This past week, Julia and I continued studying Spanish and went on more excursions.
Tuesday, we visited the nearby town of Salcajá. This town was originally built by the Spanish in between two Mayan cities that they wanted to control, one of which was Quetzaltenango. The church was built using volcanic rock, with very thick walls to prevent earthquake damage. Sadly, they decided that this church would be only for the Spanish, not for the Mayan slaves. Because of this, the church is not decorated to teach about God, like the church in San Andre Xecul was.
Today, Salcajá is known for its large market, where everything from fruit to clothes to salted fish is sold. There is a particular emphasis on colored thread for weaving and the traditional Mayan clothing, or trajes. The history of the traje is extremely complex. While considered traditional, they were not worn prior to the Spanish conquest, when the Spanish divided up the Mayans amongst themselves and needed a way to tell the groups apart. Today, each community has a specific design or color scheme. Nevertheless, these designs and the traje themselves have been absorbed into the indigenous identity here and are viewed as a source of pride.
Another interesting aspect of Saljacá is its relationship to the United States. Nearly every family there has a relative in the United States, and this connection has become an important part of the economy. Several of the businesses there have names such as Texas or New York, referring to the places where the owner’s relative lives.
On Thursday, we went to a sauna, where the steam comes from volcanic veins underground. This region is full of volcanic activity. In addition to Santa Maria, the mountains are full of extremely hot veins that release steam or hot water. The sauna was located in a retreat, Las Cumbres, which was very tranquil and offered a lovely view of the surrounding mountains.
For our longer excursion on Saturday, Nora and Rolando, the directors, brought us to Las Fuentes Georginas, or Georgina Hot Springs, which are widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. The warm water from the volcanoes flows into pools in the middle of the cloud forest. The constant moisture results in luscious green mountains that are impossible to capture on camera – for me at least.
The Gorgeous Cloud Forest
The sulfur in the water, as well as its warmth, makes it a natural remedy for illnesses from rheumatism to parasites. This same sulfur acts as a natural fertilizer for the vegetable farms in the surrounding pueblos, such as Zunil and Almolonga. The ability of the farmers to work on such steep mountains is extremely impressive. The land is very fertile and allows for four harvests a year.
View from the Ride Up
As you have probably guessed, I find the views in Guatemala absolutely gorgeous: the grandeur of the mountains, the pueblos scattered about, and the painstakingly cultivated mountainsides. Here are some more pictures from the ride to Las Fuentes Georginas in case you are not convinced yet.