The Big Big Trip Journal! If you want to make the man (or woman) upstairs laugh, just tell him your plans!

Sunday June 06, 2021

I was up early, went downstairs to get coffee and it was wet and incredibly miserable.
I had a 60km ride ahead of me and had to climb 2000 meters.

No. Just no.

It was also Election Day in México and I haven't checked the news for a while, but the last count was 16 assassinations of candidates. A number of stores were closed (and remained so all day), alcohol sales were banned.

It really didn't take much to convince me to take a day off the road.

Also, I'm getting close to Guatemala. San Cristobal de las Casas is next up, then downhill to Guatemala. Guatemala will let me in with a negative Covid test. In fact, I can probably make my way down as far as Panama just by taking tests.
Getting to Colombia will be tricky, probably requiring a plane and after Colombia? Who knows? Ecuador and Peru are not good.

It's rainy season and hurricane season in lands suffering a pandemic.

I'm not feeling positive.

There is still a lot of Mexico to explore but anywhere on the coast scares the bejaysus out of me with the heat!

My visitor permit is good until August (after that I'll need to cross a border) and my insurance needs to be renewed (actually a whole new policy) in September. Two feckin' years nearly up already!

I've looked into work in exchange for accommodation but there's not much happening with the exception of hostels and I don't think I'd enjoy that.

Heading back to the U.S. is a possibility - I'm not sure if they'll let me in and Winter is coming!

It's thinking time!

Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098/
 
Covid Interlude, Monday, June 07, 2021, Tuxtla Gutiérrez to San Cristóbal de las Casas 59km Total KM 1484

Min meters 424, Max Meters 2259
Total Climb 2117 Total Descent 337
Min Temp 13 Max Temp 45
Ave Temp 30


Ah, my plans were in disarray before I even woke up! I overslept and wasn't leaving until 7. Bah! I had wanted to be leaving at 6, coffeed up, to get a good run at the big climb ahead before it got too hot.

Traffic was on the hectic side and because of a big river and a lack of bridges there wasn't much I could do to avoid it

Leaving Tuxtla and crossing a swiftly flowing river. Down below are the boats used to zip tourists through the canyon where monkeys, birds and crocodiles are to be seen. I've read varying reports of the quality of these tours
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I was taking the cuota today. With over 2000 meters of climbing ahead of me I figured I'd need the generous shoulder.

I dropped out of the city past the entrance to the Cañón de Sumidero and saw the brightly coloured boats used to bring tourists along the river to see crocodiles and monkeys. The river was very brown and fast flowing with lots of debris. Perhaps I should have done this tour yesterday but the rain and my mood put me off. I can always catch a bus back from San Cristóbal.

Since the climbing started from here I plugged in my little speaker and headed up. I was going to need my music!

For most of the day the land to my left sloped down to me and was pretty wild, lush and green.
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I'm sure I'm not unique in this observation, but my i-pod kicks ass!!!
The sheer range of music on it is phenomenal, even if a bit embarrassing at times^_^. I haven't really used it in a long time so just sticking on shuffle and listening to whatever it threw at me was very enjoyable!

The land to my right was a rich plain, productive with mountains far off in the distance. There was little change except it got lower and lower
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My first target was an Oxxo another 10km up the road for water and coffee. I hadn't had coffee yet and today was going to be a coffee day! It was already warm and the lack of clouds suggested more heat when the sun got into its stride.

I wasn't wrong!

The Roadworks appeared after the Oxxo, disappeared for a while and resumed later. This piccie also highlights the sun/shade situation
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Progress was slow but steady. This is a two laner with shoulders, but of course, the shoulder is used as a lane by slower traffic. The Touring Gods were being kind, though, throwing some roadworks into the mix which effectively sealed off the shoulder for me behind barriers. Sure, it meant having to take the lane from time to time, the rest of the time I was cocooned in my own little safe world.

Taking a breather in bright sunshine!
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Due to direction and the angle of the sun the only shade offered was on the other side of the road. When I'd see a likely spot I'd pull over, leave the bike in the rain gully and sit down. Because of the narrower road the traffic passed close, but safely. At the more luxurious spots I could even lie down!

