One of the things we love the most about getting off of the beaten path is meeting amazing people with incredible stories. For 10 days we stayed a small indigenous village in the Ixil region of Guatemala at the end of a valley in the Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes Mountain range. While we were there, we met Magdalena, a woman who speaks English with whom we took informal Spanish lessons.
In the early 1980s, during the Guatemala Civil War, Magdalena left Acul to study in the US. However, when the war intensified she returned to Guatemala to help her family. At the time, the mountains around Acul were controlled by the guerrillas. One day, soldiers from the Guatemalan army entered Acul dressed like guerrillas and asked for food. The next day they returned with the army (and with the indirect support of the US military) and executed 32 villagers who had given them help. Less than 24 hours later, the army entered the village burned it to the ground. During the attack, Magdalena and her family fled into the Los Cuchumatanes mountains. However, during the mayhem, she separated from her mother.
Magdelalena and her father made it to the relative safety of Guatemala City. But a year later, she learned that her mother had died of starvation. 4 years later, after the war had ended, Magdalena’s mother was rescued by helicopter from a remote area of the mountains where she had survived for years by eating insects and plants. Until she was rescued, she had no idea that the war had ended.
Magdalena was never able to return to the US to pursue her dream of going to a university. Despite what she has suffered, Magdalena is an amazing, positive person who spends her days cooking, taking care of her grandchildren and weaving. She and her husband, who works 12 hours a day making cheese on the dairy where we camped, are also in the process of building a small hostel in Acul. Please visit them if you are in Acul (Hostel Doña Magdalena, Acul, Quiché, Guatemala), but be prepared for a crazy drive to find them!