Quetzaltenango is the commerial center of Southwestern Guatemala. It is the center of the Quiche Maya people and the second largest city of Guatemala. It is a colonial town settled by the Conquistadores and surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (Santa Maria volcano and the active Santiaguito volcano). Quetzaltenango is called Xelaju or simply Xela (shay-la) by almost everyone, including its Quiche Maya citizens who still use this original Quiche name for the site where the Spanish conquistadores built their city.
Quetzaltenago is an important centre for language schools. For this reason, Sue and I decided to move here for the language lessons we so badly needed.
We found both good and bad aspects of the city. It was a small, old city that has grown to become a large commercial center. The streets are narrow, and the infrastructure is inadequate for the population and for the traffic. Air polution is overwhelming, and garbage is discarded anywhere and everywhere.
We have heard that, in the days before cars, horses had the right of way. As a result, today, pedestrians have no right of way - trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles and bicycles rule the roads and even the sidewalks. Drivers seem to intentionally target pedestrians, seeminly to remind us we have no place on or near the road (like when a pitcher "brushes back" a batter that stands too close to the plate). As a result, we would cower on the sidewalk, watching for a gap in the traffic, and race to make it across the street safely - don't make eye contact with the driver (this gives him an opportunity to speed up and aim at you), don't slow down, RUN! Even Sue, who was initially quite intimidated by the fearsome traffic, soon became adept at making snap decisions to sprint her way through the moving obstacle course (dare I say, she soon enjoyed the challenge - don't tell her children...).
All of that said, the city is vibrant and fun. There are two main markets which are full of indigenous vendors selling everything imaginable - we went to the markets for everything from fresh produce to sweaters, to yarn for Sue's knitting. There were many wonderful, ecclectic cafes, restaurants and bars, catering the international students living in the city. The cost of living is unbelievably low. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle, and soon came to love our temporary home.
Enjoy the photos of Quetzatenango (Xela).