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The way to Nebaj

Here i was happy

View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

At 2 afternoon we return to hotel "St Tomas" to take our luggage. Our next destination supposed to be Lanquin and we naively hoped to arrive there at the same day. Very soon we realised that it would not be possible and we should to stop for a night in any place in the way. "No problem" - we said, and begun this complicated and indirect way there.

First we took a chicken-bus to Santa Cruz del Quiche and then changed to Sacapulas. From Sacapulas we supposed to ask for Coban (another connection) direction. The bus that took us to Sacapulas was continuing to Nebaj. I had heard about Nebaj that it's "very authentic Mayan village surrounded with rain forests and that it almost was not touched with mass tourism". The day was sunny and clean, landscape was flat and a bit boring. All the way to Sacapulas we have seen through the front window a big mountain massive covered with clouds on the horisont. We moved in direction of this mountain and soon we realised that Nebaj should be somewhere inside these clouds. On the map Nebaj seems near ( hahhh!) and we decided to make "a little curve" (anyway we should sleep in some place!) and to continue our trip at the morning from there.

In Sacapulas Bus Station our bus made a long stop. Here local women stepped into the bus - they sold home-made food and drinks to passengers. It's almost a single way to make some money for the villagers. We bought from them some pies and plastic pocket with juice.

We passed Sacapulas at 16:30 PM, still in day light. There, in Sacapulas, the asphalt road finished. With coming darkness mountain road became more and more rocky and narrow. Chicken-bus slowly crawled up the steep track at dizzy height. Behind the dirty glass the slide-show of breathtaking landscapes was playing. I think there were the most beautiful landscapes that I ever seen in my life. I could not take even one photo because of constantly vibrating bus. Not sure that my description can explain anything, but I will try. I ask you to sorry me for advance for sound banal and speechless. Here what I have seen:
Mountains were covered with tri-colored woods. Deep into the fault valley the river was winding like a snake. Miles of banana plantations stretched along of river shores and scattered tiny islands of villages. Heights were fully covered with endless rain-forest, and their tops with smooth cloud - like a blanket. The road run through the woods. We passed cemetery, colored with naive colors. The landscape was just over-colorful, too beautiful to be real! The lack of photos pains, I spent hours searching for photos of other travellers. I found some very nice photos, includes fabulous photos from Sacapulas, but no one picture was good enough to illustrate this road. Probably other people had same technical problems that I did.

Folks, I swear, between Sacapula and Nebaj, into shaking chicken-bus with dirty windows, that was running into "no-where" I felt absolute, pure 100% happiness. I try to keep this feeling in my heart.


Posted by vanessa 14:00 Archived in Guatemala Tagged bus Comments (0)


The town in the cloud

rain 8 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

Nebaj is far-far away from everywhere. It's a Mayan village (town?) situated at 1,900 meters above sea level, is one of three towns comprising the Ixil Triangle (Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal). The Ixiles, as people from the region are called, are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Central America. Aside from their award winning weaving, they are immersed in their pre-Columbian culture. The town, settled on the top of mountain and surrounded with forests, is constantly covered with smooth cloud, that makes you feeling like it's a bit rainy all the time. Actually it's kind of fog.


Mayan ppl of Nebaj look different from "valley" Guatemalans - they have round flat faces and their skin more olive-yellow in comparation to pitchy and mocca skin of citizens of Atitlan or Antiqua. Indigena women wear huipiles (one-piece pullovers) in complex geometrical designs in greens, yellows, reds and oranges and red "corte" (skirt). But the hightlight is cinta (woved head scarf) with big green pompoms. This grass-green color is a magore in Nebaj.

We arrived at 6PM that felt like night, as it was pretty dark, cloudy and cold there. One of these guys which business is bringing tourists to hotels, caught us even before we step out of the bus. He took us to shabby hotel for season workers, which was cheap. Yeah, it was cheap. We got big cold room with minimal furniture. Hot water was promised (sure!) but didn't exsist. Hot water is always issue in Guatemala. No one is trying to lie the guest - I think Guatemailans hardly understand what does it mean "hot water". Their "warm" begins right after ice melting.


We left our backpacks in the room and went to buy something to eat and look around.


Everything in the town was intensively colored with psychodelic colors, but town appeared gray.


