We took “chicken buses” from Xela to get to the remote indigenous town of Nebaj, our starting point for the trek. The infamous chicken buses often pack as many as 80 people onto old, garishly repainted American schoolbuses.
The church off the main square in Nebaj.
Crosses piled in a shed in the Nebaj cemetery.
Flowers and view from a gorgeous and unlikely cheese farm, run by an Italian family and making some of the best cheese in the country!
View back towards the foothills as we start hiking up.
We saw lots of beautiful children.
And kept going up…
Until, after a night of Mayan steam saunas and a 3:30 a.m. wakeup, we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunrise on our ascent the next morning
And more sunrise…
The sun didn’t stay with us as we topped the Cuchumatane plateau, so we had to settle for the silent beauty of the clouds.
We passed several tiny pueblos and settlements where Mayans, most of whom don’t speak Spanish (and many of whom hid from us), eke out a living at over 10,000 feet.
We spent that night in a high valley of the Cuchumatanes.
The next morning began with a rainbow across the valley (see it?).
We took an icy dip in these stunning falls at the bottom of the valley.
And started up the other side with “The Sound of Music” playing in our heads.
A road on the plateau.
Big plateau views, just beneath the scudding clouds.
The next morning I woke up early and took my own little hike, with a great reward.
Click this picture (be patient, or click the magnifying glass if you need to enlarge) and see a huge version of my view!
The mountain we climbed later that morning was ok, too.
The group celebrates atop the highest non-volcanic mountain in Central America, La Toree, standing over 12,500 feet!
See the moon?
We descended into clouds and a fascinating forest.
And tiny ferns.
Finally, we arrived in the traditional town of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, for a wild and infamous All-Saints Day festival in which horseraces featuring multiple days of drinking often see several men die.
A brief respite.
Back to the races. The track is only about 100 yards long, but the riders urge their horses to full speed on each lap.
The only breaks are for drinking.
Almost all the men in Todos Santos wear the same traditional costume, like these spectators.
No hands or feet!
(We were lucky enough not to see any men die, but we witnessed a sickening collision between two horses who were badly lamed and almost certainly shot later. Miraculously, their blindly drunk riders seemed fine.)
The church in the town square on festival day.
Finally, if you’re coming to Guatemala be sure to check out Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit trekking company in Xela who runs this incredible trek (and many more). All proceeds fund a school for street kids.