Misty mountain hop…

April 3, 2011

As far as Guatemala goes, the region of Peten occupies about 1/3 of the country, yet possesses less than 3% of it’s population.  The area touches closest to the Lacandon forest of Mexico, a place we visited a while back as we looped from San Cristobal in Chiapas down to Los Guacamayas and the likes.  This time we got to experience the same as before, with various birds swooping and calling, ancient Ceiba and mahogany trees gracing the roadsides and howler monkeys playing their part in keeping it noisy both day and night.

Just after the town of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, we start our climb into some magnificently windy and dense green mountains, with canyon views dropping off swiftly on each side.  For the next few days we rode (and sometimes I pushed) over one of the most beautiful territories I have ever seen in my life.  The days were hot and muggy, some including a bit of fog and rain, but nothing broke our stride as we climbed up over one range and were swept down to the base of another only to begin the process all over again.  As Kurt so eloquently put it, “If there were a podium, this road would be on it.”

As we are only taking in a bit of Guatemala with our route, in an effort to make some steady southward progress, it will be these days spent in the mountains which imprint on our hearts the beauty and kindness that Guatemala has to offer.

 

Waking in a foggy mist...

...can be a most beautiful thing...

Antonio and his sister joined us for lunch one day, as we took refuge near his family's sheltered wood pile. We shared some rice and hot cocoa while they shared some incredibly cute smiles and questions...

We spent the better half of this day climbing in the rain...

 

Despite the dirt and water mixture, the roads remained rideable the entire time, staying packed down by the trucks which frequent the route...

 

 

Show stopping views...

 

...do help to calm a constantly churning heart and mind...

...bringing light to areas that might otherwise be dark...

One of the more precarious campspots we've had involved this pannier-less shuttle of bikes through a delicate cornfield perched on a hillside...

The different shades of love...

Thankfully not every beverage comes in a plastic bag. Kurt and I call these "healthy sodas"...

Many families along the way were drying stashes of cacao, one of the crops in the mountains. I was let to taste a piece and even though newly dried, I found it bitter and delicious...

The streets of Cabahon, one of the largest mountain towns...

And the majestic Rio Cabahon, helping to ever create the deepness of the valley and the greenness of the landscape, not to mention a running bathtub for two dusty gringos...

We climbed...

...and we climbed. This day in the sunshine...

Upon entering one of the villages, we met Che Che, a teacher at the small local school. The families in these mountains are mainly indigenous Maya or ladinos (mixed race)...

Waiting for our eggs to firm on up for the midday eating...

And as always, what goes up... must eventually go down....

 

These Guatemalan days…

April 3, 2011

After our introduction to Guatemala via Flores and the surrounding towns, we set off in a southerly direction, heading towards the towns of La Libertad and Sayaxuhe and what looked to be some long lusted after mountainous ranges.

I will add that we were now down to viewing the last two pages of our trusted Mexico Guia Roji map, which luckily had also contained maps for both Belize and Guatemala.  The pages are dog-eared and worn, but only the back cover is threatening to expel itself, proving it to be one of the most useful and durable atlases I’ve seen.

We gathered our first real impressions of Guatemala on these days, camping in cornfields and riding alongside the mass movements heading to Sunday church, where an almost circus-like tune was sure to be found thundering from the open doors and windows.  The children took great pleasure in pointing out the fact that we were riding by, shouting at every opportunity “Gringo! Gringo! Gringo!”  This was usually followed by some seriously enthusiastic waving.  Goods were a bit cheaper than we had seen on the trip so far (as we expected) and the purchases of ice pops, fruit and water helped keep the heat at bay.

Man it seemed hot!  To be expected I know, having not too long ago come from a place that unless you were moving around vigorously outside, it was best not to stay out for fear of frozen limbs.  The opposite is occurring here.  The sun has got you up and on your toes by 6, 7am at the latest, and usually by 10 I, for one, am soaked almost completely through with sweat and able to brush salt crystals off my arms.  The sun and the heat just envelope you, seemingly reminding you every kilometer that you are indeed heading south.

 

These cheap bags of water amount to an awful amount of plastic consumption. On the plus side, they are found cold (sometimes nearly frozen) in almost every market we pass...

One may think "why not just build a bridge?" Valid. However, we get to ride over bridges all the time. We enjoy these occasional extremely short distance water taxiing...

5 quetzal (about 75 cent US) plate of chicken, rice and tortillas. Fuel for the body found at a truck stop junction...

He obviously wanted some too...

 

So we’ve made it!  Our third country in what will be a line of many.  It’s funny to think of how much time we spent in Mexico, just over 6 months, and now how we will be crossing borders relatively quickly on our way down to South America.  I am anxious to hit the road today, leaving from the town of Flores situated on Lago Peten Itza, and head south on some dirt roads Kurt has dug up through consulting some National Geographic maps.

I will be sure to fill you all in more once we get a week or so under our belts, but for now I can say that… it is beautiful and the people are amazingly kind and friendly.  Like most things, we have been warned about traveling in Guatemala.  This may hold true for Guatemala City, though we will not be visiting there so we can’t say for sure.  As always, every warning we get and image placed in our head is noted, but is quickly dispelled within hours of being wherever we are.  It has been true for Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  People’s ability to cast fear on what they may not necessarily have a firm grasp on never ceases to amaze me.

Here are a few photos of our first couple of days here.  I hope everyone has a nice weekend and can enjoy some outside time!

 

The obligatory border crossing photo...

Our camp sight buddies. The night we ended up camping near this pasture area, we had been getting dumped on by rain all day. We made a hasty tent set up above a graveyard at dusk and spent the evening defending our tent against leaf cutter ants...

The town of Flores, which sits on an island in the middle of Lago Peten Itza...

We found purchasing vegetables and bread from the markets in Santa Elena and picnicking by the lake was the cheapest way to go...

Not as colonial as some of the old Mexican cities, but there were some beautiful cobblestone streets to navigate...

The town of Flores is both colorful and accommodating. We found a room for $70 Quetzals (about $9 US). The room was nice and small, and included a fan and a bathroom, as well as free internet and a great rooftop to look out over the lake...

Flores is a popular spot for language students, as lessons are relatively cheap around the lake. There was no shortage of international travelers passing through the streets...

 

Kurt and I sipped a few beers in honor of St. Patty's day, now aptly dubbed Shane Patrick's Day, and watched the sun fade for the day...