The second largest town in Guatemala, also call Xela, on the road to the mexican border. A few mayan villages in the area, but large and spread-out suburbs nibbled at the surrounding villages.
From Solola, we managed to get a chicken bus directly to Los Encuentros - there are buses every 15 to 20 mintues leaving Solola on the unique road to Los Encuentros and then going on their unique location, so basically just jump on any bus leaving Solola. At Los Encuentros, we want to wait for a VIP bus to Quetzaltenango because of the 3 to 4 hours ride. But an almost empty chicken bus arrives and we decide to hop on. Bad idea - the chauffeur is CRAZY. After a few stops, the bus is full to bursting, and the chauffeur is passing other buses uphill before bends, forcing the way on road-construction works, passing the queue of buses and cars at red lights, seems to be willing to save his brake fluid before curves, is moaning and bitching all the way.In the middle of the trip, we stoped at a pass and a priest climbed on the bus to deliver a sermon. The prayer more or less said: “Dear Jesus, please bless the driver of this bus, and his passengers. Dear Lord, bless the tires, the brakes, the suspension, the engine, […] and welcome in heaven those who won’t arrive at their destination […]” - and starting playing trompet for 10mn. At this very specific point, already freightened to death by the previous driving, we cried.Arrival at Quetzaltenango, in the market. From there, either 30mn walking, a 30 quetzals taxi or a 1 quetzal bus. We decide to cross the market, which happend to be very wide spread, and hop on a bus to the paque central.
Big city, not a lot of charm, expensive hotels. We arrived late in the morning, visited a few hotels before finding one that was correct and not too expensive. But not expensive has a price: no windows, horrible bathroom and dirty sheets. All this for the ridiculous price of ……. $15 (quite expensive for the country and the quality of the room). We lay down for a minute, go get something to eat and get a drink at a very nice bar, the Balcón del Enríquez, on a terrace of the Pasaje Enriquez, overlooking the central park. Not very enthousiastic about the city, where we initially planned to stay a few days to explore the area. We decide to go to Salcaja in the afternoon, about 30mn from Xela.
Salcaja is supposed to be a very nice classic little town, house of the oldest church in Central America. By bus, it would be fun but it’s already late and would take an hour or two. So we opt for the cab and “source” the market and have a very funny experience !1st cab: 60 quetzals - we try to negotiate the price down, unsuccessfully.
2nd cab: 50 quetzals - negotiation unsuccessfully.
3rd cab: 40 quetzals - starts to look good !
We get back to the first one now that we have a idea of the prices and target for 30 quetzals.
1st cab: 70 quetzals - what ???
2nd cab: 60 quetzals - ???????????
We get back to the 3rd cab and decide to take the 40 quetzals offer.
3rd cab: 50 quetzals - …….. (read: speechless).We get in and drive for about 30mn to Salcaja. The cab drops us off in front of the church and the market. Hmm. Doesn’t look centuries old ….. We ask an old woman if this is the famous church of Salcaja, and she tells us that the church we are looking for is 3 blocks up. We walk and find two things: first, the aforementioned church, and second, nothing spectacular about it ! We walk back to the market, stoping by a high school basketball game. The market is wide, and authentic. Meat, vegatables, flowers, various beauty items, houswares, …. We wander around for an hour, only buy an umbrella for the rain which started pouring, and head back to Quetzaltenango. Finding a bus was quite difficult - not that there were no buses, but no buses to Quetzaltenango ! It’s pouring, we are soaked, the bus is slow, and, for the first time, a little sick ….
We are not really pleased by what we’ve seen so far in and around Xela. We don’t find a lot of charm to Quetzaltenango, and Salcaja, which is supposed to be one of the main things to see in the area, is a little disappointing, … So in the evening, we decide to leave the next morning to Coban and visit Semuc Champey, its park in the jungle and its natural rivers and pools. The road is long, and we have heard of a new route by the north. We ask at a few hotels, but nobody really knows about it and how to do. Finally, at the Black Cat guest house, we learn that a travel agency, Adrenaline Tours in the Pasaje Enrique, offers a shuttle to Coban, and it leaves at 7am the next morning. The other possibility is to do it by ourselves, but we would have to change buses 3 or 4 times, and probably spend a night on the way - not tempting at this point. Problem: it’s 9pm now, and the agency is closed. We decide to try our luck the next morning and catch the shuttle on its way, and if we don’t, we’ll take the (3 or four) chicken buses !
Where to next: Coban