Las Verapaces, Part 2: Biotopo de Quetzal y Salto de Chilascó

Biotopo - Musgos Largos

Part of the excitement of being in Guatemala is the ability to do things things that are forbidden in the U.S. While the numerous laws that we have are generally in place to protect individuals and the larger society as a whole, often they are aggravating obstacles and can even serve as barriers to positive human and cultural interaction.

After our time in Cobán, we traveled about an hour to the “Biotopo de Quetzal”. The biotope was a “cloud forest” with such densely moist air that plants can live high in the air without the need for soil. It is an interesting environment where strange speices of plants, animals, and insects live in harmony. It was really breathtaking.

Biotopo - Dried leavesBiotopo - Curly leaves

We checked into a cheap little hostel nearby the nature reserve, and immediately took off for a hike. Despite the physical exertion we had expended the previous two days, we were ready for more nature-packed adventure. It was actually a quite relaxing stroll. We hiked a 4 kilometer loop, ascending 500 meters. We saw lizards; strange looking, brightly colored, spiking spiders; and colorful, twist, exotic looking plants. We chatted with a old Guatemalan version of a hippy, with long curly gray hair and beard, who served in the information booth and was excited to talk about the mystical nature surrounding us, as well as discuss the founder of the reserve who had been murdered during Guatemala’s brutal civil war.

Biotopo - LizardBiotopo - Stream

It was a less intense, yet still tiring hike in the reserve, and when we got out we were ready for dinner. We exited the park back onto the main highway. The hippie dude recommended a restaurant located a good 5 kilometers down the road, and we weren’t about to walk it. At least not the way there. So we decided to do something I have always wanted to do, but have never been permitted due to strict (yet understandable) U.S. law: we hitch hiked. And it was incredible, I will tell you. The breeze felt amazing, the view was nothing you could get behind a glass window, and it felt so incredibly freeing. It was a pretty short ride, but when we jumped out of the bed of the truck I had electricity running through my veins. When we asked the kind gentlemen how much for his services, he told us not to bother and that we should just enjoy ourselves. How refreshing is that? We waved goodbye, and went to enjoy another delicious meal of Kakik. We were so full we ended up walking back int he pitch dark to our hostel, diving into the ditches whenever the 16-wheelers would whiz by. I slept heavy that night.

Chilasco - Sign

In the morning we rushed out of the hostel as quickly as we could, only having a cup of coffee and bananas on our way out. We were headed to El Salto de Chilascó, the tallest waterfall in Central America, but it was going to be a long journey and we wanted to get on our way. We took a bus 30-some kilometers from the hostel to the road entering the small pueblo of Chilascó. We waited at the entrance a good half hour until a pick-up truck make a turn towards the entrance and offered us a ride. We travled a bumpy 12-kilometer ride, lasting about 40 minutes, sharing the truck bed with 1500 eggs, hoping we wouldn’t hit any big bumps!

Verapaz - Hitching a Ride

We were wished happy-hiking when dropped off at a tiny grass hut which served as the towns center for tourism. Don Clemantino, the president of the association of the department of tourism of Chilascó was so excited for visitors, and greeted us with big hugs and lots of information about the history of the town and the waterfall.

Chilasco - Pine View

We were sent along our way with a tour guide, 11 year old Willie who looked about 8. He was quite the talker, discussing all the fruits and vegetables cultivated around his town as we passed them, including corn, potato, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, squash, passion fruit, and probably many I am forgetting. He told us about the town, about his family, as well as humorous stories of past tourists who were not nearly as fast of hikers as we 😉 It was 3 kilometers through the village and surrounding coutryside until we arrived at the trail which descended to where we could view the waterfall. From there it was a 1-kilometer, nearly vertical drop, to the bottom. On the way there we wandered slowly, admiring the surrounding land, the streams, and the nature that we experienced. We stopped at a smaller waterfall which was so pure you could drink from it. There was a crudely-fashioned system to take water from this little falls down to a rest stop below, made from a two-liter soda bottle and some plastic tubing. Willie, the humanitarian he is, noticed some leaves had clogged the mouth of the device, and climbed up the falls to remove them.

Chilasco - Salto

A little further below, but farther than I had wanted being tired and all, we finally got to the destination. The falls were a breathtaking 130 meters high. So its not Niagara, but it felt like an accomplishment arriving. We rested a little while before heading back. We didn’t want to take too long so that we missed the last bus out of the town at 3pm, and be forced to sleep there for the night.

Chilasco - Corn drying

To arrive at the falls took 2 hours, but we made it back much faster. I was impressed with out timing. And when we finally arrived back to the little town we had a delicious hot lunch ready for us. We ate in a tiny little comedor (simple restaurant which is usually part of someones home), which I’m sure gets very little business. Willie had called ahead and ordered out meal for us ahead of time because it takes a little while to catch, kill, and prepare the chicken. People, this food was fresh. And boy were we hungry. I’m not a big meat-eater, but I enjoyed this chicken perhaps more than any chicken I’ve previously had. It was moist, tender, and flavorful, and served along with cooked veggies from the surrounding countryside, a salad, rice, and yellow-corn tortillas made in front of our own eyes. The woman even mills her own flour…the corn was hanging in the rafters, drying above our heads! I was impressed. We scarfed down the pollo asado (grilled chicken) and were so full and satisfied after such a long hike. We thanked Doña Tona, and headed home.

Chilasco - Comida!

This was an exciting journey over all. When it was over I was exhausted, and my entire body was worn out…but it was a very rewarding feeling. I’m ready to go back to those parts, and can’t wait until I am sent on a trip to Las Verapaces with my work!

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4 Responses

  1. looks like a great place! thx for sharing the destination.

  2. Beautiful. And well written. Me thinks we chose the wrong majors Sarah. By now, we could have been in our fourth year as unemployed struggling writers. Thanks for posting this.

  3. I’m so happy to see you two are finding the time to explore the great and wonderful outdoors!

    • Yeah…it would be nice to have even more time to do so. I’m thankful for the occasional holiday so we can get outside for a while!

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