Mayan past alive in Chichicastenango

On our first adventure outside of Guatemala City, we took a three hour bus ride that was split in half. Our first stop where we ate lunch was the Mayan ruins of Iximche. This was an interesting place to see because prior to this we have been learning about the Mayan people. During the week we had visited a Mayan museum close to CASAS where we were able to see and hold artifacts that were 1,500 years old!  We also learned about the Mayan cosmovision which embraces the balance of nature, and their precise calendars which accurately correspond with astronomy.  While we took a walk around the ruins we were able to see people practicing their Mayan prayer ritual. In the ruins we saw the ancient Mayan soccer field where people played using their elbows and chest to hit the ball. This game was the deciding factor of who would be sacrificed to the gods at the end of the game.

12374582975_4b395ab9cc_zWe then took a winding road through the beautiful Guatemalan mountains to arrive at our destination, Chichicastenango. In this town we focused our learning on Mayan culture, markets, and Catholicism.  We were able to meet with a women’s widow co-operative that helps them sustain themselves and their families by creating textiles as their sole income. This opportunity allows them to work with an organization specifically like Ten Thousand Villages who are able to buy their products and allocate fair prices. In this co-operative there are twelve women from the K’iche village. This was a fascinating experience to be able to buy items from this co-operative and meet with the women who made them. We also had the opportunity to visit another co-operative called Ruth and Naomi. It was amazing to see that there is hope for people in small villages to make a living for themselves.12375043144_c54cf73985_z

On Sunday morning we had the chance to attend a Catholic Mass. The church that we attended was built in the 1500’s by Spanish conquistadors, over a Mayan temple. The current steps of the church are original to the ancient Mayan temple. This church is unique in the way that it still allows Mayans to worship while the Catholic Church is in service. Outside of the church there were Mayan people burning incense and praying. The day we attended was the celebration of la Virgen de Candelaria. There was a procession of lights that we participated in by holding candles and following the priest into the dark sanctuary. This was an interesting experience for all of us, and one of the things that we really enjoyed was the marimba played by six people during the service.

After we left the service, we walked right out to the HUGE market day, which is one of the biggest markets in Central America. The smells, sights, sounds and tastes from the market were overwhelming. We smelled ripe fruit, leather, rotten meat, and burning incense. We saw beautiful handmade artistry such as: masks, jewelry, and the famous brightly colored textiles. We were awakened at 5:00 am by the loud cannons which are a common celebration of the Mayan culture. We heard people speaking K’iche, the music of some of the vendors, and tasted new exotic fruits such as “paterna,” which is like eating a sweet cotton ball.  This is a very touristy town, where seeing our faces was not a surprise to the people. Several vendors were able to communicate with us very easily in English. We were bombarded with children and adults asking us to buy their products. One thing that we all appreciated was forming relationships with the vendors who made the products that we purchased.

This was a very insightful trip for all of us. It brought out a lot of things that we are reading on a weekly basis and also lectures that we have as a group. This experience helped us to appreciate even the things that we think are “little” and also to find hope by helping others sustain themselves.

–   Jasmine Harris and Rebecca Cardwell