search.noResults

search.searching

dataCollection.invalidEmail
note.createNoteMessage

search.noResults

search.searching

orderForm.title

orderForm.productCode
orderForm.description
orderForm.quantity
orderForm.itemPrice
orderForm.price
orderForm.totalPrice
orderForm.deliveryDetails.billingAddress
orderForm.deliveryDetails.deliveryAddress
orderForm.noItems
GUATEMALA


Western Highlands is laid out beneath us like a map. Raphael points out Antigua, a romantic colonial city of tumbledown cathedrals and cobblestone lanes, glittering below us; and, behind a cluster of peaks, the half-moon of the freshwater Lake Atitlán. There are neat patchworks of coffee plantations, too; miles of misty ridges and valleys, dotted with indigenous villages; and then, at the edge of all this, the Pacific Ocean, stretching to meet the sky. “It’s even better from the top,” Raphael says, nodding to the final, near-vertical slope. When we finally reach the summit — a heady 13,000ſt


high — and circumnavigate Acatenango’s wide caldera, we can see our place at the centre of a corridor of volcanoes. They stretch away from us, ancient and indifferent, in each direction. “They all have stories, they all have characters,” Raphael says, rapturously. On one side, Fuego (the Spanish word for ‘fire’) puffs away, blowing ash clouds into the morning blue like a committed pipe smoker. On the other is the fearsome isosceles of Agua (‘water’). In the middle, atop Acatenango, there’s us: tiny mortals who’ve dared to climb onto the shoulders of a titan, caught between the elements.


The house of masks The spectacular geography of Guatemala’s Western Highlands is matched by its cultural importance. Under Spanish rule, with little to plunder, this remote, mountainous region remained a backwater, and the traditions of the Maya were able to flourish — eventually binding with those of the Catholic church. Today, the area is considered a stronghold of indigenous culture. “You see, we have two types of Maya culture — that in


the stones, in archaeological sites like Tikal or Uxactún in the Petén lowlands to the north. And then there’s this: living culture,” Rambo says in a reverential whisper, as a troupe of costumed dancers fill the courtyard. We’ve come to the house of Diego Ignacio, a renowned


mask carver and shaman in the market town of Chichicastenango. Diego died four years ago, leaving his widow, Juanita, and their adult children to continue the family business in his name, which includes performing cultural dances. Rambo is a close family friend; he’d saved Diego’s life during the civil war, and is godfather to many of the children playing at our feet. “I’ve spent many nights in this house. Many memories,” Rambo says sadly. The Dance of the Deer begins. Decked out in brocaded finery and painted animal masks, five dancers hop


and weave between each other. The music is reedy and rhythmic; to one side, men beat drums, shake maracas and play the mournful, oboe-like chirimía. “This is traditionally performed on 21 December to celebrate the winter solstice and the feast day of Saint Thomas. The Highlands have so many traditions you just don’t see in the cities,” Rambo says. When the dancers have bowed and our applause has


finished, Diego’s son, Miguel, takes us on a tour of the property. First, there’s the 200-year-old temazcal, a type of sauna used to treat spiritual and physical ailments through massage and communion with ancestral spirits. Inside the low, brick dome there’s fragrant pine on the floor and lingering heat from a recent ceremony. Here, Miguel blesses me with rose water and “brushes negativity” from my head and shoulders with a garland of herbs. Next is the morería (mask workshop). The walls


and ceiling are lined with carved lions’ heads, large- beaked birds, gargoyle faces and other, indeterminable creatures — all sold to passing travellers or hired out for local ceremonies. A large framed photo of Diego rests on an altar among Catholic Madonnas, Maya carvings and a Stetson-wearing effigy of the local trickster spirit Maximón. “Diego would be sitting there, with his leather apron, whittling masks,” Rambo says, his mind caught in an eddy of the past. For a country still healing from war, Guatemala is


surprisingly attached to grenade-like fireworks and crackers that sound like rifle fire. The rockets start going off at first light. When Rambo and Raphael meet me at breakfast, they seem thrilled to have had their sleep interrupted: “This means the Maya brotherhoods are honouring a feast day,” Rambo says. “Hopefully we’ll catch a parade.” We’ve arrived in Chichicastenango in the run-up to All


Souls’ Day (2 November), a celebration more commonly known here as the Day of the Dead. Crowds are moving towards the cemetery with candy-coloured paint and bundles of golden marigolds to spruce up the family plot. Moving against them is a long procession of costumed Maya holymen carrying instruments, fireworks and feathered floats bearing Catholic icons. Adding to the mayhem: it’s also market day. The cobbled streets are a riot of colour and movement, packed with makeshiſt stalls hawking fruit, antiques and the hand-stitched huipil blouses favoured by indigenous women.


FROM TOP: The mask workshop of Diego Ignacio’s family, Chichicastenango; Juanita, shaman Diego Ignacio’s wife, lights a blessing bonfire atop the sacred hill of Pascual Abaj, Chichicastenango


For a country still healing from war, Guatemala is surprisingly attached to grenade-like fireworks and crackers that sound like rifle fire. The rockets (bombas) start going off at first light. When Rambo and Raphael meet me at breakfast, they seem thrilled to have had their sleep interrupted


76 nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123  |  Page 124  |  Page 125  |  Page 126  |  Page 127  |  Page 128  |  Page 129  |  Page 130  |  Page 131  |  Page 132  |  Page 133  |  Page 134  |  Page 135  |  Page 136  |  Page 137  |  Page 138  |  Page 139  |  Page 140  |  Page 141  |  Page 142  |  Page 143  |  Page 144  |  Page 145  |  Page 146  |  Page 147  |  Page 148  |  Page 149  |  Page 150  |  Page 151  |  Page 152  |  Page 153  |  Page 154  |  Page 155  |  Page 156  |  Page 157  |  Page 158  |  Page 159  |  Page 160  |  Page 161  |  Page 162  |  Page 163  |  Page 164