From the hills above the Rio Chixoy, Guatemala, it’s hard to even tell there is a bridge across the river, but it is really there. Getting closer to it confirms its existence: It consists of 12 half-inch steel wires stretched across nearly one thousand feet between the high river banks, with wood slats wired unevenly into place. The entire thing wobbles back and forth, and bounces up and down, so as to make it hard to fit your feet firmly on the wood treads.
You don’t want to look down when walking on a hanging bridge such as this, but you have to in order to ensure your feet don’t just fall between the slats and into the clear space between the wires.
I walked carefully across this bridge last October to document how the community of Xinacati II was enduring a devastating drought. After the bridge, we walked for an hour and half on narrow trails across the mountains to reach the village, where we found farmers plotting their next move to avoid the threat of starvation.
Since then, we have heard these farmers did plant again this spring but 60 percent of them found their crops destroyed in the end of May, this time by too much rain and wind from hurricane Agatha.
To make things even worse, the heavy rains and swollen Rio Chixoy washed away the hanging bridge, Xinacati II’s only direct route to the dirt road to Rabinal, the largest town in the area.
Heading out on this bridge was quite an adventure. We stopped to take photos, and I for one was cautiously amused by the experience. They way back was a little different: I was exhausted from the long walk in the heat, a bit hungry having missed anything resembling lunch. I just tried to make the return trip over the undulating span as quickly as possible.
As I’ve written in other posts, the indigenous people of Guatemala have endured war, genocide, drought, and floods. More than half of indigenous children live in a nearly constant state of malnutrition. We’ll do our best to follow the situation in Xinacati II to see how the people there will survive this latest challenge.