Night time isn't the best to learn a new place. It was not that late, but humid darkness made the village lifeless. We couldn't find any comidor. There were only few hot dog stands that definately could attract kids under 5 thanks to rich decor and lightning; but we were not about snacks. Our persistent research was rewarded: we entered into gloomy side street and saw the wide-open barn-style gate, painted in light blue. Poster on the gate contained long Spanish text and our keen eyes immediatelly caught 2 magic words "comida corriente". We entered into the yard. All across the courtyard, drowning in darkness, we saw the owners family dining. They stopped eating and examined us with perplexity. After long discussion (they spoke Spanish and we - English) they pointed us to the table near the gate and we set down. The table was covered with sticky oilcloth. Soon, they brought us a rubber steak with half-edible rice. Tea appeared chamomile (I do not drink chamomile tea) and Andre drunk also mine, as he didn't mind chamomile.

Satisfied with fact of act of dinner we returned to the hotel.
Round-faced Catarina (hotel owner) said that 1st bus leaves at 7AM and then the next comes at 10AM. We planned a long way to do, so we decided to leave early and asked her to awake us at 5AM. Night came with even more fog and rain. It was too cold to bath with mystic agua caliente in outdoor public shower; also Andre got fever - so we just went to sleep.

Some time later, when we finally warmed up and asleep...
... the room door swung open with a thud and we had heard the tramp of tiny feet and ringing voice - Catharina's children made fun, running through dark rooms. Probably they didn't recognise that room wasn't empty. Later we asked ourselves why we didn't lock the room for a night? I really dont know why - I guess it wasn't door lock there? Andre muffled growl from under the blanket something unwelcome in Spanish and the children raced off further along the balcony.

  • Here I need to explain that hotel was built around the patio. Family lived at the ground floor, and the second floor was used as a guesthouse. Long balcony encircled the entire building from the inside. This balcony, actually serves as a corridor where from guests entered their rooms.

Rest of the night passed without incidents.

I can't say I really know Nebaj as we just slept there a night. So, please, don't make conclusions - everything that written here is only our own impressions.
Probably we expected too much.
We didn't see in Nebaj neither outstanding artisans (except of impressive green pompons), nor extreme hospitality, which was promised in tourist broshures. Locals were busy with own everyday tasks, keepinng stern faces so typical for all mountain inhabitants around the world. Life is too hard, and it seems they saved energy for better propose then emotions.


Oh, man... what a day it was...
We planned to continue our trip from there, but Andre got a fever - so we doubt for a while to leave or to stay for a day or so. Finally we decided that staying in these conditions can only make worth and moved anyway.


We got up at 5AM meaning to catch the 1st bus in 7AM.
The previous part of our trip was passing much lower - and weather there was very nice and warm. We were not ready to this gray freezing morning. Huge cloud was "sitting" on the town. People, animals and cars were floating across the fog. Groups of people where staying here and there on the streets.


We arrived the Bus Station and no one there knew anything about our bus. It remembers once again "you must speak Spanish in Central America!".

Soon some chicken-buses arrived from the neighbour Chahul. Buses were full with passengers: round-faced women who carried kids and luggage, men in especially high hats caressing machetes in their hands; one man kept a turkey in the bag.
Another bus arrived with woods on the roof. People jumped out and unloaded woods on the ground right there, near the bus.

GUA_Nebaj__15_.jpg GUA_Nebaj__17_.jpg

Then some indigena women begun to drag huge bundles of firewood on their backs. There were women of all ages - from girls to mature ladies. Old woman gave a fruit (looked like a wrinkled cucumber. no idea what was it!) to the child - to keep him busy meantime she was caressing woods. Child was biting and spitting at his grandmother (mother?) green rind.


Soon they finished transportation, kindled fire in the corner of the square and begun to prepare breakfast.
Rural people in this region speak Ixil language and they look more alike Mexicans then alike Guatemalan from the central part of country. Watching of real-life could be attractive, if we would not be leaving this morning.

After 1.5 hrs of waiting we understood that we missed the bus - or, probably, the bus missed Nebaj.
Next one sounds as a legend. We felt confused: people said that the next (hypothetic!) bus supposed to ride around 8am, but it never enters into the terminal - just passing in the town (The Flying Dutchman??)

