NEBAJ, Quiché: Arrived in the seemingly peaceful town of Nebaj, Quiché early afternoon (May 24) after a surprisingly efficient (micro) bus ride from San Mateo. Found a hotel and settled down.
I quickly located the “Casa del Café Ixil”, home of real espresso and other delicious caffeinated concoctions. The guy running it (probably about 16 years old) was very friendly and chatted with me about my plans for my stay in Nebaj. An avid hiker himself, he showed me his guide to hiking in the Ixil region (Ixil being one of the Mayan linguistic groups).
On Saturday night, after enjoying a quesoburguesa (ahem, cheeseburger) and a moccachino at the Casa del Café Ixil, I headed back to the hotel for a tranquil night of watching English-language movies in my hotel room, the nightlife not being all that thrilling in Nebaj, and myself not much of a nightlife person to begin with.
When I went to pay, the young man at the counter announced, quite matter-of-factly, “They’re destroying the plaza.”
“What? Who’s destroying the plaza??” I asked.
He explained that a group of people had gathered, and were in fact destroying the police station, breaking glass and blowing up a motorcycle.
I asked why, and he said that the police had released a suspected kidnapper, and that the people were not satisfied that justice had been done (as a note: kidnapping is currently a big problem in Guatemala– a coyote and his friend were kidnapped from Todos Santos as well, and kidnappings of people occur frequently in the capital. So far, only Guatemalans.).
I walked with him down the street, to the corner where my hotel was located. In fact, the action was taking place about a block from my hotel. I stood on the corner with two girls and the woman from the pharmacy behind us for a little while, watching what was going on and discussing it. The crowd had, in fact, blown up a motorcycle, and it was now burning in the middle of the street.
The girls suggested that I take some pictures, to record what was going on.
The crowd had broken all of the windows in the police station, chased the police away, and were beginning to grab things from inside to add to the bonfire on the street. Out came mattresses, TV sets, uniforms, and even computers. I snapped pictures with flash until a gentleman came up and told me that, “this is not a game! this is very serious, and you should not be taking pictures!” So I turned the flash off.
The crowd would occasionally surge and run, like a school of fish. It was really pretty frightening to watch, and the two girls and I were duly nervous. After just a few minutes, we decided to move on.
The two girls (Jessica and Jennifer, both schoolteachers in Nebaj and yes, Guatemalan) came back to my hotel room, and we chatted for a bit. I promised to send them copies of the pictures. The crowd claimed that they would carry on until sunrise, but I believe the rain later that night put an end to the “festivities.”
State Department’s Warning for Guatemala: Avoid crowds of agitated people.
I’ll do my best.