Caminante, No Hay Camino


Steve: My body has not been liking this traveling-in-a-developing-country thing. Our last night in Chichicastenango was highlighted by a sleepless night of bad chills, fever and headache. After feeling the fever pass about 6 in the morning, I knew I wanted to get a move on and make it to our next destination so that I could relax (Leah: Nothing like having your husband wake you up at 4:30 a.m. feverish and desperate for safe drinking water only to suffer complete panic when I realized our water bottles were empty and the only other option would be thirst or unsafe tap water. Luckily we had an angel that night and found a water bottle we had forgotten about in our daypack. Just another example of how we don’t always realize how lucky we are to turn on the faucet when needed). We trekked to the camioneta station where we proceeded to take the next bus out of town to Nebaj. Let’s just say that poorly-maintained roads, multitudinous speed bumps, mountainous switchbacks and a tired, achy head do not go well together. I toughed it out though and we made it to our next stop, the alpine village of Nebaj.

About a half hour prior to entering Nebaj we could feel a drastic—and welcome—change in the temperature as this town is nestled in some of Guatemala’s highest country. The town itself is not unlike many of the other towns that we had already visited—a busy central park, colorful tiendas and a small but bustling market, all juxtaposed with unpaved roads, dilapidated (or maybe just unfinished) buildings and lots of street dogs. (Speaking of street dogs, I’ll make a quick digression here—this is partly my blog so you don’t have a choice!—a majority of the dogs seem to be rather well fed, although as we’ve witnessed it is due to their ingenuous adaptation to life on the street; the basic instinct for survival will do that. The farther out of major cities that we’ve gone it’s clear that sterilizing dogs is not a priority and/or the infrastructure to support that are not in place (we’ve seen hardly if any cats, go figure). Most of you probably know that I spent a good deal of time volunteering with the county shelter in San Diego, so seeing so many good looking and well behaved pups has been rather difficult. But as a passerby, there’s really not so much I can do, right? Except go back in time and study to be a veterinarian…but again, I digress.)

Where was I? Nebaj, right. So after arriving in the packed, diesel-exhaust-ridden bus station (which had a dog that looked ridiculously like Minger and stopped us both in our tracks as we tried to exit the bus) we made our way down several blocks to the first hostel that our guide book suggested. After viewing the available room, I couldn’t agree to stay there even in my fatigued state. Luckily Leah, who for all intents and purposes is the guardian of our budget (I probably would have gone all out a couple of times already), felt the same way so we moved on a couple of blocks and stumbled upon another hostel, Hotel Media Luna Medio Sol. This place which was started by an American Peace Corp volunteer is by no means fancy—as Leah pointed out there’s probably no Ritz Carlton Nebaj—but felt much more comfortable and seemed like a better place from which to explore the town. Additionally funds from the hostel and associated restaurant and tour agency go directly to supporting the local Ixil community. Nevertheless we ate at the restaurant and booked a half-day tour for the following day to see some local waterfalls. After being fat and happy, feeling like we had done a good deed, and watching a Spanish version of The Transporter 3 (without subtitles), we took to our bunk beds and got a good night’s sleep. (Leah: Well, after I had a coughing fit and wanted to claw my eyeballs out due to my allergic reactions to the just-a-tad moldy room).

The next day we got an early start so that we could have a nice breakfast prior to our hike. We found a local comedor where we got delicious egg, bean and rice plates for the equivalent of a couple US dollars. Leah even had her first cup of coffee as the black coffee that I thought I asked for turned out to be doused with a couple spoonfuls of sugar, making it so sweet that my princess of a wife actually liked it (Note to self—be more explicit when you ask for coffee). We then headed back to the hostel to meet up with our tour guide, Nicolas, a local who speaks both Spanish and Ixil—the language of the indigenous population in this part of Guatemala. Guide book or not, there’s no way that we would have found these waterfalls without his help. After guiding us out of the town we veered off onto a small dirt trail that hugged a river which has multiple names, neither of which I can remember now. We trekked through some much smaller communities, many of which appeared to only speak the Ixil language, so it was good to have a guide that spoke their language and apparently knew everyone everywhere. We passed many fields of corn, saw quite a few cattle roaming freely and generally stayed close to the river as we made our way towards our destination. (Leah: And of course I shrieked with delight at all the baby things—clucking chicks, piglets so small they could fit in your hand, lazy eyed calves and squirmy puppies. We don’t have much farmland nature in San Diego!)

At one point, Leah asked our guide about the issue regarding hydroelectric power and this river as we had seen multiple signs/propaganda/tagging that called for no hydroelectric power and to save the environment. To be quite honest, I’m not really sure what the full details on this issue are and I’m pretty sure Leah doesn’t know either. Our guide started to ramble on softly and coupled with the white-water rapids to the right of us we could only make out bits and pieces of his discourse. All I can tell you is that it’s an issue. I bring this up however as I wanted to segue into the irony of these signs which called for saving the environment. As lovely as the river, waterfalls and overall scenery were, the most outstanding feature was the amount of trash that makes it into this seemingly pristine water source. We have many great pictures that we took of this hike however many were strategically taken at angles so as not to spoil the photo with plastic bottles, tires or other debris. Leah had brought up a good point that she learned in her Peace Corp days—yes, there may be signs everywhere about putting trash in its place and to care for the environment, but without a solid infrastructure to support this how do you really instill this idea into the local population? To be sure, there is no curbside trash pick-up and there aren’t any dumpsters around the corner. This would require an influx of money that a developing country just doesn’t have (or is pilfered by corrupt government officials, but that is another topic for another day). It also got me thinking that for the indigenous population, littering might not have been so bad hundreds of years if not decades ago. Trash must have consisted of corn husks, food leavings and other biodegradable material. Nowadays industrialization has brought plastics and other packaging to their proverbial doorstep. A bottle of soda is cheap, infrastructure is not—so the rhetorical question of how to address the problem will stand unanswered.

My ramblings about humanitarian problems aside, Nebaj was an overall beautiful place and I am glad that we took the time to explore it a bit further. We did walk through some public farmland that was borderline idyllic and greeted the indigenous people who for better or worse have lives that are far simpler than the ones we have back at home in the States. That said I am looking forward to our next destination which will take us to Semuc Champay, a national park that promises to give us a glimpse of some of the most untouched natural beauty that Guatemala has to offer.



  1. Se hace camino al andar

  2. Al andar se hace camino, y cuando se ve la senda atrĂ¡s

  3. se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar


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