Monday, April 13, 2009

Huehuetenanto to Xela

In the highlands of Guatemala, you are either going uphill or downhill. We struck out from Huehuetenango on Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 7am, headed decidedly UP. We got about an hour-and-a-half of riding in before a hearty breakfast of rice, beans, hard-boiled eggs, tortillas, and coffee (“coffee” being a generous term for the highly-sweetened Nescafe served in most places; I guess the good beans are sent overseas where they fetch a higher price). Some climbs present a clear goal: a slot horizon or a distinct saddle in the mountains with a road cut. This road was more elusive – the curves and mountain range unfolded as we steadily pedaled uphill on the curvy highway.That night, we camped in a big field in San Cristobal Totonicapan, the crossroads for Xela, Guatemala City, and Huehuetenango.

We had really friendly interactions with the locals in San Cristobal Totonicapan. The first person we talked to was Antonio (age 34) who was watching kids kick a soccer ball with his two kids, Angelica (3) and Pedro (6). Antonio spent eight years on-and-off in the States working construction. It seems that most men we meet have spent 2-8 years in the States doing similar work. As we do whenever we camp in a public space, we sounded it out with the locals: “We have a tent. We were thinking about setting it up over near the stream where it is flat and grassy. You think it’s okay?” Sure.

As we set up the tent in the setting sun, Antonio and his kids came over to watch. Another old man (age 70) came over, too, lounging on a mound in the grass. He really liked to call us “mister” and “missus”. They all were interested in our stove, so Gene showed them how it works and described how long it takes to boil a pot of water.

I asked the old man what they did with their trash in this town. He heartily replied that they chuck it directly in the river.

The next morning, we met Martina. It is funny how this town, barely a comma in the guidebook, was so nice to us.

Conversely, 15 kilometers down the road is Quetzaltenango (Xela). It has many delights: excursions (trekking, volcano summiting, cool day trips to hot springs), is a language school hub, and has the magic traveler ingredients: internet and ice cream. It even had an unintentional funny homonym: Xela, pronounced SHAY-lah, sells milk called Xelac. Heh. SHAH-lac. Sounds shiny. For whatever reason, we didn’t really click with Xela.

There was a paper sorting facility down the street from our hostel, Casa Argentina. Three women (and a baby) were hand-sorting piles of paper into four categories. The owner (right) stores the sorted paper in gunny sacks and brings loads into Guatemala City.

The waste worker on the right let me take his picture, but only when I agreed to give him a copy of the photo. I hope it got to him.

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