Technicolor Cemetery and Tajumulco

As usual, I am behind on my blog post, so there is a lot of catching up.  Let us begin in the cemetery.

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Rental properties

The cemetery of Xela occupies a massive part of the older part of the city.  I went there with some students and professors as a field trip this past Wednesday.  I think the best way to describe it is just by the geography of the cemetery.  The inside of the wall that surrounds the cemetery is built of small tombs stacked on top of each other.  They are stacked 4 high and run more or less the entire perimeter of the cemetery.  These are owned by the city and rented monthly by the family of the deceased.  If you fall behind on payments, your loved one is removed and burned in a common pit to open up room for the next tenant.

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High end real estate

This “fence” surrounds the proper part of the cemetery.  This is where the upper class bury their dead.  You buy a plot of land, maybe 20’ by 10’, and built a monument on it to hold you and all your direct relatives.  This is pretty expensive real estate and sells regularly for more than the price of a house.  Many of the monuments are from when the cemetery was founded in the 1800s.  The tombs have marble and iron sculpted in Italy.  However, recently, thieves have begun knocking off heads, arms, or wings of angels and selling them.  It is a bit ominous to walk through a cemetery where all the angels are decapitated.

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Free for all

It took us probably 45 minutes to walk out of ritzy cemetery real estate to the more economical option.  In a field the size of the proper cemetery is the de facto cemetery.  This is for the lower classes.  It is an absolute free for all.  The is no cost or even registration.  And there are no squatter’s rights.  If you don’t keep the tomb of your relative isn’t apparent, someone could very well bury their newly deceased relative over the top.  Concrete tombs have grown in popularity for this reason.  In addition, Guatemalans, it seems, are very attune to the idea of multi-use space.  This part of the cemetery also functions as a dump, and, thus a refuge for stray dogs, as well as a pasture for goats and horses.  We walked back through the main part of the cemetery and got to the school just before we got our daily rain shower.

I finished off the school week and got to bed early for an early morning Saturday and a long weekend.  My alarm went off at 3:30 am, I got up begrudgingly, and rode my bike with my backpack to Quetzaltrekkers.  Quetzaltrekkers is a volunteer organization that lead backpacking trips to raise money for a local school.  Randomly, I was planning on volunteering for Quetzaltrekkers, but opted out to run the Grand Canyon.  I guess two years later, I ended up here anyways.

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The long road to Tajumulco

15 of us and 4 guides hopped into the back of a box truck and got taken to the Minerva market to catch the bus.  It was 3 hours of chicken buses and a quick stop for breakfast before we got to the trailhead of Tajumulco.  It is the highest peak in central America at 4220 meters (which is 13,000 something feet).  The hike was steep and everyone was definitely feeling the altitude.  In addition, there is no water on the mountain, so I hiked up 8 liters of water as well.  We got into camp and I was dizzy and a bit nauseous.  I drank a lot of water, ate lunch, and took a 3 hour nap as it rained.  When I got up, I was feeling a lot better.  We hung out, drank some Old Friend whiskey, and waited for dinner.  After a dinner of a lot of pesto and pasta, everyone went to bed at 9 to be up to summit at 4.

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Bundled up and waiting

We got up and began to pile on the layers to head to the summit.  It was a steep hour from the camp below the summit.  Colors began to paint the sky as we moved into the fog the enshrouded the summit.  The top was incredibly windy and freezing cold.  We waited and hoped that the clouds would break in time for sunrise.  Almost as if on cue, as the sun came over the distant horizon, the clouds cleared and one of the guides put on the Lion King soundtrack with some portable speakers.  The view was incredible.  A friend who did it before explained that on Tajumulco, you aren’t just above the clouds.  You are a mountain above the clouds.  For the 15 minutes of relatively clear skies we took pictures, shared a full beer we found on the summit, and enjoyed the view.  The clouds moved in again and we were all pretty frozen when we descended down to base camp.

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Clear view to Mexico

After hot coffee and oatmeal, we packed an headed down.  It was a quick couple hour hike down and then an amazing lunch in a comedor.  It began to rain before we began a pretty miserable 3 hour ride on a chicken bus back to Xela.  I had been debating whether or not I was going to do Tajumulco.  I couldn’t have had better luck.  The group was great, the guides were competent, and the weather was perfect.  Other than the 15 minutes we were on the summit, the entire mountain was covered in cloud the rest of the day.

I got back to Xela, took a much needed shower, and headed to an interent café before mass.  I went to the 7 o’clock mass at the cathedral.  This is my last few days in Xela.  I have gotten to know the language, culture, and city like few places I have been before.  I am looking forward to returning at some point in time, but I am ready to be home, both to Indiana but more importantly to Kelsi.

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