Diary 3 and the lowlands, I now climb the highlands.
I thought I had found a great route, but it is bye a road the locals say; I can't drive. Well, it was nice till I was forced to turn around. I drive through a little village on a road, sealed with natural rocks. Then up a larger road with some great views. The altitude is some higher, and now I see coffee plantations on the steep hillsides.
I finally make it to Takalik Abja, an archaeological site. The area is vast, but only a part is open to visitors. Besides from the barely excavated pyramids, here are quite some statues. Many dates back to 800-500 BC, and that make them Olmecs. Only the newer parts are Mayan.
I see some of the pyramids, and then the boss joins me, and give me a proper tour. He explain the figures, the traditions, the work and way more - and I do understand surprisingly much, despite it is in Spanish. I get that the crocodile, jaguar, toad, owl and bat are symbols of the underground, and they seems to face west. The humans, frogs and alike faces the east and the rising sun.
Here are still quite some archaeological activity, and their holes are deep! In one corner, they have a ZOO with the local animals. Like the entire area, it is so clean and well maintained. The pyramid-area is a real nice park, with a lot of different and huge trees, many with flowering orchids and different epiphytic cacti. They even have a Estación Jardín Arqueobotánico!
All the alters have fresh marks of recent fires, and at one, some Mayans are actually performing a ritual. Flowers, fire and praying. It is in front of the temple of fertility, if I get the frogs right. The next we see, is the sauna for cleansing. A igloo-like stone structure in the middle of the building provided the smoke or steam.
When I feel I have seen it all, I head on through the narrow, but good road towards northwest. From these 350 metres, the landscape keep raising. The relative flat hillsides are farmed, at first with bananas and corn. It is a real great drive through the green hills, small villages and wild mountain sides. It is tempting to stop at some of the villages, but I am running late.
I pass 1000 metres, and here start to be more settlement. In Colomba, I just have to pull over, and do a walk in the little town. Most buildings are old, but their central church is defiantly new. The town is found on a mountain peak, and all streets from the square leads down. And quite soon: Steep down. I see the market and find some lunch.
As I head on, and gain even more altitude, it turn more into rainforest. Here are some pines at the drier places, but not much. A few times, the road runs on a ridge, offering a great view to both sides - through some trees. Some of the canyons are huge and covered in dense forest.
The mountains get higher, steeper and partly covered in mist. I pass 2000 metres, and I can feel the cold air. I had expected it to be desolated, but it is the other way around. The steep gravel mountainsides are farmed, and mainly with vegetables like cauliflower and onions. Here start to be more and more villages, and they are bigger and more modern - actually cities.
Way up the huge canyons, I can see fields and houses. I had not expected that! But they might have the same climate as we have in Denmark. Snow in some winters, nice and worm in the mid summer. Many fields are dormant, but some are harvesting onions. I reach the large city of San Martin Sacatepéquez, and drive along it for a long time. It seems like they have filled the fertile valley with houses, and now have to farm the mountainsides. I pass 2500 metres, but the farming and city continues.
I get out in the rural for a bit, then I meet Chiquirichapa, a huge city. At first, it look like a proper mountain village with a lot of women, traditional dressed. Then it turns into a modern city, and it is big. It is above 2500 metres, and here are a bit chill. Next city is Aldea Siguila, and here are some real modern shops and a huge mall. Then some almost Roman temples?!
After an almost endless drive through a modern city, I end op in the old part of Quetzaltenango, and even the old part is large. I find my hostel, and head straight out in the town. I have three hours; three days would have been better. Here are some real fine huge old buildings, some real neglected back alleys and everything in-between.
I see the central square, the market, the church and a lot of traditional dressed, real short people. Despite it is only in 2350 metres height, the wind is cold, and just recently, they had frost at night. I do several loops around the central square, before I give in, and try the local chocolate. The beans are grinded when I order, and it is by far the best hot chocolate I ever had! And for €0,50.
I do some larger loops, but then it start to turn dark. The restaurant I was recommended, serving traditional dishes have nothing without meat. I get a huge taco with all kind of shredded vegetables, but need more. All I can find is a breakfast, but that will have to do. Spend the evening deleting half of the 450 photos. And freezing a bit. Takalik Abja, Colomba, Highlands and Quetzaltenango.
6. I spend the night freezing instead of sleeping, but get an early start anyway. I head straight north - if you can call it that, by a twisting mountain road. Here are still a bit misty, but the huge vegetable fields stand clear. I find some rural areas along the road, but also some rather large and modern cities - way bigger and modern than anything in Belize.
