It has been awhile since I took a field trip. Just the word brings reminiscences of piling on a bus with a packed lunch and going to a museum or park. I was able to take a different field trip this past Monday. I biked with my professor Alberto and his other student through the pueblos around Xela.
Let me begin with what went wrong on the trip. Or more exactly who went wrong. The other student who came along has always been a bit odd. The first time we brought beer to drink during a movie, she exclaimed, “that looks like piss.” It was just your normal beer. She also runs outside screaming any time there are goats in the street to buy milk. This promptly earned her the nick-name “the goat girl” in our small group of friends (she will be referred to as such for the rest of this post). But I decided to turn the page and start fresh for our field trip.
Up the first big hill, she fell behind a bit and seemed a little bit perturbed by the cars on the street. But riding in Xela takes some getting used to. After the second big hill heading out of town, Alberto and I got to the top and waited. Goat girl was hyperventilating and crying by the time she made it to the top. She claimed that the fumes of the cars had given her asthma instantaneously. This was the first of many crying episodes. For better or worse, we convinced her to go on with the rest of the trip. She claimed her gears weren’t working correctly. I think she may have not known how to use her bike. But at every small hill, she would do one of two things. One: get off her bike and walk and cry it to the top of the hill. Two: yell “I hate this f**king bike” on the top of her lungs. Upon doing so, the tranquil campesinos who were tending to their field by hand would all turn assuming someone had been hit by a car or was being attacked.
Goat girl decided in the second town that she wanted to go home. Alberto, our professor explained that there was no direct bus to Xela so we would need to ride to the next town to catch the bus back. He also explained that he couldn’t let a student go because it was his responsibility and he risked being fired if he did. Goat girl looked at me after this and stated “I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that I am a hostage right now.” But, we just ignored her for the majority of the trip and enjoyed all the places we went. The next day, Alberto and I were discussing goat girl. We both came to the word “berrinche” which means tantrum. Now to the successful part of the trip.
The first pueblo we visited was called Olintepeque. It was a small pueblo with the traditional 300 year old church overlooking a plaza. But the town has historical significance as well. It was the site of the second battle (or massacre) between the Mayans and Spanish. 300 Spaniards killed more than 5000 Mayan warriors in a day. The small river that runs through the town was renamed in Quiche (a Mayan language) that I don’t remember “the River that Runs below the Blood.”
We rode through the countryside to the next town in our route. We wound through small towns and fields of corn. The weather was clear and we got views of the mountains and volcanoes that surround Xela. After about 45 minutes of leisurely riding, we got into the town of San Andreas Xecul.
San Andreas Xecul is interesting for two reasons. First, it has a church painted in brilliant colors. The church was built over 300 years ago, but the town decided to paint it in the 80s. It overlooks a plaza that was filled with school children playing soccer with a ball much too small. We then walked the steep hill to get a view over the town.
Each town in this region of Guatemala is known for a certain product. One town produces and sells potatoes, another fruit, another wool, another blankets, another traditional clothing. San Andreas Xecul is the town where they dye cotton to be used to make clothing. Families dye cotton and then put the cotton on the roofs to dry. When you look over the city, you see the brilliantly colored church. And then, dotted around the roofs of the city there will be a violet roof, a red roof, an orange roof, or a blue roof. This spaced out dotting of brilliant color was impossible to capture in a single photo, but above is my best attempt.
We rode through more countryside before getting to our final pueblo of the trip. Salcaja had several points of interest. First, it has the oldest church in central America. The Spanish invaded in 1524. The church was completed in 1525. It is open for one mass a week at 6 am on Sunday. But the façade from the outside was enough for me. It is incredible how much older everything is here than in America.
As we were looking at the church, my professor told me that this town was also known for a sangria like drink that is made from fermented fruits. It has been made by the same family in this town for generations. I expressed interest and my professor promptly took me to the equivalent of a Guatemalan speakeasy. There was no sign, just a door. My professor knocked, I was let in, I tried a glass of the sangria, bought a bottle, and left. It has a pretty strong odor, but the taste is good and its not a sweet as a lot of fruit drinks.
We biked to the other side of town where they take they dyed cotton yarn from San Andreas and stretch it out to put designs on it. I figured we would look in to a shop where they were doing this. Rather, it’s a field where each artisan stretches out the cloth over 50 meters. They separate it and then dye it with designs. There are no instructions, rather years of working with the cloth to come out with a perfect design of flowers or animals or design. We watched this for a while and then hopped on the bus back to Xela. It was, minus goat girl, a successful return into field trips.