San Mateo Ixtatán
Continuing north from San Pedro Soloma, you’ll pass the small village of Santa Eulalia before eventually arriving in the Chuj-speaking village of San Mateo Ixtatán, perched on the side of a mountain at 2,560 meters (8,400 feet). While the residents of neighboring villages travel to the coast for seasonal labor, those in San Mateo tend to work their own lands tending sheep and growing coffee, cardamom, and grains. Like most other towns in Huehuetenango, however, a large percentage of its men travel to the United States in search of work.
Another source of local prosperity are the community-owned salt mines. The town is well known for the production of its exotic black salt and its very name is a derivation of the Nahuatl word Ixtatlán, meaning “abundance of salt.”
The town’s pretty church somewhat resembles a giant birthday cake and is supposedly painted every year in different bright colors. I remember catching my first glimpse of its Technicolor facade in a National Geographic magazine from the late 1980s, but on my recent visit it was painted a rather unremarkable cream and white.
The traditional huipil worn by San Mateo’s women is one of Guatemala’s finest, with concentric woven star patterns in reds, purples, and blues that verge on the psychedelic. Some of the men still wear the capixay, a thick, black-wool, open-sided pullover. The town’s annual fiesta runs September 17–21. Market days are Thursdays and Sundays.
Just below the village are the unrestored ruins of Wajxaklajunh, which look out to a valley and surrounding mountain ridges. There are a few temples, some stelae, and a ball court.
Hotels here are very basic. If you should find yourself needing to spend the night here, head to Hotel Ixtateco (tel. 7756-6586), which at the very least has hot water.
A good source of information on San Mateo is the website of the Ixtatán Foundation (www.ixtatan.org), a development organization that has helped the town build its very first high school and has a variety of other projects in the works. It also runs an Internet café, Wajxaklajunh.com, charging about $1 per hour.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com