Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reunion

August 7th to 9th

Anna and Ali, our riding buddies are back in the country. They flew in a couple of days ago and took a bus to Xela to be re-united with their steel horses after a month in Holland and we've arranged to meet in Quiche, 3 days ride away. Maybe we could be there sooner - it's only 100 miles or so, but we're getting used to the terrain now and all normal judgments of distance are irrelevant here.

It's good to be moving again after killing time by the lake in San Pedro and also in Antigua and we set about tackling the Western Highlands with gusto. We're also retracing the bus route that brought us from San Pedro - effectively 'filling in the gap' of those non cycled miles.

The road to 'Pastores' in fine, but then a 90 degree turn points us directly at the mountains and it's back to that grinding bottom gear as we climb away from the twin peaks of Volcanoes 'Acantenango' and 'Agua'; the former standing a majestic 3975m (13150 ft)....


On a high plateau the land is worked by industrious Mayans; tilling, sewing and harvesting oversize crops bursting from rich soil pregnant with goodness from ancient lava flows. Giant cabbage, radish, carrots and tall swaying corn fields as far as the eye can see...


In keeping with ancient building traditions, modern Mayans construct their road network paying homage to the steep sided pyramids of Palenque and Tikal built during the classical period. This close to Guatemala City, traffic is dense and fast flowing and we are often forced off the flat black top and down the perilously steep sides.....


The entire day is spent ascending and we finish tired and heavy legged in Tecpan at roughly the half way point.

The second day begins to mirror the first as the climb immediately resumes after Tecpan and we grind out another 500m of altitude in another series of long steep climbs interspersed by short rapid falls. The views are breathtaking....


The road finally begins to skirt a distant Lago de Atitlan 15 miles away and nearly a vertical mile below us, the huge brooding figure of Volcan de San Pedro standing sentinel.


A full day and a half of extreme climbing has taken it's toll as we wearily reach the road junction of Los Encuentros. Local rumours now tell of the 'tough' road ahead from here to Quiche and we wonder just what that can mean after the brutal last couple of days. Straight faced locals explain without irony that only now does it start to get steep.....

We decide to stop early and rest. Sue debates whether panic is necessary and the mood is sombre. It's like the eve of battle when all the hard marching is done; and yet tomorrow, the work begins in earnest. Troops are subdued and introspective as the heavens open and the world turns to water in a massive rain storm.

The next day however, dawns bright and clear - all prophesies of doom are soon forgotten as we race down the twists and turns and 6 miles fly by in a blur of exhilaration and speed.

And then we reach the viewpoint, overlooking the valley and the road to the next town - 'Chichicastenago'....


Time to suck it up as we enjoy the final couple of miles of the descent before finding out exactly what it takes for a Mayan to describe a road as steep.

This road qualifies as 'steep' according to a Mayan.....


And this is Sue joining the wagon train of supplies heading into town....


It's amazing to see what children as young as 3 and 4 are made to carry here. This young lad has maybe 20lbs of rice in a bag tied round his head. He also carries a scale down, pint size machete and finds the energy to chase after me as I rode past him up the hill. His playful jabs are all the incentive I need to climb yet another one in a series of steep hairpins. Oh those crazy Mayan kids! It is all good fun, but it does take some getting used to watching pre-school aged kids work with 18inch blades.....

Chichicastenango is a pilgrimage site for gringo travellers from all over the Guatemalan highlands. It's twice weekly markets are the largest in the country and it's a chance to buy all things artisanal. We take the bikes for a walk through the place to see what all the fuss is about and meet several of the people we saw laughing at us or just gaping in bemusement from the comfort of their buses as they passed us on the steeps....


For us though it's a repeat of what we have seen being made in the homes of countless tiny villages along the route, except here it's sold at 10 times the price of local markets.

We ride on and the locals continue to be right - the 12 miles between Chichicastenango and Quiche are also pretty tough.....


Finally we arrive in Quiche with legs of lead. A quick trip to an internet cafe reveals that the posse is in town and Anna and Ali have also just arrived. It's time for a beer or two and a catch-up, there are plans to be made and new routes to ride!

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