Yesterday, a long and difficult hike.  The story begins when Bear invited me on a hike that he’s always wanted to do, an ancient Mayan trade route between the towns of Santiago Atitlan and Chicacao.  After due study of the route on Google Earth, Bear estmated the distance one-way at about 10 miles, with a return trip of about 3 or 4 hours on 3 or 4 buses.  

I asked my hosts, Suzannah and Gitzi, if that road is safe from bandits, and they suggested I ask a guide they know named Miguel Pedro.  I decided the best way to get information from a guide would be to hire him to guide me somewhere.  So I engaged Miguel to take me to Chuitinamit, a Mayan holy site nearby.  He showed up Sunday morning at the shore of the lake by my house in a dugout canoe that he had rented in order to give me the complete dugout canoe experience.  We paddled across the bay and hiked up to Chuitinamit, overlooking the town of Santiago Atitlan across the bay.  

 

Most of the best relics have been stolen and the land is under cultivation.  To my untrained eye the ruins looked more or less like typical farm land, but I was glad to be at that holy site and Miguel was an informative guide.

We saw a couple of petroglyphs.

 

We went up to the top of a pyramid, which to me looked like a hill with corn, coffee, and other crops planted all over it.  An old guy confronted Miguel in Tz’utujil, the local language, challenging his right to be guiding me there.  They had a long conversation in a mixture of Tz’utujil and Spanish.  

Miguel answered a couple of key questions for me about the road to Chicacao.  Yes, the road to Chicacao is safe from robbers.  No, there are no vehicles on that road, so if we walk half way there and it starts pouring rain, we can’t bail out.  In retrospect, there is a third key question I might have asked him: how far is it?  Miguel said he would like to accompany us on the hike, and he would charge us 200 quetzales and pay for his own return transportation.  His interest in going gave me confidence that the hike was not an unreasonable thing to do.

Monday morning at 6:30, Bear and I started off from my house.  After asking for directions a couple of times we were on the road to Chicacao, the ancient Mayan trade route.  I asked everyone we passed how far it was, because I became interested in the vast diversity of answers we got.  Everyone had their own unique idea of how far it was.  The one thing they all had in common was incredulity that we were walking there:  “¿Van caminando?  Es demasiado lejos para caminar!”  (You’re walking?  It’s too far to walk!)   As we ascended the mountains that surround Lake Atitlan, we passed many wood cutters.  Then we crossed a divide and walked down off the central highlands to the coastal plain.  On this part, we saw no one except for a group of kids with dogs (who knows?), and one or two old guys carrying firewood.  Once down on the plain, we passed a couple of small settlements and some big sugar and rubber farms with awful, wretched company housing for the workers.  We reached Chicacao having walked about 17 miles, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, without having encountered any rain.  Here’s what Chicacao looked like as we entered it.

 

There was no time to stop for lunch because we wanted to make it back home while the buses were running.  We rode three buses to San Lucas Toliman. The first bus was a Toyota van with the fuel gauge on empty, the oil pressure warning light shining, people standing bent over because all the seats were full, and three guys hanging out of the open side door.  In San Lucas, Bear and I parted ways and I returned to Santiago Atitlan in the back of a pickup truck with at least 10 or 12 other people. I arrived back home a little after 5:00 PM, with an hour of daylight to spare, in a heavy rain.  

I am really glad to have done that hike – once in my life.  It was kind of a psychological challenge to stick with it.

 

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