Central America | Guatemala | Highlands | Quetzaltenango ( Xela) – A fortnight in the Highlands
The last two weeks have been an incredible adventure. I met John and Zbynek, two Czech-born Candadian artists in San Pedro and we decided to travel in the Highlands together. Our first stop was the Wednesday market in Chichicastenango – a central place that the Maya come to from all over the Highlands to sell their wares. Some parts of the market still retain an air of authenticity (mainly the fruit and vegetable section and the comedores, which sell simple meals of soup, rice and beans), but the market has now become a shopping mecca for tourists to buy fabrics and embroideries. Despite my intention not to succumb to this obvious tourist trap, I did buy a small piece of embroidery which depicted the Mayan calendar – in silk thread. It was rather good. I spent the best part of 40 minutes haggling over the price – although it is a lovely piece, I didn´t realy care whether I got it or not, so it was a fun game. Starting price was 500 quetzals – I bought it for 260 quetzals ($34.00). We spent two nights in Chichicastenango as John wasn´t feeling very well.
Day three in the Highlands and we arrived in Nebaj. We were expecting a small village surrounded by pristine countryside and spectacular views. The town itself wasn´t quite as we imagined. However, we spent two nights camping in Miguel´s backyard on the outskirts of Nebaj. Miguel is a young local boy who runs a small guide service – his innocence and naivety was completely charming, if a little exhausting. He asked a lot of questions! We shared our camping ground with a horse and chickens. The local children were extremely curious and thought us worthy of examination, but they preferred to watch at us from a distance. On the first day, John and Zbynek left me at the campsite alone while they ran some errands in town – I felt like an animal at a zoo. Wherever I turned, children were watching me. I retreated to the relative privacy of the tent to change my clothes, however, when I turned around I saw children peering at me through the small window at the back of the tent.
Zbynek slept outside the tent in a bivouack bag. I shared the tent with John. He was a grumpy ´sleeper´, but I think it might have had something to do with the cold – and my snoring. The next night he put wet toilet paper in his ears(!) and he was much nicer.
On our third day, we hiked to Cocop and stayed overnight in the school house. We took only what was necessary and stored the rest of our gear in Miguel´s house. After a simple dinner of vegetable soup with poached egg and tortillas (a really tasty fresh green vegetable, similar to spinach, with a free-range organic farm fresh egg), we all took a Mayan sauna together – the first time for all of us. Now THAT was an interesting experience, particularly trying to bathe in ´public´ behind the modesty of a tiny towel – which was actually only a torn-off part of a t-shirt. I also gave both of them a back massage in the sauna – lucky boys!
The next day we hiked further up the mountain (about 4 hours, nice and slow) and then down to Rio Azul just before dark. We hitched back to Nebaj where we camped one more night – it froze. I froze. John froze. Zbynek slept outside in his bivouac bag and declared he was perfectly comfortable.
We hitched rides from Nebaj to Sacapulas, then to Aguacatan, and finally to Huehuetenango. We stood in the back of pick up trucks while driving through the mountains – John was doing ´’little dances’ of happiness. He had a big grin on his face that probably won´t wear off for a few days at least. John went on to the Mexican border, Zbynek and I hitched to Chiantla and from there on to Todos Santos Chuchumantes. I froze for three days there. I think I picked up John´s flu bug which finally caught up with me after we separated from John. I probably spent too much time laughing beforehand for the bug to take hold until then.
Tuesday night I was ill – fever, vomiting (though I didn´t have anything to throw up) and diahorrea. Was fine on Wednesday, though a bit weak. Wednesday is market day in Todos Santos so I just mooched around town and took lots of sneaky photos. I got a winner pic of a young girl lounging against a wall waiting for her mother to return.
Found out too late (on Wednesday afternoon) that all transport would come to a grinding halt over the Easter break and that there would be no buses at all until Saturday at the earliest. It seemed that I would miss seeing the procession and re-inactment of the cruxificion in Chiantla (about 2 and a half hours drive from Todos Santos) which would take place on Good Friday. It was one of the chief reasons for my journey to the Highlands and now I was going to miss it! I did a meditation and decided to leave the arrangments to my spiritual guides. The next day we met an American couple living in Quetzaltenango (Xela) with their own transport. They had been holidaying near the Mexican border and were making their way back to Xela, with no fixed plans. When I told them about what was happening in Chiantla on Good Friday they were keen to check it out, so we left the next day with them. The re-inactment was hilarious, and definitely worth seeing. A real one-off. The American couple decided to push on to Xela after the procession, so Zbynek and I took their offer of a ride, and arrived three nights ago. Unfortunately, I´ve been sick again. Not sure what bug has taken hold, but it seems to come and go and right now I´m totally off my food. I think it might be time to return to the healing energies of San Marcos and begin my massage course!