We met at 5:30 and caught a taxi to the terminal where there was no direct bus to Chichicastenango, which has a big market day Sundays and Thursdays. We had been told that being there earlier was better, thus the early morning activity. We caught a bus to Los Encuentros, about 2 hours away, on the way to Guatemala City, and from there changed to a bus to Chichi. in total, it took about 2 1/2 hours, and we were shopping by 8:30.
What can I say about this market? Holy shmeroly. It was huge. Huge. Enormous. Wowsa. I thought San Francisco had a big market, but I had no idea. Really.
There were hundreds of stalls of people selling clothes, decorations, bedspreads, pillowcovers, jewelry, masks, lime, instruments, corn, beans, vegetables, fruit, and just about anything else you can imagine (although it didn't have the animal area that San Francisco does, or if it does, I missed it.) I could EASILY have dropped several hundred dollars on a variety of incredibly beautiful stuff, if only I had 10 strong men to carry my purchases. As it was, there was only me and my friends, and they were buying, too, so I had to hold back. Which is just as well, I'm sure.
The prices were definitely better before 10, which is when the big tourist busses arrive, and suddenly we were no longer such a minority among the stalls. My relative fluency in Spanish obviously gave me a leg up in bargaining (in comparison to some of the transactions I overheard in other stalls), and the fact that I made some purchases earlier in the day meant that I could use those early (better) prices as landmarks. (I got a bedspread around 9 for 200Q, and later, asked at a different stall and was quoted 600Q. I explained I'd bought one earlier for 200, and the guy claimed his bedspread was bigger, and that's why so much more. He wouldn't go below 350 until I started to walk away, which inspired him to agree to my price of 250. But the fact is that even 600Q for the bedspread (around $75) would be a price that most any tourist would think was a steal, and had I not had the earlier transaction, I probably would have ended up paying around 400. I don't mind paying for my purchases, or even paying a bit of a tourist tax on them, but I like it when I can avoid it, and I know that they won't sell to me at a price that they're unwilling to take.)
Like in Panajachel last year, there were a lot of people wandering around with their wares trying to get you to buy them. I wish there were a way to signal to them that they're wasting their time following me around when I've decided that I'm really not going to buy from them, because it's a shame that they glom onto someone who's going to decline, no matter how hard they try. We're in a time of low tourism, so some folks, especially at the end of the day, were relatively desperate to make sales.
We lunched in a nice comedor where we were the only gringos and had the tastiest piece of chicken I've had in ages.
We also wandered around the cemetary a bit, taking time out from our orgy of materialism to do so. I love the cemetaries here. More on that another time. Chichi is a smallish town set in the mountains, steep hills both in and around the town. It's really incredibly beautiful. I'd like to go back another time on a non-market day to get a more laid-back view of things.
We finally got on a bus to return around 2pm, maybe a little later. We all had a couple of bags of stuff each, and each of us forgot at least one bag at least once during the course of the day, but, fortunately, all were recovered without incident. On the return, we had to change busses twice, to my annoyance, and finally got back to Xela around 6, tired, hungry, and materialistic.
My plan had been to go to Panajachel to spend a day or two on the lake starting today before going to Guate to spend Wednesday night. I now have no desire whatsoever to get on a bus for more than a few minutes for at least two days, so I've decided to stay here in Xela, instead, which has its own benefits. And, wow, Wednesday I head to Guate and Thursday to Boston. It's amazing how short a three week trip can seem following on the heels of a four month one!