A Trip to Chichicastenango

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Saturday, February 8, 2003

 We've completed a full nine days in the classroom. Spanish still sounds like Greek, but I'm beginning to read and somewhat understand the ¨written word¨. I can even create sentences and ask people questions. I just don't know what the hell they're saying in response. 

We went to the market town of Chichicastenango (Chichi) yesterday. It's about a three hour bus ride from our home base in Quetzaltenango. There's a Catholic church in Chichi that is probably unique to the Christian world. It incorporates Mayan beliefs with the Catholic dogma - apparently quite openly. In Chichi, I saw a little old lady walk by with what had to be at least her weight, in chopped wood, tied to her back. Because the busiest day of the week is Sunday in Chichi, banks are open. I went into a bank to change $80.00 US into Quetzales (Guatemalan money) and found they would only change $50.00 and $100.00 bills. An oddity, when you consider that at home, even the Second Cup won't touch a $50.00 bill with a ten-foot pole. 

Yesterday I found the true meaning of the term ¨chicken bus¨. We were riding on an express bus for a couple of hours. There was a farmer who sat a few rows from us with a chicken on his lap. Two hours is a long time for a chicken to go without having a call to stool. Here's how it works, I'm told. The farmer puts the chicken in a standing position on his lap. He then places his hands firmly on each side of the chicken. When the farmer feels a certain tensing in the body of the chicken, he simply opens his legs and the chicken makes toilet onto the floor of the bus. No muss, no fuss. The bus that left just ahead of us had a pig-on-a-leash, tied to the luggage rack on the roof. With some bad connections, we wound up on a bus that was standing room only. The chicken bus (old school bus) had three people, mostly adults or big people shall we say, per bench, throughout. Then there was myself, Ellen and about twenty others, standing in the aisle. There was a young couple sitting across from each other, in front of me. From their aisle positions they apparently decided they had some business to take care of that couldn't wait. From where I was standing they could use me as a kind of leaning post. I'm not entirely sure that they weren't breeding right there as we drove down the mountain. A little later, I got a seat near the back. 

Chicken buses have conductors who collect money and stow luggage on the roof. It's a very, very hectic job. Just to keep up, the conductor has to climb out the back door and up a ladder and on to the roof, all while the chicken bus is hurtling down the mountain. And the driver barely stops if there is only one passenger getting on or off. Today, at one particular stop, the conductor and a slower moving passenger were both on the ladder as the driver began to accelerate. The conductor began, not to yell at the driver to stop, but at the passenger to jump. Jump he did. Aside from a little bit of a limp, he looked perfectly fine as we left him in a trail of diesel smoke.
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