Sat, Mar 8th: After a night of heavy rain and an
over-cast morning, we did not expect to see the quetzals again for sunrise, but we did!!!
They were back in the same tree, looking as resplendent as ever! They even hung around
while we ate breakfast. Along with the Quetzals, we saw many other very colorful birds.
Being sufficiently satisfied with our bird spotting, we decided to head west across more
steep mountains with very rocky, dirt roads to the village of Nebaj. The trip is only
about 120km, but it took us 4.5-hours to ride the road was fairly rough, with some
Cambodia-style bridges, several patches of deep bull-dust (many in steeply banked
switchback with rocks hidden under the surface!), and even a pass at 2,600 meters. The
views were well worth it though, and the town of Nebaj is a very fascinating culturally.
Nebaj is a small village in the Ixil Triangle. This area is almost exclusively
populated by indigenous people who make their living cultivating the steep hillsides with
vegetables and fruit, while also making some of the best and most interesting weavings in
Guatemala. Many people lost their lives in this area during the civil war with many brutal
killings committed by government soldiers against the indian people.
We arrive tired and dirty from the rough road, but are immediately energized by the
flourish of color worn by the women and young girls and the friendliness of the people. We
find a nice, cheap hostel, which is housed in a big old single-level colonial house. They
have a big courtyard inside, which is perfect for parking our bike. One of the family, a
rather short young man (even for indigenous standards) named Alejandro, immediately greets
us and shows us around with a big smile on his face. After a nice long rest, we wander out
for dinner. Along the way, we find in the plaza an interesting outdoor concert playing
folk music on a big wooden antique xylophone, which takes 3 men, a flute and someone on
the bongo drums. In the background, other men and women are burning some kind of scented
wood for incense, while other sit at a distance enjoying the whole atmosphere.
We find dinner at a surprisingly good and inexpensive "Gringo" restaurant. It
has a fine ambiance, lots of news and entertainment magazines, and good ol
standards, like stroganoff, pasta with pesto sauce and BBQ chicken. We are joined at
dinner by an interesting Canadian couple who has traveled the world, including working for
a few years in Nigeria, another young Canadian man and a young Belgian fellow.
Sunday, Mar 9th: We get up early, pack our things and head out to shop in
the famous Sunday market of Nebaj. We are hurrying because we also want to go to the
famous market of Chichicastenango later in the day. Its a cold, brisk morning so we
put on our fleeces and try to stay in the sun to stay warm. The plaza and side streets are
jam packed with locals selling everything from meat to shoelaces to hand stitched
costumes. The market is vivid with color and activity as people go about doing their
weekly shopping. Of course each street has its specialty, so down one way you see
colorfully dressed women lined up holding basket selling baby chicks. Down another way you
see men in stalls sewing everything imaginable. Down another you see an endless row of
butchers selling animal parts. Here Chris finds a nice big sheepskin for his motorcycle
seat. He buys this from a friendly butcher who only charges him $4, which unfortunately
includes the smell of the fresh kill.
When all is said and paid for, weve purchased one colorful head wrap with
pom-poms, a lovely antique weaving and one freshly made Guatemalan sheepskin cover. We
rush back to pack it all on the bikes, and off we go down the mountain, round twisty
bends, through deep bull-dust on our way to Chichi to shop all over again.
Chris is patient with all this shopping as he knows Ive been told about and
looking forward to buying the textiles here for some time. We arrive in Chichi at about
1pm, prime shopping time. We stop at a gas station to get our bearings and decide what to
do next: find a hotel and drop our gear, or just park the bikes, shop and head to Antigua.
We decide to park the bikes in the gas station next to all the other tourist buses that
have come in for the day.
Here too is a colorful market and many times bigger than most others in Central
America. It not only covers the plaza but many side streets as well. In this area not just
the women dress up in ornate costumes, but the men do as well. Their jackets are heavily
and colorfully embroidered and they wear black breeches of black cloth with a woven sash
and embroidered kerchief on their head.
Shopping is easy as we bargain our way into buying a bedspread, machete for Chris, and
two sets of hand woven place mats with napkins. Fully shopped out for the day, we squeeze
our new purchases onto the bikes and ride off into the sunset, literally, to the famous
city of Antigua Guatemala, or just Antigua like the locals call it.