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....

 

Heading up…

December 1, 2010

So this climb.  It starts in Tuxtla and heads up into the Chiapan highlands, destination San Cristobal de las Casas.  Tuxtla sits at a mere 530 meters, while San Cristobal is a much more oxygen gulping 2,160.  And when it was all said and done, it was within a beautiful pine forest that we found some cool air camping and looked at each other to exclaim, “Damn!  That was a great day of riding!”  We took the old route, rather than the newly blasted out autopista and every twist and turn seemed more rewarding than the last.  It was a well graded continuous climb for about 45 kilometers.  Along the way we traveled through many Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages, getting our first true glimpses of the ladies with their black fuzzy skirts and exquisitely hand embroidered shirts, dripping with color.  San Cristobal awaited us but 15 kilometers from our camp spot (where we had an amazing feast of pancakes with apricot jam!) and we rolled through the remainder of the climb in the early morning hours, arriving in the city’s center with a whole day ahead of us to explore.

 

Pleasant grade on a beautiful day...

...gave way to the valley below we had left behind...

The fresh air was welcomed whole heartedly after the weeks of coastal heat and humidity...

A mix of traditional Mayan designs with some modern twists, these fabrics more than caught my eye. I had to go inspect...

...and was rendered speechless with the minute details and the thought of time put into each piece...

As with most mountain ranges this high, the greenery found along the way...

...is the result of some heavy moisture hanging in the air way up there...

Along the way we were surprised to pass the town of Navenchauc, with many of its buildings and structures sitting in great amounts of water. We did a bit of uncovering and found out, very depressingly, that the runoffs for the town's high altitude lagoon are, and have been for 2 years, clogged with plastic bottles and waste from all the greenhouse pesticides they have been using. Flowers are a high commodity in the area, specifically marigolds, and the switch from growing maize in fields to these greenhouse endeavors has inadvertently caused the back up. With such high rainy seasons and lack of drainage, this is the unfortunate result. The option to pump the water out is also on hold as all the water pumps in the state are being used in other cities and towns. More than 100 homes are out of commission...

Destination coastal…

November 19, 2010

After leaving the hustle and bustle of the city tangle, the four of us rode into the late afternoon, jump starting our journey over to the long-awaited Oaxacan coast.  Well Wolf and Javier had been happily splashing in the waves a few days before we‘d met them in Oaxaca, but Kurt and I on the other hand have both been in need of a salt bath for a while.   Over the course of 3 days we pedaled our way up over those Sierra Madre yet again.  Just as excitedly expected, eventually we reached what seemed to be the summit of the range and looked out over the many green ripples leading to the west coast below and saw… water!  A lot of it!  An entire ocean‘s worth.  It took us a good half day to zip down the other side and by day’s end we were swimming in the rolling surf and drinking in the fire colored sunset.

 

Cruising along (photo: Wolf)...

It was great riding and hanging out with these guys. I got to pick Javier's (front) brain about his profession as a nurse and got to hear from Wolf what it's like running a bike touring company in Berlin...

You grow these agave...

...and you get to make this mezcal. The mountainous region of Oaxaca State is known for its mezcal production. Agave, I learned, is not considered a cactus. For awhile it stayed in the lily or aloe family, but now gets its own classification as Agavaceae.

 

Morning breakfast concoctions taste better with a group...

 

Perfect beginnings...

 

...perfect endings...

 

In the distance, the ocean!...

 

In the foreground, the joy! (photo: Wolf)...

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left Xilitla late in the afternoon and began snaking along the beautiful but tight and narrow Sierra Madre road.  It was but an hour before dusk started to descend and we found ourselves caught in quite a rainstorm.  After about 30 minutes of riding with no hope of turning off onto anything to camp, we came upon a small house gracing the entrance to what seemed to be a corral and pasture area.  Hoping to just get off the road, we approached the front door to ask the owner’s if we could pitch our tent in the plot of grass out front.  When we did ask the farmer, who was still dressed in his work garb, rain gear and some sweet gleaming white Air Nikes, without hesitation he showed us to a separate building in the back.  Not only were we now out of the rain and off the road, but we had our own cozy room complete with a bed and electricity, more than we could have ever asked for.  We spent a nice warm and dry night in the place and the next morning were invited to stay as long as we wanted before the farmer took off for work.  Talk about hospitality!

