Guatemala: hike around Nebaj (Cuchumatan Mountains)

Fri 11, February 2011 1:00 am Extremely Cool, photos, travel , , , , , , , ,

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Ok, I’m jumping the gun a bit with my backlog of posts I should be getting on top of, but here is an update that I really wanted to get up.

A few days ago we got back from a brilliant 3 days up in the Cuchumatan mountains around Nebaj in the province of Quiché, Guatemala.

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Danielle & I headed of with our guide Asinto from Guias Ixil in Nebaj and spent 3 days hiking 40km up, down & around exploring the small Ixil Mayan communities whilst trying to get our heads around Asinto’s explanations in Spanish about the brutal Guatemalan civil war that he fought in.

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The folks up in these parts, especially the women and children, came across as quite reserved/apprehensive at first. We couldn’t work out why, especially after having found that most people in Guatemala are quite open and up for a chat. Later we heard that there had been a few incidents of foreigners “adopting” children (basically stealing them) which ended up with some unfortunate tourists being murdered after picking up one family’s little kid whilst walking through one of the communities.

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Also, I’d say that the civil war has left a lot of the indigenous people up here quite suspicious of strangers.

Most people are subsistence farmers as far as I could tell and fortunately for us we didn’t come across anyone who tried to sell us anything! There are chickens, roosters, turkeys, dogs, cats, pigs and all the baby versions of these running around the place.

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The women by far have the most interesting garb – purple, green and yellow pom-pommed hair braids, huipiles (blouses/dresses) and rebozos (shawls).

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Most of the dads & sons seem to leave in the morning for work in town, or farm, or head out into the forest to log trees and collect wood.

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The first day was some of the best hiking because we ended up walking from a hot sunny day up in to a thick fog on top of a mountain. It was beautiful.

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The second night we stayed with a family and ended up putting on a bit of show to about 20 kids who had gathered around staring at Danielle and I through the kitchen door.
What to do? I showed them how to make fart sounds with their arm pits, and we exchanged different whistling techniques and sound fx. It was one of the best cultural exchanges I have had! 🙂

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There seems to be a rather massive evangelical church presence up here too.
Both nights we tried to buy a beer or 2 and ended up having to go to the edge of each community to find the one family who sold alcohol. It was a little weird, but a lot of fun to be one of the outcasts drinking in the little watering hole.
With so many people living in cramped wooden houses with dirt floors I couldn’t see how it was ok for there to be so many reasonably sized churches built out of concrete/cinder blocks that had hard floors and electricity (to power the “jam session” that was blasted over the PA across the whole town & valley).
I have no idea what the medical facilities are like up there but we saw/met a lot of people with bad coughs and kids that didn’t look too healthy (one family had 3 kids who were all covered in what looked like hives, red eyes and sniffling noses). I felt really sorry for these little guys (especially when one of them nearly poked his eye out whilst trying to climb a tree).
It just seemed that the little money that is up there is kind of going into the wrong places (but i ain’t judgin’!).

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Our time up in the mountains was fantastic and I’d really suggest to anyone who is going near Nebaj to take a few days and go explore!

The Photos

The Route


View Larger Map

GPS track file (GPX)
http://adamteale.server281.com/gps/Hike_CuchumataneMountains.gpx