Mayans, Monkeys and Micheladas: A Central American Adventure travel blog

San Juan Chamula market with the church in the background

Chicken Bus Terminal, Huehuetenango

Tuesday 29.03.05

Our next venture was to San Juan de Chamula, a village in the hills near San Cristobel, populated by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people. To get there, we hopped in a stylish metallic blue Combi; one of many in Mexico used for public transport. The town, and especially its Church is famous for its fusion of Catholic and indigenous beliefs. Inside the church, sculpted holy figures in glass cases line the walls up to the altar, while indigenous people sit and light candles on the pine needle covered floor and chickens wander about. Jesus lies in state in a glass coffin near the altar because the locals believe he was not resurrected after dying on the cross. In a spiritual win for beverage multinationals, the Mayans here employ Coca-Cola or Pepsi during their worship, washing their hands and arms with the bubbly liquids and burping to release evil spirits.

We left for Guatemala the following day, passing through the greenest farming land I had seen since arriving in Mexico. But on the far horizon, mountains loomed, coloured blue by distance - the frontier into Guatemala was approaching. As we neared the border, the landscape changed, mountains springing up from the plains and the vegetation quickly becoming more lush.

I made my first border crossing on foot, and we boarded a Chicken Bus for the town of Huehuetenango. Chicken Buses, the primary form of transportation here are icons of Guatemala - the traditional yellow American school buses from TV repainted in amazing colours. They rarely leave until full, and stop wherever possible to pick up and drop off passengers. As a result, the journeys are often long and uncomfortable but never without entertainment, either from the Reggaet├│n on repeat, live animals on board or new records set for people-packing.

Past houses and vegetation clinging precariously to the sides of tall mountains our bus coughed and spluttered, while the lady in front of me followed suit when the toxic fumes floated through the open windows. We even stopped twice because the bus overheated but thankfully made it to Huehuetenango by nightfall. I made the unfortunate error of being too close to the rear as it roared off and inhaled an alveoli-wilting dose of toxic carbon compounds.

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