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The second best thing about Chichicastenango is its name, a long, Mayan utterance whose suffix alone reveals its disassociation with the Castilians. Thus is Central America, where the previous world bequeathed its greatest gifts in the form of language. In El Salvador, it's the proliference of Petls and Peques in the place names that reveal the presence of a people before the Spanish, and in Nicaragua it's the Galpas and Tepes that evoke Mezoamerica's children (in the latter case, the Nahuatls, whose influence on language extends to hundreds of words in use today): in Guatemala it's the Nangos that proliferate in place names like this one.

There's a market in the village of Chichicastenango that draws a crowd of travelers from the four corners of the earth, and if you can get past the throngs of foreigners, it's an awfully impressive event. By most accounts, it's the first and greatest thing about this Guatemalan village. Handicrafts of all sorts line the streets and wind up in "World Markets" across the hemisphere.

My favorite were the wooden flutes, unchanged in their technology for generations. I wound up taking one home with me, and when I blow across it, I hear the winds whispering across Lake Atitlán, and the even thinner whisper of the Mezoamericans, long gone, who left us treasures like the word Chichicastenango: delicious on the lips.


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