One thing I look out for now are ants! There always seems to be ants and they are incredibly busy running hither and thither and carrying all kinds of things. In rough or overgrown spots it can be difficult to see the "big picture" with them, but in smoother, cleaner scenes long lines of ants can contrast easily with their surroundings. It really is fascinating.

At one such stop, lying down, I was passed by a long line of traffic behind a slowly climbing truck. I'm sure the image I presented was one of laid back cyclist, taking it easy (especially since I was on the "down" side of the road) as opposed to the overheated, behind schedule dumbass I was, but I got a lot of waves and toots from the opposite lane. I don't know what it says about me that friendly recognition from strangers can be so uplifting.

As the sun rose higher, shadow became scarcer and my internal temperature was rising. Water consumption was high but I was confident that I'd have chances to replenish. My music was proving a wonderful distraction and I was getting a lot of toots and waves from passing traffic. I did get a bit concerned when I reached the junction with a small town and there was no shop and similarly passed a group of empty shops/comedores on both sides of the road. With about half a liter of water left and not yet halfway I started to ration.

Relief came in the firm of a roadside "Elote" stand that sold corn on the cob. It was only getting started so I had some water, crisps (for the salt) and topped up my bottles.

The weather starting to turn..... But at least I was getting high!
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By now dark clouds were appearing and starting to block out the sun, changing the nature of the heat from direct to steamy. Spying some proper restaurants ahead I prepared to pull in but passed the first block in favour of a lone one a little later.
Such views! From high up I could see, it seemed, forever, or at least until detail was lost in the haze. Behind me, looking up, was just as impressive but much more intimidating! Dark clouds were becoming angry and starting to swirl in an increasing wind.
Then the rain started.
After that the rain lashed!
And the temperature dropped.
I was cold!
Shivering cold!
I can't remember the last time being so cold!
I donned my rain jacket for warmth and waited out the downpour. It was a sustained, heavy downpour for at least half an hour then progressively lightened off. Once again I was lucky.

The view at the restaurant. The really ugly clouds were behind me
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Stopped, at last, although still with a threatening sky overhead I set off again. I hadn't gone 200 meters when the thunder rolled - but the rain held off. Still cool, I found myself making decent progress thanks to a fenced off shoulder.

This area is called "The Sea of the Clouds". Even in spitting rain I can see why.
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Then it wasn't dry anymore. With a fantastic bang the rain started again. I made it to a barrier, parked up and hopped under some trees. About as much use as a shelter as a hanky. At least the deluge didn't last long, although a lighter rain continued on.

Back on the road again, the temperature dropped to 16C, the lowest of the day. From mid twenties when I started to mid forties at the peak. Being a tad cold is a great incentive for getting warm and it wasn't long until I was overheating in my rain jacket. The rain eased off and I started to wonder if taking it off would tempt fate? Feck it, off it came!

With about 8km to go my climbing was over!! Heading down the other side cold was an issue again! Yep! I'm never happy!
I made the edge of town, had a chat with a street seller at a red light and headed for a hostel.
Then the rain started again! Heavy rain!

Was more rain really a surprise?^_^
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I arrived like the proverbial drowned rat, wet and cold again. Got checked in, showered and set off for food - thankfully in the dry.

A swing, made from a tyre at the restaurant. They had a few different animals, all tyres, but this was my favourite!
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I'm going to hunker down for a few days and try to decide what to do next. Guatemala is just down the road. I can get in with a Covid test. In fact, as things stand, I can get as far as Panama by taking tests at the borders. Then I quite literally run out of road.

Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098/
 
San Cristobal de las Casas is not my kind of town.
Hostels are not my kinds of places.
I'm sure my perceptions are clouded by a really bad dose of the runs but even so…..

I extended my stay twice because I didn't want to be on the road and not be able to control my insides.

I did however decide to cross into Guatemala. How far I'll go is anyone's guess.

The town is surrounded by sharply angled hills covered in greenery.
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Lots of significant buildings are closed off with metal sheeting. Either all the buildings are getting a simultaneous facelift or I'm seeing the results of recent riots in the state.
This was taken one handed through a gap in the sheeting.
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A rare break from the rain!
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Early morning before the street becomes snarled with traffic
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Even the graffiti was tense. There was a lot of political graffiti everywhere. I think it's fair to say that the Government is not popular here.
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The White Bridge, a local landmark.
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Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098/
 
Covid Interlude, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, San Cristóbal de las Casas to Comitan 90km Total KM 1574

Min meters 1667, Max Meters 2396
Total Climb 961 Total Descent 1353
Min Temp 16 Max Temp 30
Ave Temp 21

Rolling through Rebel Country

It's good to have a simple objective and today's objective was the very definition of simplicity - cycle 90 odd km without soiling myself.
Mission accomplished!

