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Published: June 27th 2013
I was gasping for air and my head was pounding. At over 3000 meters, the air was pretty thin. I took it one step at a time, taking a break every 5-10 minutes. It was the only way to make it to the top in one piece. By the time I got to the top of the mountain, at 3750m (12,300 ft), my breathing had slowed a little but my heart was still beating fast and my head felt heavy. I was not in the best shape, which didn't help, but it was the altitude that was more exhausting than anything. Standing at the peak of the mountain, called La Torre, I was at the highest non-volcanic peak in Central America (Volcano Tajamulco in Guatemala is at 4,200m). Hours before I had left the town of Todos Santos at 6.30am with my guide, Rigoberto. He was recommended to me by the 2 Israeli guys I had met in Nebaj, who had done the same hike as me a week before.
Todos Santos (2400m, or 7800ft) is an isolated town in the western highlands of Guatemala. It is difficult to get to, and took 3 buses from Nebaj The scenery on
the drive there was breathtaking, as the bus crawled up endless switchbacks. By the time we were near Todos Santos, there was a giant wall of fog to the left. You couldn't see more than 100 feet in any direction. It was straight out of a horror movie. Although I had of course experienced fog before, I had never seen anything quite like this. Todos Santos is an intensely traditional town, and Spanish is the second language here, after Mam. All the men wear an interesting traje, which consists of a blue striped shirt, red pants with white stripes, and a straw hat with a blue band around it. In addition, their shirts have intricate embroidery on the collar. This is the standard uniform of local men, and they all wear it everyday. Although I had seen more intricate clothing in other towns, this was the only town where the men all dressed exactly the same. It was fascinating, but also felt like the Twilight Zone a little bit. Todos Santos definitely met the stare test. In fact, I don't think I had ever been stared at so much. My hiking guide said the town was touristy, but I saw
no tourists and the amount I got stared at went againt his claims. At an internet cafe, a young boy came up to me and stared at me for maybe half a minute before running away. Although I am used to the stares, the feel of the town was inhospitable. Even the staff at 2 local hotels were unfriendly and unwelcoming.
But as I was saying, I was on my hike with Rigoberto, at La Torre. After a brief rest, we continued on. The next few hours of hiking was all flat, a welcome relief from the steep ascent earlier. We passed through a desolate landscape, dotted with occasional trees. In these first hours, we saw no one else save for one man herding his sheep. We were truly in the middle of nowhere. We came upon a small lagoon, where we took another rest. In the distance I could see a large patch of dirt on a hillside. Rigoberto informed me that the locals were prepping the land to grow potatoes, the only thing that can grow at this high altitude. These farmers sell most of their potato crop in exchange for corn, which grows only at lower
In Todos Santos
This is what the fog looked like on the drive there, it was nuts. I took this shot from my hotel room.
altitudes. I was struck by the immense beauty of the area, but also by its desolation. Rigoberto and I talked for much of the hike, even though I was often too out of breath to do so. We were still hiking at around 12,000 ft for most of the day. He told me about his life story, including his stints as a tourist guide in various parts of Guatemala. I also soon knew more than I ever thought I would about his love life, including the time he had a Canadian girlfriend while living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second biggest city. It was interesting to hear about his experiences and the clash of cultures he experienced. His girlfriend had even met his parents, who lived in Todos Santos and spoke little Spanish and no English (Mam is the local Mayan language here). He was fascinating to talk to and I appreciated his candor.
After passing the small lagoon, we hiked to the area called The Devil's Plains, so named because all of the white rocks are speckled with dirt, giving the landscape an eerie feel. We stopped for lunch, even though all I had was some bread and crackers for
¨Downtown¨ Todos Santos
us. I had put the cold cuts and cheese for sanwiches in the hotel refrigerator, but at the early hour that I left the kitchen was locked and I had no way to get in. Needless to say that only eating carbs on a hike like this did not make it any easier. After lunch we began a slow ascent to the town of Tuicoyg. The lower we got the more vegetation we saw. After coming over one ridge the town finally came into view. Tuicoyg has 300 inhabitants, quite a bit considering that it is a 2 hour hike up from Todos Santos and there is only dirt road access. The locals all stared at me, wide-eyed, as did the children who were just getting out of school. After passing through the town, we began the steep descent back to Todos Santos. In a mere 90 minutes, we descended 1000m (3,300 ft) along a rocky path. I was pretty exhausted by this point, which can make descending more dangerous. I slid a few times, but luckily did not fall. By the time we got back to Todos Santos, we had hiked for almost 8 hours. An honest day's work
La Torre in the morning. Volcanoes Santa Maria and Tajamulco in the distance. They are about 6 hours away by car to give a sense of distance.
That night was the last game of the NBA Finals. Although I really wanted to see it, I knew it would be tough to find a place to watch it in this isolated town. Sure enough, everything shut down by 8pm, but I was also almost too worn out to care. This was my 3rd hike in 4 days, and my body knew it. After some much needed sleep, I took a bus in the morning to head to Quetzaltenango, or Xela. Before getting on the bus I ran into a guy I had met at the hostel in Nebaj. It turns out he had done the 3 day hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos, and was heading to Xela as well. I arrived in Xela later that afternoon. Xela is Guatemala´s second biggest city, but not a touristy one. It has some beautiful old architecture and I appreciated it for what it is: a cool, regular city. The hostel I was staying at also had nice views of the city from it´s third story terrace.
At night I wanted to go out for a drink. A guy from my hostel originally said he would come with
me, but later changed his mind. I decided to go out anyways, and went to the main strip of bars. I went to a bar called ¨Dos Tejanos¨ (2 Texans), which was, you guessed it, started by 2 guys from Texas. I sat at the bar and soon made friends with 2 Guatemalan guys and a Mexican guy who were sitting there. As we talked they told me stories about their respective home countries. The Mexican guy had lived in the US at one point. I was looking for opportunities to interact with more locals, and this was my chance. I learned from them about Guatemala´s triumphs and its struggles, with many laughs in between. The two Guatemalan guys offered to go with me to a nearby hot springs the next morning. At that moment I said yes, and got their number. The next morning though, I thought it may be a little suspect and decided against it. It probably would have been OK, but given the long week and the fact I had to leave Xela by the early afternoon, I figured I would run out of time anyway.
From here it´s off to Antigua, then 8 hours
north up to the beautiful turqouise pools of Semuc Champey.
Tot: 2.714s; Tpl: 0.066s; cc: 10; qc: 50; dbt: 0.041s; 2; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb