Decided to go a tad off the beaten path today and take a chickenbus to San Andres Xecul, a small mountain town with a famous technicolor church. I could have taken another tourist shuttle, but getting there on my own turned out to be so much more rewarding. First, I had to grab a microbus (something like a cross between a minivan and a clown car, where they pack in as many people as possible and a small boy leans out the side window yelling the destination in the hopes of attracting *more* people) to the main bus terminal. In order to get to the bus departure area, I had to walk through the local market, which was absolutely fascinating. Little old ladies selling chickens and pigs, stands with enormous stacks of fruits and veggies, piles of clothing and batteries and superglue and pirated CDs and probably much more I didn't even get to see. Reminded me a lot of the market we went to in the Philippines, where the locals gawked at the strangers and offered us bizarre fruits and other unmentionables. Also as in the Philippines, here again I was about a foot taller than everyone else, which is pretty funny since I'm only about 5'5". And I was seemingly the only gringo around, so I got lots of stares. Kickass.
I got to San Andres Xecul and found the brightly-colored church pretty easily. It's bright yellow and is covered with red, purple, and green carvings depicting everything from the harvest to scenes from the Popol Vuh, the Mayan bible. Inside it was dark and dusty and somewhat creepy, with dressed-up saints in glass cases and intricate ironwork on the altar. And it was quite possibly the loudest church I've ever been in! Besides the noise bouncing in from the plaza -- everything from screaming children to honking chickenbuses -- the supplicants inside were praying loudly and sometimes even singing. Definitely not like the quiet and somber Catholic churches I'm used to!
I headed up a precipitous hill to another brightly-colored place of worship, the Calvario chapel. The chapel itself was not much to see, but the view from the top of the hill was absolutely stunning. And a bunch of schoolkids were having what looked like gym class next door, skipping rope and having races. I watched them for a while, and they shyly avoided having their pictures taken. (Wow, that's a first! Kids love digital cameras!) Until I pulled out my journal (and special colored pens, of course) and started writing. Then they swarmed me and insisted on knowing what I was writing about, where I was from, did I have any kids, what were the names of my brothers and sister, etc etc. And when I showed them the pens I was writing with, they grabbed every last one and ran off! Hey, I need those! I know everyone worldwide has a fascination with my special pens, but they also serve a purpose! I managed to get one back (my favorite lime green one) and figured the rest had gone to a good home.
Back at the hostel, I had an interesting conversation with my bunkmate, an American college student named Joanne who is doing an audiovideo project with the local tribes around Xela. Cool! More Xelapan for dinner, and I was happy to make it an early night. The evenings get really cold around here, which is something of a nice change, but it makes it hard to rally for any nighttime activities.
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