On a recent Saturday morning, Yolkobsens got on a chicken bus, painted in typical clamorous colors, and missiled our way through winding roads to San Antonio Aguas Calientes Guatemala, a pueblo just 9 kms southwest of Antigua Guatemala.
I had seen the chicken buses many times during my time in Guatemala. But this was the first time I had actually entered one of these magic rapido cylinders. Typically, they are American school buses that have been energized with blazing colours and names like “Santa Catalina” or “Lucky Rosita,” depending on the religious or secular bent of its owners.
Invariably there’s a chicken bus team, comprising a driver and his wing man who yells out the end destinations, e.g., “Guate, Guate,” to any potential passengers strolling the calles, leaving in its wake an iron shutter of dust and exhaust.
The chicken bus wing man’s job is a specialized and skill-laden pursuit. He must hang from the open front door of the splendidly-hued vehicle while singing out end-destinations, shove rapidly as many passengers as possible into the wheeled tin can, upload heavy items to the roof, collect fares and make sure that there is blaring Latino music always coming from the back of the bus.
Though disappointed when we found no livestock, we were delighted with the fare, which was 3.50 Quetzales each or about 45 cents (US). Our helpful conductor let us know when we got to San Antonio Aguas Calientes Guatemala and guessed that we wanted to be let off at the stop nearest the artisan market and main square. This was an easy guess for him since if you searched in a Spanish dictionary for “gringo tourists” you would find our picture serving as potent illustration.
Once on foot we followed the signs to the artisan marketplace. We had heard that this pueblo was noted for the remarkable weavers who produce some of the finest cloth in Guatemala. We would not discourage anyone from going anywhere in Guatemala. However, we were somewhat disappointed with what we found in this pueblo. Given the San Antonio Aguas Calientes Guatemala reputation for fine weaving, we envisioned a small place where these wares could be scouted throughout the town with independent store fronts or women (always women) set up in makeshift alfresco stores near the main church or pueblo central square.
It seems that there has been some local commercial re-organization of what we thought would be an organically-inspired display of local artisan works. There’s a “Weaving R Us” warehouse/store just off the main plaza. And, yes, there are women weaving in the traditional way, but it has a posed quality to it.
But this is the only place in the pueblo where the famous San Antonio Aguas Calientes Guatemala woven colors can be had. We walked through the entire pueblo and didn’t see a single locally-made item for sale. Clearly, this dense emporium is designed for the tour buses that descend on the pueblo with the objective being: get as many tourists into the store so that they can buy as quickly as possible and then herd them back on the bus to the next “quaint” pueblo.
While there are many authentic “tipica” items, there is a lot of stuff here that is factory made and can be found just about anywhere in Guatemala. You don’t have to be a textile expert to see that.
On the whole, we enjoyed sauntering around the pueblo because there were no tourists there and it’s always interesting to see a new place. So by all means, go to San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Next time we go we will seek out the hot water (aguas calientes) for which this town is also famous and will share a few lines on the subject with you.