The Labyrinthine Markets of Mexico and Central America

There is nothing quite like visiting the weekly markets of Mexico and Central America. Although supermarkets and department stores do exist, the average indigenous Mexican or Guatemalan would prefer dealing with vendors at a market. The experience, for one thing, is personal. One can bargain and—if one does not have the wherewithal—get something that’s not quite so good, but will do in a pinch.

The above photo was taken at the market by the second class bus station of Antigua. Below is a scene from the Thursday market at Chichicastenango, where the women shown prepared a great breakfast of beans, eggs, fried plantains, and atole (a hot corn beverage) for just a few quetzales.

These Women Prepared a Great Breakfast for Me in Chichicastenango

Many of these markets are great places to have a meal. I remember having venado (venison) with rice and fresh corn tortillas at the main market in Mérida, Yucatán years ago. The food is usually good and inexpensive, probably your best best for cheap food anywhere in Latin America. Of course, not all markets are good; but I have fond memories of many simple, tasty meals. There is never any pretense: It is quite simply the food of he people.

At Chichicastenango, I also bought a beautiful straw hat for the latter part of my trip in the jungle. I expected heat and sun, but I found that I had created something of a bugbear about visiting the jungle. Although I didn’t need the hat, it sits right next to my computer as I write this. I always admire the multicolor woven hatband that came with it.


Visiting the Maya Gods

Maximón Flanked by Members of His Cofradía in Santiago Atitlán

I have some heterodox beliefs regarding God and the gods. I believe that God exists but wears many masks, appearing as Jesus, Allah, the gods of the Hindu pantheon, depending on the different types peoples around the Earth. I visited two Maya idols during my trip: Maximón in Santiago Atitlan and Pascual Abaj in Chichicastenango. I have written earlier about my intent to visit Maximón, in whose person are incorporated such figures as Judas Iscariot and the evil conquistador Pedro de Alvarado.

He is a Tzu’utujil Maya god of good and evil. During the day, a cigarette or cigar is kept burning between the idol’s lips, and he frequently imbibes rum or aguardiente (very high octane firewater). There is a brotherhood (cofradía) dedicated to taking care of the image of Maximón. Each year he occupies a different house belonging to one of the brotherhood.

I made an offering to the god, which was accepted by the cofradía and attached under the knot of his necktie as shown in the above picture. I asked him to aid me in the remainder of my trip to Guatemala and Honduras.

The Glass Coffin of Santa Cruz

Next to Maximón was a glass coffin containing an idol to Santa Cruz, who is in some unspecified way associated with Maximón.

From Santiago Atitlán, I traveled to Chichicastenango in the mountains. There, with he help of a guide, I climbed a hill to the shrine of Pascual Ab’aj. What remains after members of Catholic Action damaged the idol in the 1950s is a dark featureless rock, probably of volcanic origin. I had a difficult time climbing the trail, which contains over twenty switchbacks. Fortunately, my Quiché Maya guide Juan took a knife and made a staff for me.

What Remains of the Idol of Pascual Ab’aj with Offerings

There were numerous cement bases where copal incense had been burned. At the time Juan and I visited the shrine, there were no celebrants or members of the cofradía in evidence.