Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
124Trip End Nov 30, 2011
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With only one night in Antigua before heading south to the market of Chichicastenango and Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan, we didn’t have much time to explore. After a brief walk to orientate ourselves, we then wandered around the town, visiting some of the churches and ruins, and doing a little shopping before heading to a rooftop bar for sunset drinks. Unfortunately heavy late afternoon cloud over the volcanoes meant that sunset wasn’t particularly impressive, and a significantly cooler temperature than we had become accustomed to chased us away from the bar soon after the sun had set
Thursday morning we had our first experience of Guatemala’s main form of public transport – the 'chicken bus’. Chicken buses are brightly coloured old American public school buses, and judging by our initial experience it seems most journeys on them are just as colourful as the buses themselves. Having left Antigua, we picked up a second chicken bus in Chimaltenango, on our way to Chichicastenango, and encountered a driver who must have thought he was the Chicken Bus World Rally Champion. What followed was an exhilarating and slightly hair-raising ride along a landslip-ridden highway up into the Central Highlands, leaving us sliding off our seats as the driver charged around 90 degree corners at high-speed. Seeing the driver himself leaning over as we turned into the corners, or at other times chatting away on his cellphone left us all a little nervous, especially with some of the drops visible off the sides of the road.
Fortunately we survived the chicken buses to make it to the world famous market of Chichicastenango. Apparently Chichicastenango first became famous as the largest local market in Central America, although I find this is a little hard to imagine given Chichi’s relatively remote location.
The market wasn’t as big or as busy as I imagined it might be – but seems to be catered towards tourists now more than it once might have. After wandering through the market for a while admiring all of the colourful offerings, a lot of the clothing and tourist trinkets began to look very similar from stall to stall. Everywhere you looked you saw much of the same– although this is understandable if that is what tourists come to buy
We had an hour and a half at the market, and to be honest by that time we felt like we had seen most of what the market had to offer. Having become an avid follower of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die, which lists the Chichicastenango market among its 1000 places, I left feeling slightly disappointed. Chichi didn’t really live up to my expectations as the bright, lively and bustling market that I thought it would be, and I can only presume it once was. We picked up a couple of items but left feeling that the market wasn’t all that unique or special - unfortunately it could have been just another set of roadside stalls hawking tourist trinkets and gimmicks anywhere.
Friday saw us in Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan where we organized a boat trip across the lake to the town of Santiago, and the village of Santa Catarina. Both Santiago and Santa Catarina appeared to be relatively poor communities, and although they get tourists visiting from Panajachel and other tourist towns around the lake, they are not common tourist stops. It was interesting to see these local communities up close, relatively unaffected by tourism, and to get a somewhat genuine feeling of the conditions in which the local people live on a day to day basis.
Tomorrow we go back to Antigua where we say farewell to our first tour group, and pick up a couple more people for the journey down to Costa Rica.