After our very relaxing couple of days at Semuc Champey, we took a couple of days to get to Nebaj, in the Guatemalan Highlands.  We are travelling local-style these days – cheaper than the tourist transfers, just as fast and more ineresting.  It just means changing buses in some towns – but getting another one is easy, the drivers hawk ceaselessly to try to fill up their vans. 

After overnighting in Coban (an uninspiring place) with Eric from Portland, Oregon, we decided last minute to travel to Nebaj in the Guatemalan Highlands.  It turned out to be an inspired choice, thanks to Cathal´s attention to detail in his reading of the Lonely Planet! 

We took a series of buses to get to Nebaj – a mini bus to Uspantan, another to the junction with the Nebaj road, and finally a Chicken bus the final 10K to Nebaj. 

Chicken bus – recycled US school bus

At Nebaj we settled into El Descanso, a hostel and restaurant set up by two Peace Corp Americans to help create local Employment.  It has been a great success and is a lovely place to hang out. 

Nebaj is the main town in an area of many Mayan hill tribes, of the Ixil tribe.  While here, we went on a guided walk of current sacred Mayan sites, where locals ask Shamans to help them with whatever they are looking for.  These sites have been used for centuries.  We also visited a graveyard, where there was emphasis on memorials to the civil war which was very difficult for this region. 

Colour celebrates ancestors

We took a two day hike in to the mountains with the same local guide, Nicolas, and a Czech couple, Jana and Martin.  We headed off on the minibus out of Nebaj last Monday (28 April) by local transport along dirt roads.  We anticipated a pleasant stroll through villages, eating with families and relaxing.  How wrong we were!  As soon as we got off the bus, we turned onto a track that went up, up and up!  The Guatemalan “highlands” are more like “towering steep mountains”.   There was some respite now and then as we descended down towards the river at the valley bottom, but otherwise it was ruthless. 

 Doesn´t show the hills!

We visited a few villages en route.  The localpeople have to deal with these mountains every day, I take my hat of to them.  The Maya people who live here are of the Ixil tribe, they dress beautifully in traditional clothes and generally lead a rather hard life.   Most Ixil get married young (as young as 14) and have a lot of children.  They live the same way they have done for centuries, cooking over open fires and living in 1 or 2 room wooden houses with dirt floors. 

 

On our lunch stop at Xeo (pronounced Show), we met with lots of friendly local kids, and had lunch with a family.  They cooked over an open fire, and made so many corn tortillas tht they were practically spilling off the table top!  Their food is not inspiring – we had various combinations of corn tortilla, refried beans, rice and eggs for our meals during our trip.  We overnighted at Cotzal, a village that has electricity.  The locals had rigged one of the school rooms for guests – we were surprised to find very comfortable beds and a shower, much more luxury than the locals had themselves.  It was a very enjoyable trek, very interesting to see life in traditional hill tribe villages, with all its hardships.

 

 

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