Sunday, August 23, 2009


July 2nd to 5th

A new country brings with it new types of dress, culture, manerisms, food and of course new types of bugs.... For the first time on tour, I am laid low by the microscopic and my insides turn first to jelly, then to liquid. It's not pleasant and we are forced to stay in Huehuetenango (Way-way-tenango) for an over-long 3 days.

You need your strength to ride Guatemala and my wobbly legs are sorely tested after a brief drop into a valley at Malancancito. After that it's all climbing along a twisting mountain road 55kms up to Pologua.

The Guatemaltecos seem to be noticeably more industrious than the Mexican across the border and the earth takes on a patchwork look as all available land is cultivated....

Everywhere trees have been cleared to be replaced by corn, raddish, chilis, carrot and inumerable other vegetables. Angles are no deterrent and near vertical slopes fall under the ox driven plough. Where ox cannot tread, fields are ploughed by hand....

Here no one just sits and stares into space, all are busy and there's a buzz about the place that was lacking in rural Mexico.

Wealth is demonstrated in smiles and dentists in Guatemala are cosmetic rather than practical. The young sport dazzling grins, a blend of gold and shiny stone....

Later, the passing of time turns all that bling to toothless smiles in wrinkled old faces as the dental butchery takes it's toll. The people here all have beautiful smiles but Mayan Guatemala is a superstitious place and cameras are viewed with distrust. You have to respect local custom and ask before taking pictures of people. Often you will be refused and it is not good to be caught sneaking 'candid' shots.

We are riding to Quetzaltenango, more popularly known by it's Mayan name as Xela (Shela) to meet up with Anna and Ali, an Australian and Dutch couple we originally rode with in Mexico. Xela is just beyond this deep valley with it's 30m waterfall...

Xela is firmly on the gringo trail and is served by tons of backpacker dorms and spanish schools. It's a great hangout for collecting the gossip and planning the onwards route. It's also surrounded by 3 volcanos including central America's highest - the great Tajumulco (4220m) and is prime hiking country. It's a strange mix of Central American and gothic German architecture. There was a German settlement here after the Spanish and they have all left their mark in the crumbling splendour of Enriquez passage....

Braving a 5am start we set out to the mirador above Santiaguito, an active cone that erupts every hour or so. After a couple of hours we are high enough to see all the way across the coastal plain to the Pacific Ocean and finally get our first glimpse of the fuming summit....

Unfortunately it's also our last view as 2 minutes later, the clouds roll in and visibility drops to zero.

20 minutes later, there's a sound akin to a jumbo jet taking off as Santiaguito blows it's top and blasts away for a good couple of minutes. We see nothing and are reduced to watching a recording as Ali holds up the guide's mobile phone. I don't know - maybe some of the majesty is lost on it's 2 inch screen....

This is Manchas, the hyperactive softy who lives with a local family we rent an apartment off. He likes sleeping, jumping, cuddling and eating bicycle tyres....

There is a tranquilo vibe around the central park and all the women dress in local Mayan colour. This girl, however proves that children are the same the world over as she shinnies up a tree in best dress while mother looks the other way....


Anonymous said...

Funny thing, this 't-internet'...

been thinking about getting a touring bike for a while and was browsing for some mikes designed (and made) in the uk when i came across your blog on the thorn cycles website

naturally would like to ask is it up to the job and are both you and your girlfriend on 'thorns'

although female by birth and vocation, i am also a bit on the tall side and find ladies bikes do not suit me too well. so my question is for your girlfriend i suppose, which one is she using?

you see all this would be a normal thing to ask given how i came across your website but to be honest and say:

WELL DONE you guys!!!!

read your profile and you mentioned you worked in Pilkington's. i specify and deal with that good ol' glazing all the time but my feet are really, really itchy and the road to load!

so in summary

i envy you two as i sit here in london.

(if you get a chance to review the bikes that would be grand too)

in the meantime

happy roads to both of you!


Sween in SAmerica said...

Hi z (is that your real name?)

Thanks for the comment - nice to see the site is spreading the word to budding tourers.

Sorry to answer your question with a question BUT, what kind of tour are you planning? The short answer is that Thorns are amazing bikes. I ride one and so do 2 cyclists we are with at the moment. Sue rides a Novara Safari which we found at REI in the states. It's also a good machine, but probably not tough enough for long the term. We may change it when we get back to Blighty and probably for a Thorn.

The reason I ask is that Thorns are built to handle the roughest stuff you can throw at them. The downsides are that that makes them both heavy and expensive. Mine is a Thorn Nomad and I ride it like I am trying to break it everyday - it never lets me down. I have a friend (who happens to be a lady) and she rides a Thorn ExxP, but reckons it's maybe overkill as it's very heavy and in a smaller frame - it's never gonna break.

The Rohloff hubs are great and save a lot of hassle compared to ordinary gears. If you can afford it - I would definitely get one. Other brands to maybe think about are 'Rotor' a German brand that Danni - the guy I rode with in Sth America had and was very good. Also 'Koga Miyata' a Dutch bike that friends have recommended. Both do options for Rohloffs gear hubs.

My email is and I'm happy to answer more Q's as you think of them.

The main thing is just to do it.... The glass world can look after itself for a while.

Happy dreaming

Whitney said...

It's good to see you found your blog again! Hope to see you in a few months. Love to you and Sue.


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