The following week, Emilio had to go to Cobán on business about a small finca (farm), he owns not far from San Juan de Chamelco in the Alta Verapaz district. I gladly accepted the invitation to accompany him.
The drive from the capital traverses a semi arid region before climbing into densely wooded hills. The views are great.
San Juan de Chamelco is a quiet mountain village gradually becoming invaded by tourists attracted by the scenery, the local caves and rafting on the Rio Sotzil.
This is Emilio's mountain retreat away from the noise and bustle of the city. A wise investment made years ago before the area became popular.
Emilio is a self-made man with an inventive mind and the energy of an entrepreneur. He has built and operated various workshops (talleres) to produce his own inventions in the past. Presently his two shops produce small steam generators at a price competitive with equivalent imported boilers.
Emilio and his friend Jesus are representative of the small ladino middle class struggling for recognition between the land-owning elites and the deprecated Maya indigenous people.
Guatemala is a poor country because this progressive middle class is still too small. The privileged elites and foreign interests that own the land and control trade create few jobs and are consumers of luxury imports rather than local products while the underprivileged indigenos don't have the means and ability to produce wealth.
Cobán is the seat of the regional government. Here, the battle is joined between Conservatives and Liberals with the same desperate extremism that Latin America has inherited from Spain.
Left, sausages being cured over a wood fire in the kitchen a restaurant Emilio knew. Right, the Cobán Cathedral.
I got along famously with Emilio. The next day, knowing my interest for the Maya civilisation, he drove me to the Cakchiquel capital Iximché and fortress Mixco Viejo, respectively 75kms west and 25 kms north of Guatemala City, which I could not have visited by myself.
Municipal government of Tecpan, the closest town to Iximché (6 kms).
People don't have to walk on the sidewalk in Tecpan.
Cakchiquels selling vegetables. Here I sampled "atole" a nourishing drink made from corn whose origin goes back thousands of years, that is still popular in Maya markets.
Below, a Cakchiquel woman and the local church.
In the century that followed the collapse of the Maya civilisation around 900 AD, native Mayan dynasties were replaced by an elite of foreign warriors from the Mexican central highlands. The common people added Toltec gods to their pantheon and northern architectural styles replaced the Mayan.
The Mayan society was fully decadent when Iximché was founded on mount Ratzamut around 1470 to be the fortified capital of the Cakchiquel. The Cakchiquel, the Quiché, the Tzutuhil and the Pokomam were related but independent Mayan nations led by competing dynasties of Mexican origin.
This photo of a model of Iximché shows two of the four large ceremonial plazas as they probably appeared when the Cakchiquel allied themselves with the Spanish invaders to fight their traditional Quiché and Tzutuhil enemies in 1524. The Spanish founded Tecpan to establish a base of military operations and vanquished their Cakchiquel allies when they refused to pay heavy tributes in gold.
Here is Emilio in front of what is left of a large temple.
And here I am in front of another.
One of the better restored ball courts.
Emilio before the previously shown temples and sunken ball court.
This was special! Emilio, who knew this place, guided me along a path in the forest that led to this mound of rubble that is still considered sacred by the local Cakchiquels. We approached respectfully. The woman lit some candles near the top of the mound and the man burnt an offering of incense while he communicated with the spirits.
In my opinion, the mysteries of religion don't concern as much the nature of the Gods, deities, and various spirits that people like to believe in, as they do the structure of the human mind that allows credulity to overcome reason at the expense of the individual's own interests and often, survival!
Some of the Guatemala highlands are semiarid like this but most valleys are blessed with more humidity.
Had it not been for Emilio, I would not have been able to visit these sites which express the last gasps of a great civilisation.
This open air model of Mixco Viejo, (about 25 kms north of Guatemala City), shows how it was built on a mountaintop as a defensive fortress to protect the (foreign) elite that ruled the Pocomam speaking Maya people from the territorial ambitions of the competing (foreign) elites that ruled their Quiché and Cakchiquel speaking Maya neighbours.
A couple of temple platforms and a small sunken ball court in Mixco Viejo.
Here is a better view of the ball court.
Further west, another temple base.
This composite photo shows the steepness of the hills surrounding the fortress.
Finally, one more composite photo showing the most westerly fortifications of Mixco Viejo.
It was time again to leave. I was pleased with my passage here. I had got to know Mariana and her father Emilio and learned something about the Maya . More importantly I had begun to lift the veil over the various levels inequality in Central America. For example between this modest but comfortable home and the lifestyle pictured in the next photo.
This orderly house with the wash out to dry paints an idealised picture of how the majority, if not all, of the indigenous Maya live today. No electricity, no running water, no toilets, no sewers, and no schools.