The conference in Guate was interesting, but one full day in an auditorium watching slides was enough for me.  It was all in Spanish, and I understood some speakers pretty well and others almost not at all.  What it did do was whet my appetite for seeing some Mayan ruins. Sunday I bailed out of the conference and returned to Panajachel, with a little side trip to the ruins at Iximché.  These are excellent ruins in a lovely park-like setting, only a few kilometers off the main highway, so I could do it as a side trip on my way to Pana instead of riding 9 hours to Tikal and 9 hours back.


Iximché was the capital of the Caqchikel Maya empire from 1470 until it was abandoned 1524 after a defeat by the Spanish conquistadors. Because it was so recent, the ruins are exceptionally well preserved, although the Spanish burned the city in 1526 and removed stones to build a church.  Today all we have to look at are stones, not the plaster surface that covered them, and not the colorful paintings.  We have the platforms and foundations on which buildings stood, but not the buildings themselves.  Even so, it is a majestic place.  

A young man guided me around and gave me a lot of information (in Spanish), and after a half hour I felt saturated with information.  Then I wandered around on my own for an hour or two, and finally sat down to get more of a sense of this place and how little we know about the people who built it.  Sitting still, I became aware of how graceful and well-proportioned the structures were.  Even the platforms for buildings that no longer exist are well-proportioned, with stairways in just the right places, which a photo doesn’t capture.  I became more aware that these guys weren’t just piling up rocks, they had some first rate architects and they had the mathematical capability to realize their ideas. Whatever they used in place of what we now call designs and blueprints, it worked.  The structures have subtle angles and ridges to them.

There were quite a few people walking around, but it felt  un-crowded in all that space. The only language I heard was Spanish.  This spot seems to be off the beaten tourist path for Gringos.  


Yet it’s incredibly easy to get to, especially if you have a car (which I didn’t).  For me, the day involved 8 buses.  The bus out of Guate got me to the town of Tecpán along the highway.  Then there was a tuk-tuk ride into the center of Tecpán, and a little bus for just a few kilometers to the ruins.  It was getting back to Pana from there that took 5 buses (it’s a Sunday, after all).  There was the little bus back into Tecpan and the tuk-tuk back out to the highway, where I continued in the same direction I’d been going, and transferred to other buses at Los Encuentros and again at Solola.  


Los Encuentros is an interesting crossroads, with a whole lot of buses constantly going in all directions, blowing their horns, and the conductors yelling their destinations. The conductors stand on the ground hurrying people onto the bus, and then they all seem to make a point of yelling to the driver to go, and then running and jumping onto the moving bus.  Nowhere did I wait more than a few minutes for a bus.  Buses are constantly disgorging crowds of people, who immediately fill up another bus and it takes off impossibly overcrowded, with the conductor muscling his way up and down the jammed aisle, collecting fares and remembering who is going where and who has already paid.  I have never seen a chicken bus, no matter how overcrowded, fail to stop to pick up more people.