Armed with a negative Covid test I have 72 hours to cross the border some 170km away. Realistically, I'll want to cross on the morning of the third day so today's destination is Comitán (de Domingo).

Awake before 6 I set about getting organised. I've decided to leave my solar panel in the hostel - realistically it's not going to get any use for the next while and my dynohub should be enough "in case of emergency". I've also dumped my sandals - another strap has failed and again, they will not be the most suitable footwear where I'm going. They're surprisingly heavy to add to the load when I'm not wearing them.

Leaving town. It might seem dull and uninspiring but the clouds playing with the mountains was anything but!
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Getting out of town was a little chaotic but I was soon on a decent road with a decent shoulder with a decent ascent ahead of me. It won't show up well in the photos but the steep, wooded hills all around were either hidden by or rising through some pretty heavy cloud. There's something mysterious and inspiring about that in my world.

There were quite a few roadies leaving or entering town (I didn't see anyone on the climb), none of whom, bar one, actually saw me including the two who whizzed past me way too close almost sending me into a nasty pothole.

Clouds of varying levels of intimidation were a feature of the day. A few raindrops threatened now and again but the day remained dry. Except for when climbing I was bordering on being cold. That's unusual!

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After more than a week of less than optimal health that first climb took a lot out of me. Despite the generous shoulder the traffic was an issue too. The usual habit of using the shoulder as a lane was evident but with a tad less ……. consideration. More than once traffic left it to the very, very last moment to pull out. I could understand it if under pressure from an overtaker themselves, but often there was none. It was especially disturbing when a motorcyclist did it. Most negative stories in this part of the world start off with "and then two guys on a motorcycle ……".
Strangely, if stopped, I got lots of waves.

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I was in forest country and for the first time in a long time shade wasn't an issue! It wasn't hot and the dense cloud kept the sun away.
I was also in rebel country. This area is Zapatista country - an indigenous movement inspired by Mexico's involvement in the NAFTA (and subsequent) trade deals. While the violence has subsided and the movement now participates in parliamentary elections, it hasn't gone away.
One pretty obvious sign of this is petrol being sold on the side of the road for 15/16 pesos a liter from plastic containers. (The Pemex (State owned) stations start at 20/21 pesos per liter). I've noticed these since entering Chiapas but yesterday there was a density to them that was unignorable and explained the heavily armed convoys I have seen.

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I also passed through a Zapatista "town", a big sign announcing that it was run by the inhabitants for the inhabitants. Several murals depicted masked people which predated Covid. It wasn't intimidating, per se, but I didn't feel comfortable stopping to take a photo. There was also a line of huts that, if I understood correctly, was for the use of "volunteers".

Ironically, there is a large army base in the area and after passing that I lost my shoulder and the road turned to crap.

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There was a long, twisty descent through several small villages, all bar one, with row upon row of wooden huts selling artesenal products. One village seemed to specialise in ceramics, each hut selling similar merchandise, the next wood. Stores, side by side by side selling the same merchandise. It didn't make a lot of sense to me unless it's a communal effort.

IOverlander is full of reports of checkpoints, official and unofficial, in these parts. Searches for drugs are common at the official stops and can be quite vigorous or less so for a "tip". I passed two today - the first I was stopped for a chat and the second just waved through. There was no shortage of illicit drugs in San Cristóbal.

I stopped in one of the villages for lunch, eating al fresco in the main plaza. Setting off again it wasn't long until I was back into a climb but at least the surface improved and I had a shoulder again! Slow, and despite the cool temperature I was hot and sweaty. I knew I had about 15km to go up, then all downhill. A car pulled in and the driver gave me an apple! A cyclist, he overestimated by 5km how long my climb was!

As climbs go it was pretty!
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These past days I've been finding it difficult to drink and today was no exception, despite sweating loads. I stopped regularly to sip my water - normally I'd be guzzling.

