Tripping over Los Ruinos

Today’s school activity involved taking a chicken bus to HueHuetenango to see Los Ruinos with Aimee and maestro Mario. Basically the chicken buses are retired US/Canadian school buses and the bus I took to Xela was by far a more ‘luxurious’ Pullman (these are mainly retired Greyhounds).
I was really quite surprised by the low student attendance, but perhaps the ‘2nd class’ 2.5 hour ride swayed some of the people?? No matter, the excursion to HueHue (for short) was a fantastic experience (especially with riding my first chicken bus of duration here in Guatemala). The journey itself was in fact very much similar to the bus transportation in India, including the loud blaring music, crammed rows of people and disco lights. One of the few differences however is the signage on the front of the bus …. In India, the sign might say in English “Mother Mary pray for us”. Here in Guatemala it might say “God is our Saviour and blessing our Way” in Spanish. Also, the driving here is a bit less chaotic, in that they have a tendency to drive on the proper (right) side of the rode .. But the speeds are incredibly excessive (as if the driver has the opportunity to go to the bathroom only at the end of the journey, and can’t stop long enough mid-route to make a pit-stop) — the bus is still moving slightly when the passengers get on, so one has to make a flying leap and hopefully not miss when embarking and disembarking! (I did see one exception to this rule when an old man was paid respect and the bus actually stayed still long enough for him to almost get to his seat). Mothers with children (carried on the females back, papoose style) are not given any consideration, which I found very surprising! The on-board entertainment is quite fascinating — it’s really cool to watch the ‘porter’ in action; this is the guy who squeezes down the aisle to collect the money, shouts out the stops (for example: “Xela, Xela, Xela” — in rapid fire succession, like a machine gun) and climbs outside onto the roof to fetch people’s luggage (usually giant items wrapped in tarps and encased with fishing net to keep it all together) WHILE the bus is careening down the rode, Indiana Jones style all the whilst belching putrid black smoke which wafts in and out of the window at varying intervals. Quite impressive and acrobatic really!

The Ruins of Zaculeu are located in the department (province as we know them) of Huehuetenango –Guatemala’s political centre. The Ruins itself has an interesting museum with Mayan pieces (ceramics, tools, etc) and pre-Hispanic tombs. In 1931 Zaculeu was declared a national monument. The local dialect that is spoken here is of the Mam (one of the principal pre-conquest highland tribes). We spent a good 2-3 hours just wandering around the 2 acre{??} site which consists of several large temples, plazas and a ball court/soccer pitch (for all the children to play soccer on — folklore has it that the Mayan Gods, buried under the Ruins, are pleased and appeased by the sounds of a bouncing ball, so soccer play is encouraged in young male children visiting). The site itself is thought to have been a religious and administrative centre housing the elite, with the bulk of the Mam population living in the scattered mountains surrounding the settlement. Before the Ruins became just that, the settlement was protected on three sides by deep ravines and on the other a series of walls and ditches (some of my factual info comes from Lisa’s gift to me: “The Rough Guide to Guatemala” as I really couldn’t understand what Mario was saying and therefore have no historical knowledge to fill today’s entry!).

Knowing that slaDE is fascinated by Mayan history, architecture and such, I was diligent in taking as many photos as possible, hoping to at least give a grand overview of something which is far larger in grandeur and size than my lowly digital can capture.
It was kind of strange to see both a typical Guatemalan souvenir stand and a snack booth situated right within the grounds, only yards away from the towering yet crumpling Temples …. and also, the price difference between that of a tourist and local was quite extraordinary (but actually typical for most things in Guatemala): $5US for myself, 20 cents for a native countryperson. woW!

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