Outside of Esquela Teresita, the town of Solala is a stark contrast between the traditional Mayan culture and the rapidly encroaching modern city. Some moments on the street reminded me of walking through the streets in Beijing, where ancient culture and modernization collide in a very literal way. This juxtaposition is evident in the architecture, cuisine, and in local attire. Many Guatemalan people in this region wear traditional Mayan textiles, which are a statement of their cultural identity. Guatemalan culture, as with many Central and South American countries, is a blend of Spanish and Mayan heritages. Some indigenous people speak only Kaqchikel, the native Mayan language, and most people will speak a combination of Spanish and Kaqchikel. English is rarely spoken by a local.
My group was provided the opportunity to visit a native Guatemalan family that lived in a village just outside of Sololá. We were told that that this family was one of the poorest in the area, which is perhaps the poorest in the country. The organizers of this meeting gave us little information, other than this was a very poor family, so I had no idea what to expect. We met our family after the children had finished school. A woman with three young children met us and guided us to a bustop at the center of town which we hopped on for about 25 cents. We reached their small farming village after a 20 minute bus ride from Sololá. After getting off the bus we followed a narrow drainage ditch to a small dirt road that lead to the village(with a Kaqchikel name that I could not pronounce). After a few minutes of walking, small plots of farmland sprang up from the hillsides and villagers poked their heads out to get a look at the foreigners walking down the road. The mother of the family explained to us that it was very likely that we were the first Americans to ever visit this area.
On our last full day of our trip we took a bus ride that descended from the Sololá to Lake Attitlan, which descends about a 1000 feet down a precarious switchback two lane road. The bus is absolutely terrifying. The posted bus capacity is about 66, but I counted about 110 people on the bus at one point. I am entirely certain that the driver and his helpers must have some kind of death wish. He had no regard for the speed limit and at one point the money collector opened the back of the bus, crawled onto the roof and made his way back to the front of the bus through the front entry door. None of the locals seem to consider this as extreme or dangerous behavior. Panajachel, the small town at the bottom of the hill has many small shops with handmade items and a few touristy bars and restaurants. At the southern tip of the town, boat rides are offered to neighboring villages for a small price.