Traje and Tipica

Chichicastenango, Guatemala

 The photographs are thumbnails.


Chichicastenango, or Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is small and stucco-white pretty, resting on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 meters. An hour or so up from Panajachel on Lago Atitlán, it is the biggest traje (indigenous clothing) and tipica (crafts) market in Guatemala for exporters and tourists. I am sure the locals get tired of the masses of sightseers and corporate shoppers who walk around with clip boards and calculators, but I also understand that the people of "Chichi" are among the richest in Guatemala. Much of what they sell is good quality, hand crafted items, and much is not as good and made in Chichi's many factories for the not-so-discerning foreign companies.

Brenda and I drove up yesterday. It was the first time I had been in a private car for quite a while. So many buses during these months of travel had me believing that things simply moved on a much slower timeline; it felt like we just flew to Chichi. She was the proprietress of an export shop on one of the two main streets in Panajachel, the Santander, for twelve years. Now she lives in the States, returning to Guatemala a couple of times a year to purchase merchandise for her store in Montana.

I explored on my own for a few hours through the unbelievably crowded marketplace. On Sundays and Thursdays, which are market days, it a beehive of activity. Northwest of the town center are overcrowded pathways stuffed with everything from ceramics to wood items to leather to textiles, which are hallmarks of Chichi's fame. It was exciting: one surprise was a visit to the church of San Tomas, where hundreds of candles burned in large rectangular boxes on the floor and thick incense filled the air. There were also big pictures or statues of Jesus, Mary and other saints in frames surrounded by brightly dyed ostrich feathers.

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Brenda and I finally connected and continued wandering. Suddenly, a religious procession came up one of the maze-like passageways between the hundreds of stalls in the main market area. Elbowing me, she pointed, telling me to get my camera ready. "Look- this is a special treat." There, passing close by, were men swinging incense burners, making way through the crowd. Then drummers, flutists and marimba players came into view, followed by men dancing with papier-mâché animals around their bodies, like dancing cowboys. After this the revered Sacerdotes - shamans, dressed in their black jackets and long shorts covered with beautiful bright woven or appliqued designs, preceded the arrival of a big altar box with Santiago, one of the stars of Guatemala's cosmology on his own horse inside, carried on the shoulders of four men. People stopped and bowed, stopped and looked, stopped and knelt.

When Brenda had concluded her epic bargaining and purchasing, we lunched at an old, grand hotel filled with beautiful antiques and some of the most vividly colored large parrots/macaws I have ever seen. At one point a man passed by with two of them perched on poles he carried. He said he was putting them to bed for the night.

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As the day began its eternal dance with its counterpart, the night, we began our trip home. We chased the sun down the mountain to Panajachel with a trunk full of exquisite cargo and stories to share with our friends on the shore of Lago Atitlán.


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