I mentioned earlier that there are two Guatemala's, the gritty urban Guatemala that has grown up around the main Interamerican arteries, and the beautiful and relaxed Guatemala that is the heart of the country. As soon as we left the main highway to head east from Huehuetenango the difference was immediately obvious. If you wanted to take a picture you can just stop the bike, get off and walk over to the edge of the road and take your picture with little risk of obstructing any traffic. The landscpe was breathtaking in its simplicity.

We rode through rolling hills and verdant valleys dotted with simple farmhouses. The road was beautifully paved on its western stretches, but we knew form our visit in 2009 that the eastern portion had been wiped out by a massive earthquake in, I think 2004, and because of recent seismic activity it had now become even more unstable. During that visit we had only to ask locals if the bus was going from Coban to Huehue. We figured if the little combis could make it we could. The road had tumbled some 1000 meters to the valley floor below. After some work with bulldozers, people just continued riding over the debris pile until it was level enough to drive on. It was getting to the bottom that was the tricky part.
y part
Even in the handful of towns and villages that we passed through almost no home was without the ubiquitous milpa--the cornfeilds that are the life blood of the indigenous people. In the Mayan culture corn is elevated to the level of the sacred, and it is used for every manner of food and drink imaginable.

The milpa is so important to the survival of the family that it is everyone's responsibility to nurture it and make it grow. If you click on the image above, you will see just how difficult the work really is.

One of the things I found refreshing about traveling through this part of the country is, although the paved road was relatively new and of excellent condition, when it came to the perfectly useful and substantial stone bridges from the days when this was just a graded dirt road the traffic would slow to accomodate the fact that it was only one lane wide. It was neither too difficult or too much of an inconvenience for people to exercise a little courtesy and cross the bridge one at a time. This was something also true in towns. Rather than put up stop signs at small intersections they put up signs that said uno y uno. What a concept--one at a time.

As you begin to descend from the higher elevations to the valley just above Chichicastenango the panoramas are awe inspiring.
Our pleasant little hotel in Chichicastenango was on the street above one of the town's most notable landmarks el Arco. The road coming in to town passed below the arch and Karen is seen above going down from the top of the arch to the main road.

Some of the streets were so steep they reminded us of Sarganaga--a stretch of teacherous cobbled road that we stayed on in La Paz, Bolivia. Turning in and out of the parking had more than once been Karen's downfall.

The best reason to come to Chichi though is to experience one of the twice weekly market days. It is an explosion of color, and we arived just in time for Thursday's market.

This is not merely a show put on for tourists though, and local women come to haggle over everything, especially these massive skeins of brightly colored yarn that is used on their hand embroidered work.

Locals come and go on transportation that is as ubiquitous as their milpas. They are retired rural school buses from the United States. Brightly colored and ornamented, they are commonly refered to here by tourists as Chicken Buses.

I don't know why they call them that.

We had the benefit of arriving on a religious feast day, and we were treated to processions by local cofradias--fraternities of men from different neighborhoods that led small groups to the local church playing simple instruments and burning sweet copal incense along the way.

As bustling as the crowd becomes, the local women seem always to be cognizant of their surroundings and immediately bow their heads or avert their eyes when they see a camera come out.

The men of the cofradias, while reserved, seem a bit less reticent about being photographed. In the photo above they carry by hand images of their group's patron saints on heavy carved "floats".

Women sell flowers and candles on the church steps above which are layed and burnt in offering at the church door below.

As the day wears on tour buses begin to arrive from Panajachel and Antigua and the initial asking prices become rediculously high--as much as 5 and 6 hundred percent over what they would actually take. If you bite, fine, but if not they ask what you want to pay. If you offer half of what they were asking they act really insulted. Offering them 20% of what they were asking will get them bargaining in earnest. We bought four tzuls--they are the embroidered headwear worn by the men with tassles at the corners. They of course were of varying quality, as many of those being sold are quite old. The older ones are most often the best quality. Asking prices were anywhere form 400 to 1500 quetzals. The first cost us 400 the next was 260 and the third and fourth we bought from the same man for 190 and 160. We watched people pay as much as 1000.

Even the sun joined in on the riot of color. I couldn't have made this rainbow lens flare again if I tried.

With the town becoming inundated with tour bus types, we escaped to the garden of Chichi's nicest hotel for an espresso. In the afternoon its feathered denizens have their cage doors opened and parrots and macaws compete for the attention of tourists.

Everyone gets in on the act. At the edge of town where the tour buses discharge their passengers, tuk-tuks festooned with displays of balloons line up in waiting for the next wave of shoppers.