Thursday, July 06, 2006

On the Road Again

We enjoyed a cleverly constructed almost-four-day weekend a few days ago. Friday, June 30 was Army Day or War Day or Tank Day or something. On Thursday, the American People needed me in Sololá, near Lake Atitlán, a couple hours away from Guatemala City. So, I went and conducted the business I had at the Sololá jail (which, like most modern prisons, is practically indistinguishable from a country club) on Thursday morning and then took the afternoon off.

Equipped, as we were, with our new and insufficiently tested mini-SUV, we declared, "Screw the rain and the mudslides." The Highlands were calling our names. We checked to make sure none of the roads we were planning to travel were closed at the particular moment, and after a stroll through Sololá, continued West to Quetzaltenango.

Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela, is Guatemala's second city. It's a fair sight nicer than Guatemala City, with an actual Indian restaurant and an attractive downtown. We enjoyed a quick meal and then headed for Zunil, a small town that's supposed to have a pretty church and their own version of the local idol Maximón. As we passed through Almolonga, another tiny town on the way, we spied ferris wheels over the rooftops, and screeched to a halt to check it out. It must have been the town's annual fair, as the streets were packed with midway games and amusement park rides. We saw a dance performance featuring costumed characters, a performance by Guatemala's most famous modern marimba band, and the candle- and neon-lit church. We also played a quick couple games of Lotería, a bingo game for players of all education levels that uses pictures instead of letters and numbers on the grid. The Lovely Katherine, being a master of all bingo-related games, promptly won the second game. She was awarded a prize of five drinking glasses decorated with a daffodil pattern. She denied that she had attempted to throw the game, and passed on her prize to a young volunteer who had aided her in avoiding some obvious strategic blunders when her victory drew near.

The next day we enjoyed a luxurious breakfast in an almost American-quality coffee shop, and then plotted a course through Huehuetenango for Todos Santos Cuchumatan. Todos Santos is on the far side of a precipitous climb up the mountainside from Huehue, and then a dirt road back down the other side. It is a tiny town in a gorgeous valley, and draws a modest but disproportionate number of tourists because the men as well as the women still dress in their traditional colorful garb. The place couldn't have been more picturesque, nor the residents more tired of having their picture taken. One highlight was a dinner in a tiny comedor, where we ate fried chicken and were joined at the dinner table by one of the main course's survivors.

The weekend had been a smashing success, and wasn't over yet. We went back south along the highway and then turned east to climb another pretty mountain ridge and arrive in Momostenango, which we selected because they supposedly make the finest blankets in Guatemala, and it's a funny place name, to boot. We pulled into Momostenango at about 3:00 on Saturday. At about 3:15, we decided to spend another evening in Xela, and then back to Guatemala the next day, figuring that having a fantastic time at two of our three intended destinations would have to be enough for one trip.

[Photo department note: Due to the new camera, the photo department is taking more pictures than ever, and spending more time than ever trying to edit them. These photos were grabbed for the purpose of illustration, actually carefully selected photos coming soon.]