November 15, 2005

Chichicastenango: The reluctant sister

Guatemala will likely see a spike in tourism now that “Survivor” has landed there. To not only survive but truly enjoy Guatemala, a fascinating country with rich history, vibrant indigenous culture and stunning scenery, leave Guatemala City, the sprawling capital, and head for the hills.

A 3-hour bus ride northwest from the capital took me to Chichicastenango, a market town in the mountains of Quiche. On Sundays and Thursdays, “Chichi” overflows with color, commerce and a cacophony of dialects as farmers and vendors from all over Guatemala converge in the square in front of 400-year-old Santa Tomas church and sell wares that run the gamut from pigs to produce to pottery.

I noticed three beautiful sisters busy stacking a pile of fabric at their family’s stall. They wore bright, handwoven blouses and wide, white smiles. I approached to ask permission to photograph them. My Spanish was of little use, as they spoke Quiche or one of the other Mayan dialects that swirled like high voltage energy through the bustling marketplace. Pantomime did the trick, and the girls – two of the three – nodded their OK. The oldest sister shook her head no and stepped away. As the two younger sisters giggled and prepared to pose, I snapped a photo.

When I got home and developed the slides, I saw the reluctant sister on the side of the frame. I felt badly about having captured her on film when she hadn’t wanted to be. But I was happy to see that she'd enjoyed the encounter.