At the top I pulled into a bus stop to eat my celebratory apple, then headed off again.
I took it easy not wanting to get too cold but still flew into Comitán.

Now this is how to announce yourself!
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There's no shortage of hotels and Booking.com delivered a real bargain in the centre so I turned off the main road.
Whoah!!!
This is a steep little town! At one stage one of the streets was so steep there was only a pushing option!
I detoured via the Plaza and fell a little in love.
So, so different from San Cristobal, and for my money, so much nicer. I sat in the Plaza for a little while just soaking up the calmness.
The website had the wrong address, nearly sending me down an impossible hill, but I found the hotel, checked in and almost ran out to explore!

I'm sure I miss lots of things with my haphazard approach to planning, but in my defence I'm much rather the tingle of excitement that a view like this inspires! It had me rushing off to my hotel to drop my gear and go explore!
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I'm sure this is a tourist town too (all the hotels point to that) but it has such a different, normal vibe. It's full of "normal" shops selling "normal" things to "normal" people. The sun coming out to shine helped a lot too!

There are some wonderful views of long, narrow streets dropping down and rich, lush green landscape in the background. I found these views captivating.
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People were more prone to smile here than they have been for a while. The Plaza was full of children playing, smiling and laughing - always good to generate a pleasant atmosphere.
I had a good wander and explore, had some simple food and back for a shower and an early night. I was very, very tired.

Here's a weird thing. It was only today that the penny dropped with me that I am leaving México! All of my focus was on where I was going, not where I was leaving.

Follow the spire......
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Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098
//
 
Covid Interlude, Thursday, June 17, 2021, Comitan to Ciudad Cuauhtémoc 83km Total KM 1657

Min meters 604, Max Meters 1667
Total Climb 429 Total Descent 1282
Min Temp 19 Max Temp 35
Ave Temp 26

Breaking for the Border

Despite having an internal room (warm & stuffy) I was awoken at about 4 am by rain pounding on the bathroom skylight. And again at 6. Uh oh.

About 8 I got up, still raining, but not as heavy, and went for a wander. Wet. Wet. Wet.
Back in the room I packed up and then went for breakfast. Still raining!

I loaded the bike outside - a tricky job on such a steep hill - donned my raingear and set off. I took a meandering route back to the main road trying to avoid the worst of the steep descents and climbs - narrow streets, heavy traffic, crazy steep sections, rain and a loaded bike do not make for a fun combination! Let's not forget the road engineering too, designed to accommodate all that rain! Drains more akin to cattle grids were common.

On a day like today you gotta look for the beauty wherever you can find it!
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The main road through town was interesting - busy, dodgy surfaces, homicidal collectivos, flooding but I was soon on the edge of town and using a shoulder.

The rain was ok but it was cool - Gizmo settling down to 20C. A busyish 4 lane road was not exactly inspiring and the constant rolling hills kept me warm. I settled in for a pretty dull day.

I stopped at the last Oxxo (possibly my last one!) for a coffee after about 15km and at the crest of a hill. The rain had all but stopped but with a descent ahead I kept my raingear on.

I lost my shoulder for the descent which made it all the more interesting! Guardless drops kept me away from the edge, impatient oncoming overtakers pushed me back over!
At one stage I was overtaken by an articulated truck that was itself being overtaken by another articulated truck on the brow of a hill with a blind bend following. It's a nightmare for me that an accident will occur during one of these manoeuvres. Usually there is no cellphone coverage between towns to call for help.


594774


I was above the clouds for a while then dropped through them. The countryside was very green, a lush healthy green that I could smell. There were very few safe places to stop for a photo.

Then, below the clouds I saw this:
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To my way of thinking and sense of direction that's Guatemala after the plain!

I don't know if it was the sight of the next country or the extremely sharp hairpins but the road seemed to come to life!
It wasn't the kind of road for just letting go - in fact it required a lot of care.
Walls of rock and cliffs gave way to trees as I dropped down.
Turning a bend I saw the flashing lights of a Police car and a lot of people. A truck carrying sacks of cement had rolled over trying to join the road and the cab had been entirely squashed into a rain gulley. I just kept going and was passed moments later by an ambulance rushing to the scene.
I have never seen as many accidents as I have here in México.

