Yolkobsens made a recent successful landing in the high hills where Santa Maria de Jesus Guatemala is located, just about 20 minutes from Antigua Guatemala by brash bus or cheeky van.
This is a high terrain pueblo with a population of about 15,500, mostly Cakchiquel, and an altitude pushing toward 7,000 feet (Actually it’s 6,873 feet for all you wonderful sticklers out there in the travel blog ether). It’s to be found on slopes of the defunct Agua Volcano and the main attraction is the exceptionally beautiful views of the surrounding highlands.
According to our guide book, the peak of Agua can be reached by foot in four hours. Yolkobsens were not up for the challenge. For those not used to the altitude, the thinner air can make an upward trek, even just on the fringes of the pueblo, twice as demanding as it would be on a flatter course.
This is a pueblo with an illusion of flatness around the central plaza and church, built in the early 17th century. The illusion is quickly shaken once you move away from the busy market area in the plaza that faces the main church and head volcano-ward (south) up the hill to get that perfect shot away from electrical posts and wires.
As you make your way up the incline, the houses become sparser, the street turns into a gravel path and you start to see mules, many mules and their walking masters, coming towards you with heavy loads of wood, freshly harvested corn stocks and tall green grasses for mule feed. Everyone says good afternoon, adults and children alike.
A couple of times we saw what looked like a walking bush, nimble as a billy goat, running down the slope. Turned out to be boys of about 8 or 9-years-old hauling tall grass — future animal feed — tied with string on their backs, their faces barely visible under their load. They also smiled and said, “hola” in an irrepressibly cheerful way.
Once back in town, not to be missed is the architecturally delicate, but time-rendered-fragile 17th century chapel just east on the street where the main church sits. Its front is filigreed with cracks, a souvenir of the many earthquakes that have fisted their way through this pueblo through the centuries.
In fact, one of the most striking aspects of Santa Maria de Jesus Guatemala is the number of new and newish raw cinder block buildings throughout the town. Earthquakes are another reason you will find very little of a classic colonial town architecture left. The 1976 earthquake all but flattened every structure, leaving only a few of the most obstinate buildings.
That being said, it’s worth a walk through the very colonial plaza where the outdoor mercado sprawls on a busy Saturday market day. Like most mercandos in this part of Guatemala, there is an indoor set of rabbit-warren stalls, with goods ranging from handmade or factory-produced huipils (women’s traditional blouses) and skirts to meat to dried chilies and fresh flowers on offer. Though the colors are lively and traditional, most of the materials for sale here are factory made. You do see many spectacular and authentically woven huipils but they are not for sale; instead they are worn to great effect by the Cakchiquel ladies who seem to prefer to keep these treasures to themselves.
But if you do go to Santa Maria de Jesus you will see that the view transcends even the most inspired human effort to achieve perfection.