Travels with V

Guatemala, Belize, Mexico

Saints and spirits in the mountains


Our next excursion leads us not across the water but up in the high mountains north of Lago Atitlán, to the village of  Chichicastenango. The intertwined catholicism and maya religion is even more evident here. Through the years many visitors have praised the city’s colourful and remarkable market, situated between two churches. We can see for ourselves that not much has changed. Here we find a whole section where offering gifts and spiritual “aids” are sold. We find cigarrettes, liquor, strange bulky cigars, things to burn and coloured candles, different colours for different purposes.

On top of the church steps an old and bent woman is swinging a smoking tin can while murmuring something. She is a shaman and performs a ritual protecting this place, which is the epicenter of mayan religion in Guatemala, from evil spirits. And in the cemetery of Chichicastenango we find other schamans and holy places where offerings are burnt.

But actually, the market in Chichicastenango is most famous for its vibrant colours, especially in the dresses the women wear, weave and sell here. 

Returning from the cemetary we pop into a kind of warehouse and workshop for costumes that dancers wear in the traditional and ceremonial street dances in the Fiesta de Santo Tomas, a city festival. The costumes are unbelievably complex and flamboyant and the dancers also wear wooden face masks depicting men or animals.  

Guatemala is a country with grave differences in the conditions of life and the indigenous people are always worst off. But we’re now about to see some places far away from the tourist trails where things are actually done to improve the lives of the poor mayans! 

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