Day-Long Trip to Chajul

Day 2: Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We rose early for a traditional breakfast of eggs, beans, tortillas, potatoes and fruit. Alan and Sally and I also explored the market for a bit. Then we loaded the van (with no tarp covering the luggage attached to the roof) and set off on an all-day trip north to Chajul, via Chichicastenango and Nabaj. I sat in a pull-down seat meant for extra passengers and the back was about a foot high. I read most of the way when not checking out the lush green scenery.

We arrived in Chichi and had some time to explore before lunch. Chichi boasts one of the largest markets in the entire world, but this was not a market day (we experienced the large market day the following week on Thursday on our way to Lake Atitlan). Changed money at a bank in Chichi and got 7.76 Quetzal (the currency and national bird) per dollar, which beat the 6.5 Q rate someone else had received at the airport the previous day. The story reinforces the credo: never change money at an airport..

There was a cool church in the center of town with offerings burning on the steps. On our trip we learned about the two main religions in Guatemala: Evangelical (more extreme and dogmatic) and Catholic (less strict in comparison).

At lunch I had beef and soup and corn tortillas. Since corn is the main crop in Guatemala, it is abundant and plays a major role in the diet of Guatemalans. Nearly every meal of the day is augmented by dozens of corn tortillas. I have not had a corn tortilla since returning last week, and I am not sure when I will be ready to go back.

At lunch we watched a Guatemalan Olympic athlete compete in badminton and then headed north on winding switchbacks through hills and mountains on our way to Nebaj, the largest and most developed town in the Ixil Triangle. We got caught in a giant traffic jam for an hour and a half on the way, so our arrival to Nabaj got pushed back to 5:30. We met up with Laura and Lindsay from LHI in Nebaj and had chicken burritos for dinner before heading the final 45 minutes to Chajul. Katie smartly decided to put the bags on the roof in the van as it rained on the last leg of our journey, but our bags stayed dry.

When we got to Chajul it was dark (Chajul is two hours behind EST, and it got dark early — around 6 p.m. every night) and we quickly realized we would not be able to make it down a road to our posada because it was under construction. Our driver had a difficult time backing up the van to the main road, and then next day in daylight we saw how close we had come to plunging into a ravine. Glad that didn’t happen.

I got my first usage of my headlamp as we grabbed our luggage in a light mist and walked the 5 minutes down the dirt road (it was being paved our entire time in Chajul) to our home for the next nine nights. The lodge was built by an Italian with money and was perhaps the most modern building in all of Chajul.

Frank and I shared a modest room with two bunk beds. The posada also has a giant kitchen and a very large common area with tables, chairs, and a fireplace where we ate breakfast every day. The bathroom was unisex with three stalls and two showers. To get hot water in the showers you need to turn the knob to the spot that results in the lights in the posada flickering. When the lights flicker, you know that about 30 seconds of luke warm to hot water is coming. Repeat turning process as needed if/when the water goes cold. I have traveled a fair amount, but it is always difficult to remember not to rinse your toothbrush under the faucet, but I am happy to say I did not slip up once on the entire trip. Frank described staying at the posada like camping. We had everything we needed, and that is all we could have asked for.

Tomorrow: Do’s and Dont’s of Chajul, Tour of LHI facilities, meeting with local school psychologist, traditional lunch of boxbol (boshe-bol) in a family’s home, and helping out with a literacy activity at the library.

Offerings at steps of church in Chichicastenango


About prcloth

I am a high school math teacher in Boston who spent two weeks on a volunteer program in a town of mostly indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala. I worked closely with the sponsor NGO, Limitless Horizons Ixil, and the residents, students, teachers and librarians of Chajul to extend educational opportunities to the region. I have included some details from this rich, authentic cultural exchange.
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