There be dragons! As excited as I was to be entering a new country my anxiety was growing to match it. There are only so many times I can read "Do not travel" before it has an effect.
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All too soon it was over and I was dumped out on the plain about 800 meters above sea level. Hot!! 30C and humidity you could bottle. But a shoulder again!

Flat and dry but hot and humid!
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I pulled in and ditched the rain gear and set off again into a headwind.
Thank the Touring Gods for headwinds! ^_^ It kept me cool. (If I ever do make it to Argentina I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be writing such a sentence!)

I was belting out a decent pace and enjoying myself even if the landscape wasn't so inspiring. Then I came across a sign for Guatemala and that put a big smile on my face.
Regularly spaced little settlements reminded me that some food wouldn't go amiss so I pulled in with 25km to go. The sun even came out while I ate!

My first sign for Guatemala!
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I took a decent break after the food not wanting to upset my internals too much. Once out of the shade the temperature had risen so I was glad to be moving again and into the wind.

I got occasional glimpses of mountains in the distance, a vivid and deep blue against the grey clouds. About 3km from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc I lost my shoulder, the road turned to crap and I could feel random drops of rain. A race was not what I wanted!

Mother Nature closing in on me
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So I didn't!
With a narrow road and no shoulder Nature seemed to be trying to envelop me. There were interesting trees and some flowering bushes. It's such a contrast to the scene that greeted me 18 months ago when I crossed from Texas into a desert!

Ciudad means city and this ain't no city!!
I pulled into the only hotel - where Andy Peat (CGOAB) stayed. Oh dear Lord! Probably the worst place I've stayed!
(Captain Hindsight says: There's a newer hotel further along the road!)

Tomorrow, the plan is to get up, cross the border (hopefully!), buy some currency and head on into Guatemala. I don't have many choices, there only being one road for a while, but that road is officially labeled as the Pan American - a road synonymous with biking to Argentina. Hell, synonymous with all kinds of travel through the Americas! In my mind, it's a road that says "Adventure". And I'm going to be riding on it!!
(Mex 190 which I've been on for a while is officially named Carratera Internacional and I've seen it on one map as the Pan American).
As excited as I am to pedal on such an iconic road I'll probably be hopping off it at the first opportunity. It heads for the coast and I want to avoid that. I'm seeing lots of mountains in my future!

All this climbing is taking it out of me, but I prefer it to the excessive heat/humidity combo. The bonus is that sometimes I get to travel down a road like this!
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I honestly don't know how far I am going to go.
If Guatemala is unpleasant I'm prepared to turn around. Reentry to México is straightforward and I'll get another 6 month permit.
El Salvador, I believe, won't let me in but the other countries will, Covid test permitting.
Honduras and Nicaragua are a bit intimidating. I can stay in mountains in Honduras but Nicaragua has me back on the coast. Ditto Costa Rica and Panama. Hot! Humid!
The boats I had been hoping to utilise to cross to Colombia are still out of action.
Logistically, even if I can continue to cross borders I'm going to be hitting Peru at the wrong time, weatherwise.
In a perfect world I'll get to Panama, catch a plane to Chile and continue from there.
But this ain't a perfect world and Panama is a long, long way away.
I'll just have to take each day as it comes.

I'm nervous about tomorrow but I tell myself that if I give in to my fears I won't get to see views like this
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Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098/
 

Attachments

Covid Interlude, Friday, June 18, 2021, Ciudad Cuauhtémoc to the far side of Colotenango 57km Total KM 1714

Min meters 690, Max Meters 1557
Total Climb 1311 Total Descent 379
Min Temp 18 Max Temp 39
Ave Temp 28

Bienvenido a Guatemala. Fantasyland.

Hot water they said! Pffffft!

I had an unsettled night's sleep and woke regularly. Then overslept.
I'd planned to brew up some coffee but scrapped that and hit the road. After being offered my morning marijuana by one of the staff.

The Mexican immigration office is in the town and that was a simple stamp and return my immigration page.
Then it was a steep climb through fantasyland with low clouds, mist and mountains appearing and disappearing. Beautiful!

Carlsberg don't do borders......
I felt like I was on a magical mystery tour
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(A reference to an ad campaign that was far too long ago!)
In the context of heading for the border of a new country?
Inspirational!
The sun even started to make an appearance!