The conversation sound like that:
" it maybe will pass there"
"there..." (hand-waving in the direction of inner streets)
"do u know when?"
"mmm... oh, maybe in some time it will pass there"

We left the terminal and went to hunt the bus. We have seen group of local ppl in the junction - two streets forward
and we joined them.


It was nasty weather, we staid under drizzling rain with heavy equipment on the back and Andre was ill. The bus didn't appear also at 8AM. In some time a minibus arrived and stopped in light distance from waiting point. People rush to take the place, but minibus was overpacked already at arriving. I think it took about 25-30 passengers (instead of norm of 10). It became colder and poor Andre looked really bad (even he said he was OK).
We could do anything else but waiting. We were single "white ppl" in this company, indigena , used to these hard conditions, were waiting with patience, not vasting energy on emotions. I hoped that they knew what they are waiting for.
About 9am we have seen a lorry and some ppl near. I run to ask a driver about direction and he luckely went to Sacapulas. Aborigens were sceptical about our ability to survive this trip (about 8C, rain, wind in uncovered lorry), but let us to join. With hours of delay we finally moved down from Nebaj...

Posted by vanessa 02:00 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rolling down

In the lorry

rain 10 °C
View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

... at 9AM, with hours of delay, we finally left Nebaj!

Next 2 hours we spent staying into the back of the lorry (freezed and wet from endless rain). Our lorry was sliding down on the dirt (no asphalt) winding road. It moved inside smooth fog and i doubt if driver could see something. Sometimes we met another car or lorry - then both vehicles crawled slow, clunging to the road-side (often with 2 wheels hanging over the fog-filled abyss). We held tight to the board a truck, trying not to fall down, once again catching slipping backpacks.

Once or twice the lorry stopped to pick up the peasants. The lorry was pretty big, so passengers used a wooden scaffold for climbing into. The last peasant was in the middle of the ascend when lorry suddenly began to move. The man and the scaffold ruined into the mud. Fortunatelly no serious damage happen, other passengers immediatelly stopped the lorry and helped him to get into.

It was a real adventure, I think no one will argue. I wanted to make photos, but in such a bumpy ride could do only video (link) .

The car went to Sacapulas. Actually, we didn't need Sacapulas, we should to turn in the 1/2 of way in direction of Coban, so we asked our driver to stop at the "juncton"where we could to catch a bus. So he did.
We got out.
Lorry melted in the fog.
We took a look around.
We found ourselves on the flat plato (not sure which size it was - because visibility was at the lenth of own hand) - at this time we really were in the middle of nothing.
We made a research of the place, making voices (in care not to loose each other in the fog) and doing short steps (in care not to miss the end of earth). Nothing or nobody else was there exsept of two of us - no human and no animal and no any traffic sign and even no garbige that human use to leave everywhere. Well, it was also no roof - and that was pity, because rain continued. Sometimes we heared noise of motor and jumped, waving with hands - but no one was going in our direction. One car continued to Sacapulas, two or three climbed up to Nebaj (no thanks!), but we needed to Coban.. pleeaseeee... anybody?...
Despite the complete uncertainty, bothering rain, cold, illness and loneliness, we two were in good spirit. We pondered a plan for the case if we stay there in darkness.

Another hour (or so) passed.
The pickup came from direction we wanted to go and he went to Nebaj. Driver said that he dont mind to take us later IF we still will be there at his return. We immediately cheered up and begun to wait him back!
:-) :-)

Some more time passed.

And here, like in movie, a locomotive whistle blew; then howling and growling chicken-bus emerged from the fog! We automatically begun waving with hands. Chicken-bus slowed a bit, the door opened and drivers assistant yelled something that supposed to be a direction.
"Coban, Coban" - I yelled him back
"No Coban, Uspatan!" and he pointed with hand to right (!) direction.
We didn't wait for additional invitation and took this bus.

The bus was full, we hardly could enter with laggage. But, like everywhere in Guatemala, in few minutes people moved smoother and made space for us. We even set down. The bus was riding in and out clouds. When it got out - we could watch places through the window. We even seen the carnaval in one of the villages we passed by. When we descent from mountains we recognised that the summer didn't end yet in Guatemala. It was humid and hot in the valley.

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Afternoon we got out of the bus in Uspantan.

