected, but we were able to board without a hitch and were back on the road towards Panajachel. The trip back seemed shorter than expected, which (I'm sure you've noticed) is rare for Guatemala. We picked up the rest of our luggage that was waiting for us with Jose at the Hotel de los Volcanes (where we stayed in while in Panajachel) and left for the docks.
The docks had several small boats loading a variety of locals and travellers going to various different towns that skirt Lake Atitlan. We found the boat that was going to San Pedro and before much of a wait, it was full - and we were off! Full speed ahead! - and I mean FULL! (Which I was not prepared for) The speed that these little boats go is quite surprising and unnerving! We flew over the small to medium sized waves, smashing down onto the next one, I was surprised that this rickety old boat would survive a 20 minute ride across the lake. Somehow we manage to arrive at San Pedro with our luggage and an added bonus of very sore bums!
San Pedro La Laguna had a much different feel than anywhere else in Guatemala so far and still probably remains my favourite place we visited on our whole trip. There were locals and there were travellers, but the town wasn't full of tourists. San Pedro had no ancient ruins or historical churches or main streets full of souvenir shops with locals chasing you with their goods for sale. It was a very laid back bohemian town where the locals, Spanish language students, expats and travellers live and visit in a lovely mellow harmony. I think that's what I enjoy most, the stress-free vibe everyone in the village exudes. It seems like everyone is there to just enjoy life and that's all that matters.
We got off of the boat and onto the dock and were greeted by a friendly group who run an information booth. They asked us if we already had a hotel booked and when they found out we didn't asked us some questions about the type of place we'd like to stay. They brought us to Hostal Casa Pasa Verde which was about a four minute walk from the docks. At first I was skeptical that this was going to be a decent place, I was certain he was just trying to make some commission. We had to walk through a small alleyway and once in the hostel, up several flights of stairs to see the room he was going to show us. We got to the fourth floor landing and the wrap around balcony looked onto Lake Attilan and had the most gorgeous view of the lake and two of the volcanoes. This bright yellow hostel was probably the tallest building in the village at four floors that you could easily see it from the lake. At only $15 a night for the two of us the rooms were very simple, but just what we needed - a bed, bathroom, and a giant window to admire our view. We both instantly agreed that we wanted to stay here and began unloading our bags and making ourselves comfortable.
The rest of the late afternoon and evening were spent lovingly wandering and getting lost in the confusing and incredibly steep streets of San Pedro while trying to get into contact with Shelley - an old friend of Steve's who happened to be in the same part of Guatemala. in the evening we met up with Shelley and the group she was travelling with at a small pub called El Barrio which is a a tiki-style pub-type restaurant run by a group of ex-pats who also run a local dog rescue where they are involved in a spay/neuter program (my kind of people). El Barrio had good atmosphere, tasty food, friendly people and a curious but shy rescued dog. We had a great night catching up and talking about the ups and downs of both of our trips and then drunkenly wandered back to our hotel and watched the moon over the enchanting lake before we soundly fell asleep.