Saturday, February 10, 2007


In Coban we hooked up with a sustainable development organization called Proyecto Eco-Quetzal, which is trying to use eco-tourism as an incentive for families not to turn the prime habitat of the resplendent quetzal, Guatemala's national bird (and namesake of its currency), into farmland. We traveled a few hours over increasingly bumpy and windy roads, then hiked the last 2 hours to the tiny "village" of Chicacnab.

The family we stayed with are basically subsistence farming, with a little extra income from hosting visitors a few times a year and a few cows that they raise to sell. There is no electricity in the area, and the mother spends what seemed to us like a huge part of the day grinding corn by hand to make tortillas.

There were three teenagers who were our main companions and guides for our 2-night stay. The boys were huge soccer fans. They jumped on the newspaper we brought with us and devoured the sports news. They also got us to play soccer with them -- but even 3 against 2 (with their sister as our goalie) they kicked our butts. Queq'chi is the native language in this area, so we were all speaking Spanish as our second language. Matt had fun trying to learn a little Queq'chi and teaching the kids a little English, including useful phrases like "gimme five."

We didn't see any quetzals, but there was amazing scenery nonetheless: wide open vistas of mountainous farmland and patches of dense, lush cloud forest full of orchids and bromeliads. Plus the stars at night were amazing.