It was at this point, still in México with the sun shining, fantasyland all around me that my smiles kicked my nervousness' ass!
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The Guatemalan border was in a town too, La Mesilla. A friendly local pointed me to where I had to go. The very pleasant lady behind the counter directed me next door for the Covid formalities - check my test result, take my temperature and make lots of notes. Back next door and I was done before I knew it!
90 days. As far as I understand that's for Honduras and El Salvador too and possibly Nicaragua.
Inside and outside the offices are information posters for migrants, even migrant children.
In one it talks of a right to return and that the government will help without discrimination.
Another, for kids who can't stay where they are sets out practical advice such as memorising phone numbers of family and friends, of writing down their route and taking note of what Government offices can help them and where they are.
The fact is that I could easily cross over and back from Mexico to Guatemala and back again without ever once having to show my passport. Someone who doesn't stand out as an obvious foreigner would have even less problems.
Crazytown!
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Back at the bike a man I'd spotted earlier approached to change money. No messing around and now I have to get to grips with a whole new currency.

I walked through the chaos that is La Mesilla, basically steep streets lined with stores selling clothes and electronics. Crazy, even early in the morning.
Yet, every now and then I was offered a glimpse through an alley of rich green nature, so close I could almost touch it.
I was hungry but there were no places where I could eat and keep the bike under observation so I continued on out and up. There are quite a few villages along the way. I don't think I'm going to starve!

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There was a shoulder, gratefully used as I climbed higher. It disappeared for a long descent through dense greenery. In one village I spotted a food place and dropped in for some breakfast.

Outside La Mesilla, before the descent. Nerves? What nerves??
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A delightful lady offered things to accompany my eggs all accepted by me and when I was finished told me to rest as long as I wanted.

My descent soon petered out and now I was climbing again, sans shoulder. Interesting! There was a string of villages and traffic could be hairy.
Repurposed US style school buses decked out in vivid colours and names barrelled along. Today, it was fun and interesting but I know that impression will change!

A brief infatuation, I fear!
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The temperature rose through the day and I was feeling it in my head.
I pulled in at a little store to top up my water - I'm guzzling again.
Edgar came over for a chat. A carpenter by trade he wants to learn English and wanted my number for that! Instead, I told him about Duolingo so out with his phone, download the app and then he wanted me to help him with the test they do to check your proficiency! I got rolling again!

It seems like I'm in a different world. A green, mountainous world.
I'm not seeing anything I haven't seen before in terms of plants or trees or mountains, it's just that there is a density and a proximity that increases the impact.

A green, mountainous world.
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I stopped again at a little store in the shade for an ice cream and met Christian, a 10 year old with lots of questions. He was helping his brother packing sticks into bags and when the work was over the conversation began.
Confident, uninhibited and genuinely curious he was very engaging. Then he ran off to get his English homework so I could help him.
That was fun!
We started with the alphabet, me pointing to a letter and he having to say it in English. Then I'd ask for an English word with that letter. He said he didn't know any and I'd tease him, asking questions to prompt him to say things like "Baseball" or "Football". I could see the delight in his eyes when he realised he knew more than he thought!
In fairness, his teacher isn't great. Looking ahead in his copy book the examples of words the teacher used were inaccessible and uninspiring for a kid. "S" was scale, as in to climb, "F" for feather (but "B" wasn't for bird!)
I shouldn't have stayed so long but I was enjoying myself immensely. His grandmother was heartily laughing as I was drawing the words out of him.

Passing through a village
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I set off again, still climbing. I was following an angry, brown river that was rushing down a twisty, narrow valley. I'd climb, drop, then climb again, constantly rising.
After marvelling at the quality of the road at the start, my opinion soon changed as it became quite poor. The dreaded topes didn't make an appearance until later and they're worse than in Mexico because they are broken up and quite dangerous on a loaded bike.

I had no destination in mind since I had no idea how long the border crossing would take but the further one, Huehuetenango was now out of reach unless I really wanted to push myself. I'm not pushing myself on the first day in a new country!

