Bombardment at Chichi market

I love me a good market. A place with interesting and unique quality wares, variety, color, and beautiful flavors. So I had high hopes for the famed market of Chichicastenango (“Chichi”), which Lonely Planet raves about (“magical”, “still fabulous”). Could it be another Chiang Mai Sunday market circa 2008? If only. Instead it was a haranguing day I do not wish to repeat.

It did not help that I was coming from a night in San Pedro la Laguna, where I did not feel right and will share more about later. The day began with an extended bus ride. I booked passage on a shuttle that departed at 7:30am. If it is a great market, I thought, in the long run I won’t remember a painful morning bus ride! Our driver kept making confusing and possibly personal stops along the way — a diversion from the highway to pick up a mysterious black plastic bag (his lunch? drugs? either is inappropriate!) from a woman at her house, a half hour in a town along the lake waiting for una persona mas who never came, etc — lengthening out supposed two hour trip to three and a half. We only got really underway when about an hour and we hadn’t even left the lake, one of the passengers let loose in Spanish on the driver about the delay (“QUE PASO?!?!….).

We finally arrived at the market. First off, the wares didn’t seem too unusual or particularly unique; many stands were selling the same things and it felt far more homogeneous than I expected. I did purchase a few items — a rainbow blanket (featured in the background of my shadowbox post) and a quetzal embroidered belt — but I felt like I probably got ripped off and I had to work hard and endure just to get to that point. Beyond the physical goods, I had a number of uncomfortable experiences with locals in the market.

Merchants were assertive. The common greeting of “hola amiga! que te gusta?” over and over began to grate on me. How many times can you say no gracias graciously before the only remaining defense is silently ignoring advances, even if it feels cruel? A group of grade-school-age shoe shine boys roamed the streets looking for clients, but I noticed all of their shoes were in horrific condition; the soles were split something awful and I could see through them in multiple places. I was crazy overcharged for a pithy and bland plate of beans and rice, then kicked out of my chair by an anxious teenage girl who stressfully informed me that I was in her restaurant’s table where I was not supposed to be. I am happy to move, no need to get worked up. A woman with an infant literally at her breast cast her child aside when I glanced at her table of chotchkies. He began to cry loudly as she started her sales pitch and I, embarrassed, made my excuses to move on.

Beggars joined in the throng; one in particular effected me with a gruesome visual. She (or he?) was being pushed in a wheelchair, wearing a surgical mask, and had a filled catheter bag on her lap. For some reason, in-use medical equipment was more difficult for me to take than the woman crawling around with a club foot or the man with an amputated leg.

All in all, a suffocating, uncomfortable, and exhausting experience. Lonely Planet is on crack.

Shoe shine boys at work.
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