Sunday, August 16, 2015

"How's the View on Your Side?"

“So what do you think?  Mini or full adventure?” Chris asked me via messenger on Thursday afternoon.  Before I knew Chris would be in town this weekend, I had already made plans with my co-workers for Saturday evening.  But an adventure with Chris is something no one should pass up when given the chance.

Full adventure was the obvious choice. 
I backed out of my Saturday plans, and Chris and I left that morning bound for Mixco Viejo to be followed by a surprise which I only knew entailed a road/village that Chris had never been to. 

We left the city and wound up the hills, through an area Chris calls the furniture capital of Guatemala, towards San Juan Sacatepequez.    The views were simply stunning.  The skies were clear, and we pulled over to take a few photos of Guatemala City spread out in the distance. 

As our road curved over ridges, the view on either side of the truck kept changing.  With sweeping valleys spread out on both sides, Chris would ask me, “How’s the view on your side?”  “Pretty fantastic,” I would reply, “How about yours?”  “Eh, it’s all right.” 

Around mid-morning, we arrived at Mixco Viejo.  We paid our entrance fees and then entered the Maya ruins.  We had no guide or any information about the ruins, so we made it up, imagining what the temples and houses must have looked like hundreds of years ago.

Ball court or swimming pool?  The debate rages on.

Eventually, we found a spot in the shade to sit and enjoy the view, talk about our life goals, and identify farm animals by the noises drifting across the valley.  After splitting a granola bar for “lunch,” we gathered our things and took the road again, the real adventure beginning.

Just minutes after leaving the ruins, the road went from paved to rutted dirt.  I was thankful we were in Chris’s truck and not my little Volkswagen.  We made our way down the valley, Chris checking his gps now and again.  At one point we spotted a river.  “Oh, that river’s on the map.  That’s a good sign.  I’m not sure whether there’s a bridge, though.  That’s not on the map.” 

The river
Thankfully, the bridge existed.  A one-lane wooden bridge with no guard rails.  Jolly good. 

The bridge!  Just wide enough for us.

Just when we were beginning to wonder whether the dirt road would continue all the way to our destination (still a secret surprise to me), we reached the town of Joyabaj, and from there, the road was paved and less winding.  We made good time and arrived in Santa Cruz del Quiché (our destination) by mid-afternoon. 

We checked into our hotel (and little place that looked questionable from the outside, but was actually quite bright and airy on the interior), then set off to explore the town.

By lucky coincidence, Quiché’s town feria (festival) was this weekend.  We wandered to the town square where a presentation was taking place.  We couldn’t understand enough of what was going on to make complete sense of it, but we got the impression it was a re-enactment of the Spaniards meeting Tecún Umán, one of the last rulers of the k´iche´ people for which the area is named. 

A little more wandering found us an empty 2nd floor restaurant overlooking a crowd of people waiting for a concert to begin.  The food was good and the location superb for people watching and for listening to the music. 

Our view of the concert

After our “lupper,” it was about 5pm, and unsure what to do with ourselves for the rest of the evening, Chris asked our waiter for a recommendation.  He told him about a place called El Terminal where he said there would be food and games.  Off we went to explore. 

El Terminal turned out to be the bus terminal (shocking title for it).  There were indeed lines of market stalls, restaurants, carnival games, and rides.   I loved walking through the stalls and looking at all of the sweets, toys, and other items.  It was a market unlike any tourist market I’ve been to in Guatemala; it felt more authentic, and it was filled with people out having a good time on Saturday evening. 

We played a few carnival games (Chris played more than I did).  He won a prize which he gave to me—a pink poster claiming me as his best friend forever.  I agreed to put it on the wall in my home, except the next day we FORGOT IT IN QUICHÉ. 

Mejor amigo por siempre?!  How sweet! 

From an engineering standpoint, Chris deemed the ferris wheels whipping around at high speeds to be unsafe, not to mention slightly terrifying, so we passed on any rides and we went back to the hotel to recharge for the night. 

Sunday morning, our plan was to walk to a café for breakfast, then return to the hotel and take the truck out.  However, when we emerged onto the street at around 8:20am, people were setting up their market stalls up and down the street (without leaving an area for cars to pass through).  We decided we’d better get the truck out right then, before leaving became completely impossible.

Navigating was still tricky.  At one point, a car had to back up to make room for us (he had to back up for at least a block), and Chris had to get out and pick up a motorcycle and move it over to make room for us.  We squeezed through with inches to spare. 

Yup, it was as tight as it looks in the picture. 

With that stress, Chris decided to get out of town straight away and leave breakfast for later.  First, we stopped at the last surprise of the trip—one more set of ruins. 

These ruins were less excavated, but the site had a nicely done museum detailing the people who once lived there and the history of the area.  The grounds were also absolutely stunning, and I enjoyed the short walk immensely.  

Just as we were about to turn around, I saw a sign to the caves and insisted they would be worth seeing.  Chris indulged me, even though I think he really would have preferred to be in the truck or finding coffee instead. 

Cave entrance

The caves turned out to be a long man-made tunnel with several fingers branching off at the end.  I turned on my phone's flashlight to light our way.  After a few steps in the darkness, Chris asked me to shine my light at the ceiling.  I obliged.
“How’s it look?”  I asked.  “We okay?”
“Yeah, looks good for now,” he answered.  Having a mining engineer friend whose job description includes making sure tunnels are safe can come in handy when exploring shady tunnels in rural Guatemala. 

After the caves, we took to the road again.  Having bypassed the town, we searched out a roadside comedor that looked legit.  A place that had wooden tables inside, a tortilla grill outside, and a sign advertising breakfast, lunch, and coffee seemed to fit the bill.  $5 fed both of us eggs, rice, beans, chorizo, tortillas, and coffee.  Absolutely no complaints. 

The rest of the drive home was beautiful, but being on main highways, seemed decidedly less adventurous than the previous day’s journey.  We popped in our new reggaeton cds (purchased at El Terminal the night before) and passed the time by making the sign of each political advertisement we passed (the presidential election is coming up soon, and it’s amazing how many campaign logos involve hands in various positions—thumbs up, fingers straight, a fist, 2 hands gripping wrists, 2 hands with the thumbs overlapping). 

The weekend ended much too quickly, but we have the memories and photos to tide us over until the next adventure.  

We pulled over one last time for one last snapshot of the view on "my side."

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