I keep seeing some huge bushes, with lots of purple flowers. Else, it is mainly Asteraceae bushes, flowering yellow. I had expected the road to go downwards, but it gain height. That causes for some great, but slightly misty views to the valleys. A lot of the people I see are dresses in traditional Mayan dresses, and some solitary farms are build in adobe clay blocks - a long time ago.
The road turns upwards are get real bad, filled with huge and deep pot-holes. Overtaking is almost impossible, and some of the old trucks are going real slow. I do enjoy driving the VW, which is such a smooth drive, handling logic and easy, have great speakers and it even do 14 km/l, despite I have given it some beating. I actually think it do bad roads better than the Jeeps I just suffered in Belize. It sure do it more quiet.
The road passes 2700 metres, and here start to be a lot of pines on the limestone, but the farmers have fare from given up. I only see a few cacti, and it is probably planted Opuntias. It is a great drive, and it does offer some great views to the higher peaks and lower valleys, but I don't stop. I will hate to be overtaken by an old truck, burring everything in a black cloud. Now and then, I get a "free" stop, when a truck is negotiating some real bad pot-holes.
It is a bit scary to see all the auto-hotels, offering a good price on a three hour stop. You should have more rest, driving a truck! On the other side of the 2800 meter pass, the road turn real good, but overtaking on the serpentine road is still a challenge. I use the GPS to see, if I got a straight part ahead.
The backside; northern side of the mountain range is really pine land. A section of the road is gravel, and the sides are covered in thick layers of dust. Down at 2000 metres, I get to Huehuetenango. It is still a bit before noon, and I figure I find a hotel, and then see the sights around town first. I find my hotel, but not a free place for the car, and I refuse to pay more for parking, than for a bed. When I finally find a central parking, there is another hotel right next to it, and why not?
A bit outside town, I find the Zaculeo ruins. Well, some of them are pretty well restored. Before I see them, I find lunch at a little restaurant, serving me a kind of breakfast. Then I enters the area, and it does not look like the previous. Some of the constructions have been almost completely restored, while others are hills, covered in grass.
I do several tour around the area, and enjoy the perfect summers day; not a cloud in the sky, and a great temperature. These are some of the most recent Mayan constructions, created between 900 and 1524 D.C. I meet two Mayan girls, making photos of them selves, and I give them a hand - and get some myself.
The little museum have some real nice objects, and I try to capture them. Here are even skulls and a complete skeleton, along with some real nice clay-works and tools. I am still baffled about how much these pottery and flint tools look like Danish ones, dating back 3-5000 years.
I head back pass Huehuetenango, which have its share of natural rocks, covering the roads. I eventually reach the little road, heading further north: N9, high up the mountains. I got a viewpoint recommended yesterday by a local, and give it a try.
I stop a few times, and the views are fantastic. Then I pass the viewpoint, to get to the pass. It is in above 3000 meters, and here start to be quite some Agaves. I reach, what I think is the highest point, but fail to see the backside of the mountain. But here is a gas station, and the guys tell me: It is a plateau. I head back. The highest I get, is 3160 metres. Up here the little town of La Capellania is found.
El Mirador Juan Dieguez Olaveri is found up a little road, and it sure offers a fantastic view, although facing the sun. Here are farming all the way to the top, and on the plateau. Guatemalans sure know how to get the most out of their countryside.
I do a long walk, and find some Yucca along with the two species of Agave and some African bulbs. An iconic ruin of a house with the best view ever, marks the place. All the way up here, the rocks are almost marble; ancient coral reef or at least limestone. I see a single dark green lizard and some small sparrows. Several plants are flowering, among them a thistle.
I head back to Huehuetenango, and enjoy the drive back just as much. I get rite of the car, and head the 100 metres into the centre of town. Here are fare from as many old buildings, as I had expected - or they just don't look special. But never the less, it is a nice city, and I wander around for two hours, before it gets dark. The usual sights; church, municipal building, central square, central market and another one along with the main streets.
I make a short brake at a café, and order parsley juice. Somehow, something must have gone wrong in translation, and I get a slice of nougat cheese cake with macaroon fill and topping and a tea latte?! Well, my mother taught me to eat what was put in front of me... I see some more, and find dinner at a local place, right at the square. I sit at second floor, right next to the starlings, making a hellish noise. Mountain road, Zaculeo Ruins, El Mirador Juan Dieguez Olaveri and Huehuetenango. It is time for Diary 5 and the central part.