Trip to Momostenango

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E-Journal of an Aging Hippie

Trip to Momostenango

By CAROL FRANKS, SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER

Carol Franks grew up on the family farm near Peterborough, Canada.  A former journalist, teacher and innkeeper, Franks spends winters in Nicaragua, Central America, where she is a volunteer English teacher and student of Spanish. Together with the Fowler's Corners and District Lions Club, she is raising money to buy textbooks for her students. You can join the effort on-line at www.sjdsbiblioteca.org or send a cheque, made out to Textbooks for Nicaragua, to the Fowler's Corners and District Lions Club, PO Box 8613, Peterborough,Ontario, Canada K9J 6X3.  In the fall of 2007, Franks studied Spanish in Guatemala.

Who wouldn't want to visit a town called Momostenango-- or Momos to the locals.

In my guidebook, the Mayan community of Momostenango, famous for its extravagant Sunday market, appears to be an easy trip of 40 or 50 kilometres from Xela in Guatemala's western highlands, where I have been studying Spanish.

At 8 a. m. sharp, my Spanish teacher, Manuel, two Norwegians classmates and I flag down a crowded chicken bus, destined for Momos.

Like most bus drivers here in Guatemala, this one likes speed. Within 10 minutes of leaving Xela, our impatient driver is grinding the gears of this poor old yellow school bus as he downshifts to begin the first climb out of the valley and into the highlands.

Not only is the incline steep but the road north to Momos is pockmarked with potholes. At any moment, I expect the exasperated bus driver to throw us all off the bus and order us to start pushing.

While awaiting his order, I decide to eat some yogurt; most of which ends up on my face and on my jacket. When I can scarcely manage to stay seated, I don't know what possesses me to try to eat yogurt.

Pothole by pothole, the driver forces the unwilling bus to travel higher. Despite the bright morning sun, the temperature drops noticeably with the increasing altitude. I start to shiver.

Changing, too, is the landscape. Unlike the terraced fields round Xela, there is no evidence here of market gardening. Too cold. Instead, the hills are covered in scruffy pine forests with the odd, cleared, patch of corn.

To help drivers manoeuvre these zigzagging roads at night, the trunks of the pine trees are painted white. The thought of this driver negotiating these curves in the dark is unthinkable.

For the first time in Guatemala, I spot some sheep tethered at the roadside. Not surprising, since the Sunday market at Momostenango is renowned for its woollen blankets.

Since there are very few houses along this road, it's impossible to miss a bright orange and blue Pentecostal temple, perched precipitously on the mountainside just as we enter Momostenango. In a country once dominated by the Catholic Church, it's now commonplace to see Protestant and evangelical churches and schools.

Times are, indeed, changing in Latin America.

When I poke my head into the grand, old, colonial church that rules Momos's central square, it is empty except for a handful of indigenous women lighting candles and praying at the altar.

Just outside the big cathedral is the famous Sunday market, crammed with indigenous venders selling everything from blankets to kittens to fresh fruit.

The variety of tropical fruit is amazing--rambutan, star fruit, papaya and pineapples. Since Momos is high and cold, my teacher explains that the tropical produce is trucked in from the Pacific coast, an hour to the west.

With a lot of difficulty, we nudge our way through the busy marketplace to stalls, piled high with wool blankets.

Too hungry to spend a lot of time selecting a blanket, I quickly pick a white one with a Mayan design in navy and terracotta. It reminds me of Guatemala's famous Tikal pyramid.

Unlike Asian markets, bargaining isn't a common practice in Latin America. I tell the vendor, whose name is Enrique, that I'm from cold Canada and need one of his warm blankets. He smiles broadly.

The price is 250 quetzals. Would he accept 200 quetzals

(about $25 Canadian)? He agrees to the price. We have our picture taken together and part as friends.

With my blanket and a ham sandwich in hand, I join my classmates on the bus back to Xela. My thick woollen blanket is worth every cent as it serves as a comfy cushion thwarting those pesky potholes that punctuate the mountain road home.

Hasta luego

Article ID# 1244056

 

 

 

 

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