The Best Thing Since…

I took my time getting to the bus for Todos Santos. I ended up being the first person on the bus anyway, and sat there for a good 20 minutes waiting for other passengers.

While I was sitting there, the only person on the bus, a vendor poked his head through the door. “Chocos? Chocos con manilla?*” He asked, holding up a chocolate-covered banana adorned with a sprinkling of peanuts.

“Oooh!” I exclaimed, “Chocobananos!”

My students in San Mateo are pretty much addicted to chocobananos. Basically, the treat consists of a banana on a stick, dipped in chocolate and frozen. The ‘bananos in San Mateo are probably dipped in some sort of sugary goo colored brown to look like chocolate (because there is no real chocolate in San Mateo) and are a little freezer-burned, but are delicious nonetheless.

I asked the vendor how much his Chocos were going for. 2 Quetzales. Frantically digging in my pocket for what little sencillo (small coin) I had after visiting the ATM, I came up with 1 Quetzal and 10 centavos.

Holding up my pathetic offering, I gave the poor vendor my most sorry-gringa expression. “Solo tengo uno-diez,” I moaned, pouting slightly.

He stared at me for about 30 seconds, finally saying “Bueno, voy a dejar uno de estos aquí en la silla,” and took one of the Chocos out of his cooler and stuck it in a plastic baggie, leaving it on the seat in front of me.

“De veras?!” Really?! I asked, and held out my coins once more. With one last backwards look, the vendor took my coin and exited the bus, moving on to a more popular route on which he could offer his sweets.

This Chocobanano was amazing. I swear. It had a real chocolate coating that tasted like Dove compared to the Chocos in San Mateo. The peanuts were a nice touch that I had never seen before. And, the banana was slightly over-ripe, making it not quite tooth-breakingly hard when frozen. Dee-lish.

Eventually, only two or three passengers actually boarded the bus! I was slightly worried, having read blogs about people crammed three and four to a bluebird school bus seat on this route. Was this company ill-reputed? Would my bus go careening off a cliff, prompting the family members of my fellow passengers to post colorful crosses and flowers at the site, while the US Embassy blew the incident out of proportion and issued warnings in the American press about the dangers of public transport in foreign countries?

No.

The driver was a friendly Todosantero that honked and waved to everyone he saw wearing the traje from Todos Santos (for men: red-striped pants, black chaps, and a blue pinstripe denim jacket with elaborately woven collar and cuffs).

One of my fellow passengers loaded crate after crate of yogurt into the overhead racks. He lived near La Mesilla, the border crossing to Chiapas, Mexico, and was selling yogurt in Todos Santos.

We stopped and picked up other random passengers along the way, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We also dropped people off by the side of the road; as we pulled away they took off walking through a field or on a dirt path to their destinations. The bus was never completely full, though.

Strangely enough, the ayudante (assistant) on this bus was a guy that looked about 50 years old. Usually the ayudantes on chicken buses are around 15 or 16 and climb all over the bus to get luggage, check for oncoming traffic at intersections, and help little old ladies descend the stairs. All this—while the bus is in motion, careening around off-camber blind curves and passing trucks.

However, a note about the road to Todos Santos: before coming to Guate, I spent a solid chunk of time on Lonely Planet and Boots n’ All travel forums. I was originally considering doing some bike touring around Todos Santos and posted a few items asking for advice. Every reply I got was a horrified “you want to ride your bike WHERE?!” and “That’s the worst road in the WORLD!” and “You must have a death wish!”

Umm, right. If anyone from the Lonely Planet forums is reading: you clearly have never been off-pavement in the United States. I have driven (and ridden my bike) on worse roads than that in Michigan! Sure, it’s flatter (no mountains in Michigan), but even roads in rural Washington, Oregon, Montana, and North Dakota are worse than the road from Huehuetenango to Todos Santos! I will give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume that the road was recently improved, because it was perfectly smooth (for a dirt road in a remote, rural area) and I feared the bus falling off a cliff only once.

Todos Santos Chuchumatán is renowned on the gringo-circuit for being an accessible, “authentic” indigenous town. It is situated in a valley in the Chuchumatán mountain range, just south-west of San Mateo Ixtatán. I wanted to check it out because many, many pictures have been taken here (mostly, I concluded, because both men and women wear the traditional traje). I also wanted to see what all of the fuss was about!

Tourists whisper about Todos Santos in ominous voices: “That’s where that Japanese guy was killed for taking a picture of a little kid.”

Oh really? That’s some intense reaction to a photograph.

*manilla = peanut (in Guatemala). Maní = peanut (in the Andes). Cacahuate = peanut (in Mexico, Spain, and Argentina). Confused? I keep saying “maní” instead of “manilla” here, because the words are so similar (and maní is what I learned in Chile) and I’m pretty sure people think I’m an idiot.

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