Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan

Chichicastenango (Chichi for short) is a K'iche' Mayan town in Guatemala's western highlands with a bustling native market on Thursdays and Sundays, the main reason it gets significant tourist traffic. Befitting a market that serves both locals and tourists, the items on sale range from the quotidian to the comestible, to covetable crafts and clothing. At the church of Santo Tomas and the smaller El Calvario church, the local people practice a syncretic mix of Catholicism and pre-Columbian religion.

Chichi is about 2.5 hours from Antigua, and on market days collectivo vans leave the city at 7AM and return at 2PM. For my taste that gives one more time in town than one really needs, unless you're a market fanatic.

I didn't really have time to spend at Lake Atitlan, having decided to visit Copan, in Honduras, instead, but when I was planning my trip to Chichi I discovered that I could at least get a gander at this volcano-fringed lake that Aldous Huxley kvelled about (or was it a kvell?--he called it "too much of a good thing"). Vans also go to Panajachel, the transit hub and major lakeside "resort" of Atitlan, at 2PM, and the trip takes a little over an hour; vans then leave Panajachel at 4PM for the return to Antigua (another 2.5 hour ride). I really only had about a half hour or so to stroll around the lake. Huxley's encomium is often twisted in the tourist literature to claim that he declared it "the most beautiful lake in the world." Is it? Granted I only had a limited perspective, and granted the lake did suffer a setback in the last several years (an onset of bacterial sludge, greatly alleviated by now through government efforts to save this cash cow tourist attraction--I didn't notice any foul odor), but having seen the lakes of Northern Italy and Switzerland, the lochs of Scotland, Lake Bled in Slovenia, and Lake Batur on Bali, I'd have to say no way.


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