Of Chicken Buses and Temples, November 2007

Since last I wrote I forged further into the Highlands of Guatemala to a place called Chichicastenango, the venue of probably the most famous weekend market in the country.  I arrived there by chicken bus which is a Guatemalan phenomenon in itself – American yellow school buses are given a new lease on life down here – painted with vibrant colours and designs and packed to the rafters with locals. They travel at unheard of speeds hurling themselves around the winding roads of the Guatemalan ranges.  I know many of you don´t appreciate the satisfaction that I derive from sitting 4 to a bench seat sardined with smiling Gutaemalans and their animals to see the countryside through their eyes!  What I still can´t understand is why they are always in such a rush – every stop involves much honking of horns, shouting ” A Chichi, a chichi, a chichi, arriba ARRIBA!!!” and roadside vendors selling snacks to people hanging out of the buses scattering as the chicken bus roars off into the distance.  Getting off a bus is another adventure and requires being bodily ejected with the assistance of your travelling companions – however I wasn´t expecting to have my 15kg backpack thrown at me from the top of the bus as it tore away, leaving me in a cloud of smoke!  Anyhow, I was finally in Chichicastenango and this was clearly another highlight to my time in Guatemala.  On the Saturday night stalls were erected in every square foot of space in town and on Sunday thousands of people poured into town – locals and gringos alike for the trading.

The sea of colour was incredible – the local dress of Guatemalan women and men is layers of brightly coloured woven textile and for the men paired with a white cowboy hat and boots.  Almost every woman has a sleeping bambino on her back, wrapped in a colourful shawl. Women and men alike were carrying goods on their backs and heads- from bags of maize to baskets of turkeys and chickens.  By lunchtime the throng was unbelievable – every aisle and alleyway choked with people jostling to get where they needed.  If ever you stalled in the face of the oncoming traffic of people however, you were urged forwards by some stout little Guatemalan woman giving you a shove in the back for encouragement!

From the highlands of Guatemala, I now find myself in the steamy jungles of north-western Guatemala. I have been here for a couple of days to see the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.  Tikal means “place of the spirit´s voices” and is a partially excavated and restored site which includes hundreds of temples in complexes from a civilization which lasted over 1500 years. What is also amazing is that it remains scattered through dense jungle.  My first steps into Tikal struck me how special a place this is to visit – parakeets chatter overhead, spider monkeys swing through the dense canopy above, Toucans watch curiously from the branches and twisted fingers of roots reach out across the mossy paths that lead you to the temples – the stairs that lead to the sky.  Many of the temples have been restored, but for others they remain as the jungle reclaimed them – only tell-tale blocks peeping out from vines and tree covered mounds of dirt.  The place has a definite mystique but definitely requires some imagination to recreate the 100 000 or so Mayans who vanished along with their intricate arts, ballgames and brutal warfare.

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