Monthly Archive for March, 2012

Hiking and resting in Xela

Well, the day after our last blog post, we climbed back on our bikes and rode over some mountains from Uspantán to Sacapulas, prepared to take a ride through the Cuchumatanes (Central America’s highest mountain range) to Huehuetenango the next day. However, stomachs still weren’t cooperating, so we loaded the bags and bikes on a microbus, and then on a chicken bus, and arrived in Xela (SHEY-la) (officially known as Queztaltenango) by nightfall. Since we were staying near the office of the Queztaltrekkers we immediately asked what treks they were doing in the next week. Turns out, they were signing people up for a 4 day trek through the Cuchumatanes that we had just missed biking through, and it was leaving a week later. Excellent. In the meantime, we figured we’d take the bus over to Panajachel and check out Lago de Atitlán, the most beautiful lake in the world, according to someone or other.

Andrew is guilty of romanticizing chicken buses. Discarded school buses from the states, these souped up, chromed out, brightly painted beasts roar through the highlands of Guatemala, piled high with cargo on the roof-mounted luggage racks, stopping for only a second (or less) to pick up or discharge passengers anywhere along the route. They are run by a crew of two or three — the driver, and a guy to lean out the open door and holler the destination and try to round up passengers, collect fares, and run the cargo up and down the ladders on the back. Sometimes this ayudante (helper) anticipates the stop of someone with cargo on the roof, climbs out the front door, scrambles up the open windows beside the door while the bus is still in motion to have the cargo hitting the ground the instant the brakes screech to a halt. A few minutes later and kilometers up the road, he re-enters the bus by way of the rear exit. It’s easy to fall in love with the image. In reality, they are noisy, dirty transportation, belching black smoke on nearby bike tourists, honking an air horn (or 3) at anyone who is not on the bus (well, maybe they want to get on the bus), run by pushy crews of bored men always trying to make an extra buck by getting to the terminal as fast as possible. People ride crammed in three to a seat like sardines, and are tossed into each others’ laps as the driver whips around hairpin turns are breakneck speed while passing slower vehicles and blowing the horn like there’s no tomorrow. We are glad, in a way, that we got to experience plenty of authentic chicken buses, but we still sometimes yell some choice words at the drivers when we’re on our bikes and they pass us with their ridiculous antics.

Via three chicken buses, we arrived in Panajachel on the lake. We hung out, watched the sun go down beside the volcanoes, ate our first pupusas (Salvadorean stuffed tortillas), walked the tourist street full of copycat kitsch. We also took a water taxi over to the popular town of San Pedro la Laguna at the foot of the volcano of the same name, just to see the scenery from a different angle. We had planned to hit the biggest street market in Guatemala on the way back to Xela, but mistimed it and headed to the market in Totonicapan instead.

Back in Xela, we decided to go for a little warm-up hike the day before leaving for Nebaj with Quetzaltrekkers. We got up pretty early and headed for the foot of the volcano Santa Maria, hoping to see an eruption of Santiaguito below before noon. Andrew knew it was a grueling trail, but had forgotten just how horrible it was. Four hours later, we got to the top, and looked down on a bank of clouds that showed no sign of dispersing. The trip down was a little quicker, but no less painful, and we got back to down dirty and extraordinarily sore.

The next day, we headed to Nebaj with borrowed backpacks and a group of 13 for a four day walk through the mountains to Todos Santos. The Cuchumatanes are quite remote, in the northwest corner of Guatemala, and are still a very traditional indigenous region. Over 80% of the inhabitants are Maya, and all of the women wear traditional garb, as well as most of the men in some areas. Along the way, we also learned a little about the atrocities committed in this area during the “Scorched Earth” phase of Guatemala’s civil war, in 1982. International court has ruled that genocide occurred, as thousands of Maya were murdered in the hills, and over a million left their homes to seek refuge during the war. Some of the orchestrators are just now being tried and convicted, although one was just elected president…

Unfortunately, during our hike, several miles from the nearest road, Aran got ill (bad, gross). Showing superhuman strength, she hiked down into and out of a river valley, which was the only way to the nearest place where we could hire a truck to take us up the road to where the group would spend the night. We arrived early and a spent the day sleeping. The Quetzaltrekker guides were great help and did everything they could to make her comfortable along the way. The next day, we completed the hike up La Torre (highest non-volcanic peak in Central America) and down the valley to Todos Santos, where the men all wear red pants, brightly woven collars, and heavy hats. It was hike full of amazing landscape, history, and culture, and by the end we were almost done being sore from Santa Maria!

View from the top of La Torre, with the volcanoes on the horizon labeled. (Mouse over to scroll)

On our return to Xela, A also became quite sick, and we went to see the doc early the next day. Parasites! Guatemala is sort of known for them. Lots of antibiotics and sleeping in the most beautiful hostel ever, Casa Renaissance, and we’re back on the road, rolling steadily toward El Salvador. See you there!

About page up!

Just a note to alert you that we’ve added a short About page. If there is more information you’d like to know about the trip, leave a comment there, or Contact Us. 2012-03-22


Stats updated

What? The stats page has been updated??? 2012-03-10