Rush? Through this? No thank you!
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Then the rain came! Thankfully on the outskirts of a town so I pulled in for some (sheltered) grilled corn on the cob and a pleasant chat with a young fella. Colotenango had a couple of "Love Hotels" which looked iffy when I cycled past but there was an outdoor swimming complex the far side of town that IOverlander said allowed camping. I'd try that.
All I had to do was get through town.
Chaos! Gridlock! Craziness on a level not seen in a while!
I could see no obvious cause but there were three lanes of traffic on a two lane road! All going nowhere!
Safer walking, I was skipping between cars, trucks and buses when a man on a motorcycle started talking to me. He clearly wanted to practise his English but I was struggling to understand as I tried to avoid getting squashed. He offered me a place to stay at his home which I was delighted to accept until he said it was 40km away. I didn't have 40km in my legs and the rain, stopped for the moment, was going to return. He wanted to ride home then return to pick me up. I couldn't accept that! In the end we got separated in the traffic, an aggressive bus sending me scrambling off the road, he having to move on or be hit.

Before the rain, the traffic, the fumes, the chaos there was this.....
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While catching my breath in front of a pickup stuck on the wrong side of the road the driver hopped out, handed me two bananas and wished me a good journey!
In fact, that crazy traffic was a bonus for a cyclist because I got lots and lots of positive messages, waves, toots, smiles and even wolf whistles - from women! It's been a while since I smiled so much!

Still in the traffic I came to the baths, rolled in, found an employee to be told no camping!

Back on the road again my next option was a Love Hotel. "The Memory of Love" AutoHotel no less!
The lady who checked me in is a delight, showing me how I can park the bike, pull down the shutter and all is safe. My room is actually downstairs. A few minutes later she's knocking at the internal door to give me a big, bright wooly blanket! I'm guessing she realised I have no-one to keep we warm!
My room is past its best, but it's home for tonight. The rain is pishing down but I have mirrors to each side, at each end and above my bed!
Me? I'm more interested in the fact that I have hot water! Jeez but I'm getting old!^_^

I was quite apprehensive about today. Not knowing what lay in store at the borders, possibly leaving the bike unattended (it was never out of my sight), changing money on the street and all the current warnings about the border area.
In reality? It was a waste of (negative) energy!
My only quibble is that I haven't seen a "Pan American" roadsign! For some reason I want a photo.

Guatemala is going to be tough, there's no doubt about that. But there's a reward.
The landscape is from a fantasy. The people, so far, are genuine and helpful, friendly too.
Give me a road here where I'm not having to constantly focus and there's no limit to where this place will bring me!

Feck me! I'm in Guatemala!
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(So good I include it twice^_^)


Chat? Yes Please!
https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/chat-zone-for-the-big-big-trip-journal.254098/
 
Covid Interlude, Saturday, June 19, 2021, Colotenango to Huehuetenango 35km Total KM 1749

Min meters 1531, Max Meters 1909
Total Climb 562 Total Descent 186
Min Temp 18 Max Temp 36 Ave Temp 25

Another land of smiles!

You know, there's a lot to be said for a mirror over the bed! I didn't get to experience it until the morning when I got up for a pee, turned on the light and went back to bed. It has potential to be a lot of fun! With someone else of course!^_^

I was in no great rush this morning for two reasons - it was raining and I didn't have too far to go. On top of that I could hear lots of traffic on the road. Despite sleeping well I was tired, too.

I got up and brewed some coffee in the parking area and enjoyed my first cup as the rain stopped and I was watching the river roaring past the back of the motel.

The river rushing past in the morning. The fields opposite are productive, to the right and up there is a church high on the hill and the corrugated structure covers the stairs of the neighbouring room. The rain makes an interesting noise on those! This is not a part of the world to travel in if you enjoy peace and quiet!
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Then it was pack time. In the middle of packing there was a gentle knock on the internal door and a different little old lady enquired if I had slept well! I can't remember the last time anyone asked me that in a hotel! Some questions about my trip, again, a genuine interest and she left me to finish packing.

I can't eat in the morning these days. That's not like me. Normally I can shovel away a big bowl of porridge and then some. Given that I was hungry falling asleep last night it's a little odd.

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So I set off again, uphill again, but at least it was cool and dry. Traffic was heavy, but tended to be grouped together. Oftentimes it was better to pull off the road when a convoy headed by an old truck was moving up behind me.

There was a string of villages along the way. Usually, a few mechanics/stores along the road, the actual village being above the road - often with a precipitously steep road up. Rope bridges were common across the river allowing people to walk to the road or to the village.
Before this road was built this must have been a very isolated spot!

