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Xela is the second largest city in Guatemala. “Xela” or “Xelaju’noj” is its Mayan indigenous name and it means “at the feet of 10 mountains”. The city is better known by its colonial name, Quetzaltenango, which means “the nest of Quetzal”, the emblematic bird of Guatemala. The city, where the locals are mainly indigenous people, is surrounded by mountains and volcanos and perched at more than 2000m above sea level.
The first time I arrived in Xela, I wondered where on earth I was. It was the first city I had visited in Central – or even Latin – America. I was instantly exposed to packed streets, motorcycles and huge colorful “chicken bus” trucks that roam the narrow streets, the huge markets, music everywhere, the locals who mainly wear traditional clothes, the street peddlers, the firecrackers that go off at any moment of the day…and finally all those explosive ingredients that have made the place Guatemala’s favorite city. I went there in September, which turned out to be a special period. The month of September is a celebration period for the independence of the country, so there were parties all the time in the central square. We would always hear faraway music, parades and the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Above all, it was the month when big political demonstrations took place against the indigenous President to whom the people, united through the thirst for justice, demanded resignation. My image of Xela became thus one of unwavering energy and full of life.