About 15 kilometers northeast of Nebaj, Chajul is a picturesque collection of quaint adobe houses with tiled roofs.
Of the three Ixil Triangle towns, it certainly has the most traditional feel, though the paved road to Nebaj has many traditionalists fearing the end is near for one of the country’s most pleasantly isolated villages.
In any case, it still offers spectacular weavings you’ll undoubtedly see everywhere. Market days are Tuesdays and Fridays, though on any given day sellers will most certainly find you to offer their wares in brilliant hues of red and blue embroidered with animals and plants.
The main attraction here is the town’s church, Iglesia de San Gaspar Los Reyes, one of Guatemala’s most ornate, with wooden doors containing finely carved depictions of animals. Inside, an elaborate goldleaf altar guarded by two figures dressed in traditional garb surrounds its Cristo de Golgotha statue. Check out the cool wool red coats, which are now rarely seen on the town’s male inhabitants. The church is a major pilgrimage site on the second Friday of Lent.
Chajul’s plaza was also the site of a grisly public execution of EGP guerrillas carried out by the Guatemalan military in retaliation for the 1979 murder of landowner Enrique Brol, an event which is narrated in Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú’s autobiography. While the basic facts of the army’s extrajudicial murders has not come into question, Menchú’s testimony certainly has.
An investigation by author David Stoll has since revealed Menchú may not have been there at all and is also at odds with her claims that the prisoners were burnt alive, claiming instead that they were mowed down with machine guns. The research and evidence supporting his claims and questioning much of Menchú’s autobiography are presented in his book, Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans.
There’s not much in the way of accommodations in Chajul, though there is now at least one decent place to stay. Posada Vetz K'aol (tel. 7765-6114, $10 per person) lies about 300 meters south of the plaza down a dirt road turnoff from the main street. It’s a bit hard to find, but any tuk-tuk driver can take you there for less than $1. Formerly housing a clinic, the building has large, clean rooms with bunk beds and wool blankets. There’s also a pleasant sitting room with a fireplace and TV. Tasty meals cooked by the lodge’s caretaker are available upon request.
You’ll find a few simple eateries just off the plaza, the best of which is Las Gemelitas, two blocks downhill from the church. As in Cotzal, you will likely be approached by locals offering food and shelter in their homes.
There’s a Banrural on the plaza for changing cash dollars.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com