Introducing Todos Santos Cuchumatán
Way up in the highlands, Todos Santos is as raw as Guatemalan village life gets – dramatic scenery, mud streets, beans and tortillas, and everything shut by 9pm. The community is nestled at the bottom of a deep valley and bordered by forested slopes, and the last 1¼ hours of the approach by bus are down a sporadically paved road that leaves the Huehuetenango–Soloma highway after a 1½-hour climb up from Huehue.
Traditional clothing is very much in use here and, unusually, it's the male costume that is the more eye-catching. Men wear red-and-white-striped trousers, little straw hats with blue ribbons, jackets with multicolored stripes and thick woven collars. Saturday is the main market day; there's a smaller market on Wednesday. The notorious postmarket inebriation ritual has faded into history since dry laws took over (the November 1 celebrations now being the only permissible time to get smashed).
Reasons to visit Todos Santos include good walking in the hills, learning Spanish or Mam, and getting to know a traditional and close-knit but friendly community. Todos Santos suffered terribly during Guatemala's civil war when, by some accounts, 2000 area inhabitants were murdered. It is still very poor. To supplement their subsistence from agriculture, families travel in the early part of the year to work for meager wages on coffee, sugar and cotton plantations on the Pacific Slope. Working in the US is, however, proving a more lucrative alternative for some todosanteros today, as the amount of new construction in the valley demonstrates, not to mention the incorporation of urban elements into the traditional outfit.
If you're coming to Todos Santos in the wet season (mid-May to November), bring warm clothes, as it's cold up here, especially at night.