29th May 2011

Further west, Quetzaltenango (Xela) [5] sits higher up at 2300 meters. Outside the city in fertile valleys backed by mist covered mountains, a patchwork of farms grow a variety of crops without the use of machinery. Bananas shade coffee grown up the slopes. In the village of Zunil the women´s skirts are particularly attractive.


With Eddie as our guide we headed off to the jungle surrounded archaeological site of Takalik Abaj, about 2 hours southwest of Xela, where evidence of both Olmec (the earliest Mesoamerican civilization) and early Maya has been unearthed. Work is still going on at the site and a large pyramid structure is being reconstructed but much of the site remains buried.


In the afternoon we went to see some nearby villages with quaint and unusual churches. The magnificent 1524 church at Salcajá, Hermita la Concepción, is the oldest in Central America.  We also visited a house next to the church where we sampled a very smooth homemade rum and fruit liqueur (called caldo de frutas) made only in Salcajá and watched a man weaving skirt material on a Spanish loom (the women weave narrower pieces on a pre-Spanish back strap loom).


The large white church, some 250 to 300 years old, in San Cristobál Totonicapan is dedicated to Santiago the Apostle. Moving on to San Andrés Xecul with its bright yellow church bearing vividly coloured figures, Eddie took us to the house just up the hill where San Simón resides – a mix of Mayan and Christian influences. People arrived with offerings of cigarettes and alcohol, then lit candles (different colours for each day to overcome various ailments and punish enemies) while praying to this bizarrely dressed, hard drinking, chain smoking, and fornicating figure – not the sort of Saint you´d want to upset!


Due to recent violent activity and Travel Advise against going to the north of the country, as well as a scew up with our visas way back in Honduras, we limited our time to southern highlands, unfortunately missing the World Heritage Mayan ruins of Tikal and will fly out of Guatemala City [6] for Belize.

Facade and bell tower of the old Cathedral in Xela

Cathedral domes at night

Corn is the staple crop in the highlands

Ladies skirts ....

... are very colourful in Zunil

Picking onions near Zunil

Coffee grows on the slopes

Smoking Volcán Santiaguito

Early Mayan pyramid at Takalik Abaj

Another pyramid

Stela with altar in front

Large Olmec head, about 1 metre high

Statues in front of steps

Potbellied Olmec statue

Two more Olmec statues

Large toad

Olmec head - with a cross legged person coming out of the mouth


Oldest church in Central America (1524)

Homemade liqueur (caldo de frutas), the fruit is delicious too

Preparing the cotton thread for a 150 metre long cloth

Men weave on the Spanish foot loom

The finished cloth sells for about $4 a metre, not much return for the work

Church at San Cristobal Totonicapán is about 300 years old

Convent behind the church

Ladies chatting

Coming home from shopping

Bright yellow 17 the century church at San Andrés Xecul

San Simón, the hard drinking, smoking Mayan saint