With great luck we immediately caught the bus to Coban. It was a private bus - spacy and much better then chicken-buses. If not a yelling radio, erasing volume on commercials, the way was so beautiful so long.
The entrance to the city looked promising - like it should be a civilized place; but when the bus slalomed between endless storages and footbal fields, dropping local indigenas home, we completely lost orientation. We impressed that it will be quite not possible to find any acceptable accomodation there.
We arrived the terminal in Coban at 4PM tired and totally deaf.

Posted by vanessa 03:10 Archived in Guatemala Tagged transportation Comments (0)

Guatemala - Technology Wonders

There are many of technological wonders in Guatemala, but a water heater is the most remarkable and pure revelation.

Aqua Caliente is an issue. Respectable Inns always note that they have Aqua Caliente. Very Respectable Inns inform you that they have a Real Aqua Caliente.
Personally, I didn't experienced Very Respectable Inns, so can't say anything about Real Hot Water, but I constantly asked about Aqua Caliente everywhere I hoped to stay for a night or few. Therefore, a water heater is familiar to me.

In pseudoscience terminology it sonorously-named "Bare Wire Technology"
Nothing can beat it: 2 bare wires meet in the jar – one “plus” and another “minus”, together making some electricity. Jar fills with running water which supposed to come warmer at the exit. Well… hot water? Not really. The positive side of this scare construction - there are no victims, at least I didn't hear somebody got injured.


Another technology wonder is an orange peeler machine!
An orange is placed into the clamps, which are then tightened into place — little spikes stick into the orange’s peel to keep it steady — and then a crank is turned, the orange spins on its axis, and a small scoop is moved down a track which takes away the peel.
This machine is made from solid steel - unbreakable!


There are spiral-sharpened oranges - the surrealist result of meeting with peeling machine.
Usually they are sold in halfs and you can keep it on the skeeny "bottom" - it is less clumsy way to eat them.


The next one looks like hurdy-gurdy (street organ), but it's an ice chopper, actually.


Posted by vanessa 08:54 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

from Coban to Lanquin.

The best of Coban look like the worst of Antigua. Amigos in jungle.

View CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala-Honduras-Nicaragua 2005 & ISRAEL - all around on vanessa's travel map.

4 PM.
We arrived Coban tired and totally deaf from radio that was all the way yelling.
The bus made a slalom in Coban , dropping local indigenas to their homes, until we completely lost orientation.

The best of Coban look like the worst of Antigua.
Actually, Coban is rather big place with signs of civilisation: bank, supermarket, internet cafe, etc.
We were prepared to stay there for night, if need - every single travel-guide worning travellers don't travel in dusk! but we found a minibus to Lanquin (our next destination) right at arriving.

We have bought some salted chips made from dried bananas - i know, it sounds weird but it was tasty! and set into a minibus. The driver was a friendly guy and spoke light English. We asked for his advice about accommodation and he recommended do not stuck in Lanquine but move forward to posada "Las Mares" that situated in 1km from Semuc Champey and from the cave that we planned to visit.

Lanquin is a village - nothing special, but it close to Semuc Champey.
Other passengers got out in Lanquin and we staid alone in the minibus. Our driver agreed to pick us up to Posada Las Marias for surcharge. Knowing that Las Marias is isolated we wanted to buy couple of bottles of water, made some stops, but didn't find. So, we bought 2 small bottles of 0.5l in cafe (better then nothing!), our driver took his matte to ride with us and we left Lanquin.

It was 7PM, but felt as midnight. The minibus run couple of km into the forest and then suddenly stopped in complete darkness. It appeared that our driver met amigos (friends) on pickup. All the company was in excellent mood and after hearty and enthusiastic discussion (in Spanish) they informed us that right here we should to switch to another car. Minibus driver took from us extra-money for addition and commented with wide smile "Don't worry - they are my amigos!".
It looked like a bit unsafe - to continue with unknown Amigos, but staying for a night in jungle was even less safe. Also we were too tired for being worried. So, we just changed the car and let it be.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Transport: Q8 for lorry + Q14 +Q36 +Q60 = Q120
Food: Q10 for water
Accommodation: Q70/night -didn't pay yet.

Posted by vanessa 11:46 Archived in Guatemala Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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