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After our rollercoasting backroad experience out of Lago Atitlan, we finally reached the busy hubub of Quetzaltenango. Cupped in a ring of particularly rugged mountains and spiked with active volcanoes, Xela, as it’s known, is Guatemala’s second biggest city. Thankfully it’s considerably more compact than the endless sprawl of the capital, and likewise, it’s also a world away from the prestine, homogenised finish of colonial Antigua.
So a good balance then, and a well-timed spot to rest up for a day and explore.
Xela street scene. Chewing the cud outside the local barbers, el Bendicion de Dios. With a name like that - God’s Blessing - you should end up a pretty sharp cut.
Busy styling up the residents of Xela late into the evening.
The main square is a little grand and sombre. A wander round backstreets revealed beautiful old facades. This one sport signs to Spanish schools and social projects, for which Xela is well known in backpacker and ex-pat circles.
Perfect bike-propping backdrops too...
I have a thing about taking photos of shop fronts and doorways, especially when they're painted in colours like these.
Belizian greasy spoon cafe.
Guns are omnipresent in Guatemala. Even the Coca Cola delivery vans have a guard riding shotgun on the roof.
Like San Christobal de las Casas, parts of Xela have something of an anarchic flavour.
Beware the Chicken Bus, who weave their way wildly round tight city streets. With each gun of the throttle, a magician's like cloud of black smoke enshrouds all those around. I don’t think even the dilapitated, overloaded trucks of India can match these old US school buses for pollution.
The Mayan invented chocolate. This stuff was particularly dark, sweet and rich – perfect for a warming mug of hot chocolate up at 2300m.
Bedding down for the night in my little Tarptent is less and less appealing as the rainy season crescendos. Especially when $6 promises you a warm dorm bed in a guesthouse like this...
It’s called Casa Renaissance, and run by a particularly chilled Dutchman. That’s his ex-streetdog Poopy lounging in the morning sun.
More murals, in the nearby settlement of Conception Chiquichapa. I’m not quite sure what the Mayan girl slaying a dragon refers to...
Note laptop, complete with Windows logo.
On the outskirts of town we came across a vast, US-style mall, housing this bike shop. With its $200 saddles, it was a world away from the hole-in-the-wall village equivalent. Like much of Latin America, Guatemala is a land of economic polarities.
Afternoon rain on its way in. Time to grab those waterproofs again...
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Nice digs: Casa Renaissance, 45Q for a dorm bed with healthy breakfast/wifi/massive flatscreen for movies. 9a Calle 11-26 Zona 1, near Central Park.