The ride over the next few days was up, up, up.  Climbing for full days without end.  The scenery in turn was unbeatable and looking back down after every twist and turn proved to be a reward each time.  After two more days we found ourselves with the long-awaited descent down out of the Sierra Gorda park and after another two full days we found ourselves facing the giant walls of a box canyon.  It was a pleasant ride up and out and before long we were camped listening to the late night whistles of passing trains and preparing ourselves for San Miguel De Allende which awaited some 30 kilometers away.

 

Our dry spot for the evening...

 

 

The Reserva de la Biosphera Sierra Gorda. Over 90% of the region is privately owned. Grassroots efforts by the locals led to the reserves establishment in 1997 and many of its communities are involved first hand in its sustainability...

 

 

Up at this altitude, the area was densely forested with much old growth...

 

 

Much of this area resides within a cloud forest for most of the day, covered in orchids and teeming with exotic birds...

 

 

Another excellent thing coinciding with our ride through the area... my reading of an ancient copy of White Fang. There was no actual publication date in the book, but there was a note scribbled by a gifter which was dated 1910. All the pages were still intact and it was as great of a read as all the times I've read it before...

 

 

One of our descents down into a high mountain valley, the town of Ahuacatlan de Guadalupe seen in the distance...

 

 

A good example of how sometimes when you've seen one, you've seen them all...

 

 

And then there was the grand descent down out of the range. From those clouds whence we came...

 

Brightly colored downtown San Miguel Palmas...

 

 

After some flat miles across the plains and some stops throughout a few towns for water, I was finally getting closer to the mountains I had eyed so curiously on my map.  I took a crucial midday hideout under a lone tree I found and started the afternoon late heading up into the hills of the Los Padres National Forest.  After consulting my map and Kurt, and with a big desire to avoid LA, I decided it would be best to head up into the forest and skirt around the backside of the entire LA area.  This proved to be the most rewarding decision of the trip so far!  Hills oh glorious hills!  The climb lasted more or less for about 3o miles, some mountain grade, just some steep, steep thigh burning forward motion.  Either way, it was great to be up in a bit of elevation (my guess was around 6000 ft) and amongst the pine trees again.  I camped towards the summit that evening (I really do love sleeping in high windy spots) and watched the tiny lights of nearby towns twinkle below me.  I have yet to feel unsafe at any point on the trip thus far, but this night I could say I really felt extra safe that not a single person was going to be passing through the area and I could really spread out and get cozy.  I shared my view with the many pinch bugs that were seemingly after my food and even had the opportunity to flip an ant over that was stuck on his back.  Can’t say I have done that before.  My sleeping bag is rated at 15 degrees (Women’s Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15..Thanks D5000!), which will be great in colder weather, but currently I am tossed in between either getting eaten alive as I sleep (I do not have a tent right now) or waking up covered in a sweat.  Sleeping in such elevation was a treat as it was much cooler that evening.  The morning even got to start as other Sundays do… scurrying out for a pee and then hustling back to my bed to get warm under the covers again.

The next day, the hills continued and I climbed up and up until finally being rewarded with a great descent that sent my through the towns of Lake of the Pines and New Frazier, dropping me right next to the 5.  I took my midday rest outside a gas station and then continued on frontage roads and the famous ridge line, heading towards Lake Elizabeth.  The roads and towns I passed through were cavity inducing in their sweetness.  I spent the night next to Lake Elizabeth, camping on a sandy cove and listening to the stray dogs whimper in the night.  The next morning I awoke to them rustling around in the bushes.  There was about 6 of them and man were they cute.  They kept their distance, as did I, and we both took care of our own morning routines before I headed back out to the road and towards Palmdale.

A stop along the way for supplies...

What once was...

Amber waves of grain...

Hitchhiker...

A midday stretch, from my perspective...

Heading up into the hills...

My buddy, the horizontal electrapenguin...

Spectacular continuous climbing in the Los Padres...

Marty, fresh from riding outside Bishop, who stopped to give me some Gatorade...

Just one of the amazing roads I got to ride on my way. Bay Area folk, put down that Lagunitas (you know who you are!) and get out here to ride these roads!!

Lake Elizabeth

Necessary fashion if you like camping next to water like I do...