After two nights in Gracias I feel the pull of its magnetic charm sucking me into itself with the plea: stay here for at least another night! This place is making me want to stick around nearly as much as Leon captured me this year and Granada/San Juan del Sur did in 2009.
According to legend the founder of Gracias, a 16th century conquistador, struggled his way through the rugged country of the region looking for a suitable site to build a Central American capital city. When at last he stumbled upon this relatively level but small valley, he is said to have fallen to his knees crying: "Gracias a Dios! Finally some flat land!"
Its attributes were immediately apparent to me once I was checked into my room at the Guancascos. My room is on the top level of a multilevel edifice built into a high hill overlooking the entire town. The terrace outside my door therefore offers one of the most stunning private views in the area. Rocky forested hills surround us but in stark contrast to the typical hot and dusty towns of western Honduras, this place is enveloped in multiple hues of green foliage.
The hotel--maybe the finest in town--is owned and managed by an expatriate Dutch woman, Frony, who oversees a capable staff of locals who run the good restaurant (with excellent local coffee) and keep the place beautifully clean. At around $20 nightly, this place is one of the best values I've encountered on a six week journey of hotels which runs the complete gamut. I believe most of my readers will not blame me for feeling that another late afternoon with a cold drink on "my" terrace as the sun goes down, enjoying the beauty of this place, is definitely in the cards.
On the recommendation of Rachel, the intern I met in Marcala, I ate at the restaurant of the Posada de Don Juan where I ate a sopa de tortilla that absolutely was to die for. (A common regional dish, sopa de tortilla has a curry-type soup base with fresh cheese, avocado, and baked tortilla chips--like Doritos without the MSG.)
The town has the usual cathedral, in this case a small colonial structure, and a well-kept parque central plus a couple very good supermarkets as well as the usual bustling local markets and dusty bus terminals. Despite the obvious signs of poverty in some of the residents (my post yesterday was partly inspired by the unusually high number of beggars I've bumped into here) there are also unmistakable signs of prosperity, notably in the many young people. Perhaps this bodes well for the area's future.
A somewhat unusual feature of this beautiful little town is the 19th century castle which is perched even higher than my hotel and has absolutely stunning views for miles around. In the cool interior of the castle are informative placards in Spanish and English, one of which tells us that the local kids grow up playing here and "many fall in love here." This confirmed my initial impression that the site has all the best characteristics of a lovers' lane.
The foreigners one meets here are mostly young volunteers of various NGOs and of the Peace Corps which, in Honduras, has its largest delegation (of about 260) of any other country in the world. But here and there one can meet other backpacking tourists like me. It's well worth the effort it takes to get to this remote settlement--which maybe is yet another good reason for me not to push onward too quickly. Of course, the longer I stay here the more remote my chances of getting to Chichicastenango, at least this year.
I have eleven days to get to Guatemala City for my return flight home.