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CHICHICASTENANGO

Chichicastenango (place of the nettles) is a K'iche' Maya town perched at 2070 m in the Highlands, founded around 1550 by Dominican missionaries. The site had been occupied by Kaqchikel Maya, who left to establish Iximche around 1470 due to political unrest between themselves and the k'iche'. On Thursdays and Sundays the town of 76,000 inhabitants is invaded by indigenous from local villages who come to buy and sell in the market; conduct any business, like banking; and perform their religious ceremonies, both in the catholic church and at traditional Mayan sites. Most of the women in Chichi continue to wear their traditional clothing of huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt). The unusual men's religious outfit is worn by waiters in the two top hotels. As with any crowded area worldwide, please take precautions against pickpockets. The textile market spreads through the streets in a kaleidoscope of bright colors. The traditional backstrap weaving technique used for making clothes is now employed to create household accessories and other wonderful souvenirs. Bargaining is expected, and most sellers accept both US$ and the local currency of quetzals. The vegetable market is held indoors on the basketball court, with perfect viewing from the upstairs balcony. Unobtrusively watch the maxenos (locals) buying and selling, an ideal spot for taking photographs.

 

Santo Tomas church was built in the 16th century, rebuilt in the 18th century, and restored between 1976-82 after the powerful earthquake of San Casimiro. It was here in 1701, that the Dominican priest Francisco Ximenez found the manuscript of the Popol Vuh (the Book of Wisdom or Book of the Community), the K'iche' bible. The local priest allows Mayan religious ceremonies, including the offering of colored candles, flower petals and alcohol; alongside Catholic worship. Visitors are required to enter the church by the side-door on the right, and photographs are strictly prohibited inside.

 

The Shrine of Turqa' or Pascual Abaj is a local mountain shrine on a ridge about ¼ mile from Santo Tomas church. The carved stone idol is used for rituals including curing, fertility, and commemorations. Offerings include colored candles, flower petals, alcohol, incense, sugar, sesame seeds, eggs, and occasionally chickens. The ceremonies are unscheduled and usually private. Sometimes a chuchkajau (local prayer leader) is available to conduct ceremonies on request.

 

Practicalities: Buffet lunch at Hotel Santo Tomas, served 12.00-14.00. Banks are open on Sundays, closed on Tuesdays. Most banks will NOT change travelers cheques. Toilets at Hotel Santo Tomas (small charge) and Hotel Mayan Inn.

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