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As we stumble out of the bus in ChiChi, we are immediately befriended by John - “You mean your name is Juan?” we ask him - an eleven year old local guide with a great work ethic. He leads us to a cozy hotel named “Popo vuh”, which becomes our home for the next three days.



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Miami Airport Blues


After we have stood for what seems hours in a staggeringly long line just to get to the ticket counter, the check-in lady casually informs us we have five minutes to get to the gate.

“What! We have five minutes to get to the gate! Look at this huge security line! There must be two hundred people in front of us!” Alex exclaims.

Li-Lan ponders the situation then, in an attempt to encourage us but in a tone filled with doubt, she says, "We’ll get there, I think. The line is moving fairly fast." And, magically, even with all those people in front of us, it does take only 20 minutes.

After we pass security, we make a mad 200-yard dash for the gate, dodging oncoming travelers. Alex (Señor Blanco) struggles with his bongos, harmonicas, flutes and one small trumpet, while Li-Lan (La Chinita) trails behind with her light, carry-on luggage.

Luckily, the plane is delayed an hour! Phew!

Opus #1, Tranquility in B natural
La Chinita’s parents’ house in Guatemala City is a haven for relaxation before our next journey into the Highlands. For one full day, we enjoy good home-cooked Taiwanese food, meditation in the seclusion of their Buddhist altar, yoga amongst the tropical fruit trees and ancient rock sculptures, and a walk through the neighborhood. Ahhh… but how the pace of life changes quickly as we board the bright, multi-colored ’school bus’ for the four hour ride north through the switchback mountains to Chichicastenango.

Opus #2, Hold Tight Tango in C sharp
Bus rides in this part of the world are notorious for being wild and hairy, but we can’t help but notice that our bus passes almost everyone else on the road (even on the switchbacks!) as we speed through the lush, semi-tropical terrain. The bus ride is a 4 hour total body massage, with a lesson in thinking positively, letting go, and having faith! Most of the Mayans on- board giggle and hold on tight; I guess they feel they are getting their money’s worth as we speed along mountain curves, passing people left and right. Then there are those who actually sleep though it all.

As we stumble out of the bus in ChiChi, we are immediately befriended by John - “You mean your name is Juan?” we ask him - an eleven year old local guide with a great work ethic. He leads us to a cozy hotel named “Popo vuh”, which becomes our home for the next three days.

A Myriad of Mayan Themes
Chichicastenango is an old Quiche Mayan city of commerce and trade. It has the largest indigenous market in Central America. It’s also the cradle of the Sacred Mayan Book of Life, the Popol Vuh, and is known for its blending of Catholic and Mayan religious/spiritual practices.

We awake the second morning in Chichi to firecrackers at 7 am. They announce the beginning of the market day and pay respects to the patron, St. Joseph. The early morning market stalls smell of charcoal fire, freshly cooked soups (La Chinita’s favorite being ‘sopa de gallina’, free-range chicken soup), simmering black beans, and mild sweet coffee. The rhythmic pit-pat of the women making blue, white, or yellow corn tortillas blends with their laughter. The steam from the various pots rises and dances, mingling with the people’s breath, forming a misty blue haze in the crisp morning air. It is lovely to experience this early morning scene.

We take a 20 minute tour of the Chichi church with another local guide who speaks English. This church has 18 front steps, representative of the 18 months in the Mayan calendar, and is built upon the site of the ancient Mayan temple. The front of the church includes various places for Mayan shamanic ceremonies - blessings for the market, crops, first- born, fertility, health andwealth - while the Catholic ceremonies led by a priest speaking Quiche and Spanish are held towards the back.

Picture #1: Blessings for the Market St.Thomas procession

Picture#2: Chichi Church

Picture #3: Market Day


The ancient Quiche Mayan temple, Pascual Abaj or Turkaj, is located on the outskirts of Chichi, on a mountaintop overlooking the city. We experience an elaborate one-hour ceremony by a shaman to bring health and prosperity in 2008 for a Quiche family (including an uncle in Los Angeles, California). The shaman’s prayer flows seamlessly from Spanish into Quiche, naming a multitude of saints, spirits and family members - only stopping briefly to answer a few calls on his cell phone, and always picking right up where he left off.

Picture #4: Quiche Shaman performing ceremony

Picture #5: Pascual Abaj overlooking Chichi

Picture #6: Pigs going to market

Picture #7: Coming down from Pascual Abaj

Picture #8: La Chinita, masks, and new friends

Picture #9: Señor Blanco with young marimberos

Each day we play music in the only park, which draws a small group of onlookers, smiles and looks of curiosity from the children. Except for the occasional bird poop falling from above, it is nice. On our second day of playing music in the park (La Chinita on bongos and Señor Blanco on the little trumpet & sopranino recorder) a man comes up to us and asks if we would like to see his “little cafe and maybe arrange to play some music there that night.” The ’little café’ is the beautiful Casa de San Juan restaurant, which overlooks the park. His name is Juan Jose and he is an excellent chef, gracious host, art collector, and not a bad guitar player either. He laments that he is rusty on the guitar because he doesn’t get a chance to practice with all the demands of the restaurant. Some things are the same everywhere…

We have a wonderful dinner and then perform for an hour to a small but appreciative audience which includes Juan’s welcoming Mayan family: uncles, cousins, aunts and children. Juan Jose ends up with three of our Different Drum CD’s to add to his eclectic world music collection. We come back for lunch the next day.

Picture #10: Juan Jose & family @ Casa de San Juan Restaurant

Picture #11: Goats heading home and so are we…

Our bus ride back is even more of adventure than our ride to Chichi. How do we manage to ride with the fastest bus drivers?

Three days have passed. Tomorrow we head towards the Caribbean coast and then into the Tikal rainforest. Happy Trails, from Señor Blanco y La Chinita.

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Written by Li-Lan and Alex Weiss


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