The sun starting to peek out as I pass through a village. There are a lot of uncompleted buildings, larger than in México, that people seem to be working on and living in. I saw one young fella sifting gravel through a large, homemade sieve to separate sand to mix with cement. That'll explain the slow progress!
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Those bright buses are losing their appeal already! Get behind one approaching a tope and it will slow right down to get over it then hit the accelerator - a huge, dense, particle filled cloud of black smoke is the result! In a village or town where they stop a lot you really don't want to be behind them!

I have to take my hat off to the operators of the AutoHotels here. They may not look like much but they are named well! "The Place of Hidden Passions", "The Keys to Ecstasy" and "The Secret of Love" are just some of the names I recall from today.

A monument celebrating Central America. Closed off from the road, but I could easily walk down to it. While setting up the shot a guy on a bike pulled up beside mine. He didn't touch anything but set off as I approached.
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In almost every settlement I received cheers of encouragement and friendly comments often in English. Kids especially. In one or two just sullen looks. Lots of wandering dogs, more nervous of me than me of them. One chase but he was a barker. When the sun came out the dogs took to sleeping, even on a bridge with traffic hurtling along right beside them. It didn't always end well. I saw one small dog being picked apart by evil, black vultures. Up close they really are sinister, ugly beasts

I pulled in for some fried chicken and chips, probably not the healthiest breakfast but it did the trick.

I was higher now and the river was less swollen, less angry. Then, rising over one crest I was in open farmland. After that it was up and down with not much altitude gain.

A rope bridge to allow pedestrians cross the river. There were quite a few of these today. Alternatively, there were steep, zigzagging stairs leading from the road up to some houses. Not for the faint of heart or the inebriated!
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I turned off for Huehuetenango and immediately hit traffic. Slow, heavy traffic. Still before noon I was in no rush. I was headed optimistically for the Plaza where I hoped to grab some wifi and check out accommodation options.

It seems like the entire centre is a huge street market and is not for the claustrophobic. I eventually made it to the Plaza, a disappointment, and hooked into some free wifi but it wouldn't work. Nothing for it but to go wandering.
I found a hotel, decent price, very pleasant check in lady, dropped my gear and headed out for a wander. No doubt it will rain at some stage so I'll make the most of the dry!

I stopped gaining height (but still had ups and downs) and the land became more user friendly.
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Guatemalan Plazas ain't nothing like Mexican ones! I wandered around weaving between traffic, stalls and sleeping dogs. Crazy! Not a place for relaxing.
I wandered to a coffee museum thinking it was a museum about coffee……
It had old TVs, radios, cameras, record players and coffee. So I had one.
Then wandered around some more.

There are some ruins outside of town but the thoughts of facing in to all that traffic craziness was too much. I am a bad tourist. Instead I returned to my hotel and caught up with this - even suffering a power cut!

More traffic gridlock! To the right is a rain gulley about half a meter deep. Fall in there and you'll know all about it!
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A bite to eat later and I was ready for bed.

The Hotel kindly provided me with a copy of the New Testament! I haven't seen that in a long long time!

Yep! I went down here on a loaded bike!
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There's a big American influence here. La Mesilla had lots of "American Clothes" stores and to be fair they were different in colour (more bland) and style (brand names) than what I have being seeing.
"American" can be a sensitive adjective in México. To Europeans America is the USA and Americans celebrate the 4th of July. But they're North Americans to the Americans of Central and Southern America and México.
I didn't pay too much attention in La Mesilla but on entering the chaos that is Huehuetenango I was hit with Wendy's and Taco Bell. I nearly fell off my bike seeing Taco Bell! That's like taking an American version of an Irish Pub and plonking it down in Ireland. No local is going to go!
The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I bought some more electrolytes - each sachet to be dissolved in 8oz of water. What the feck is 8oz of water????
(About ¼ liter as it turns out). I thought they were metric here.

The Cathedral beside the Plaza.
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Another quirk - they're an hour behind México! It was my phone that told me that. It's not a particularly significant issue (I struggle to recall what day it is!) but it does explain why the Covid lady at the border was just getting organised when I offered her my cheerful Buenos Días!

Now this I really appreciated! A relief map of the State I'm currently in.
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Chat? Yes Please!
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