Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coban to Lanquin

August 13th to 15th

We roll into Coban mid morning on weary legs after a short ride from our unscheduled stop in San Christobal. The ride is just enough to get the legs moving again after being annihilated by yesterday's climb past the landslide.

We stock up on calories in a wonderful traditional 'comedor' doing local soups and stews before hitting the 'panaderia' or bakery. Coban is famous for it's cakes and pastries and it would be rude not to investigate. Never one to shirk my duty, I undertake an extensive research project, unselfishly taking samples of everything the shop has to offer.

After much retesting under controlled conditions I can finally conclude there is merit in the claim of excellence. It's all fantastic! Coban is top of the list of fine places to stuff your face silly! The chocolate is good too....

The town is a real mixture of affluent living for some and a day to day subsistence grind for others. The land surrounding it is awash with coffee and cardamom plantations providing great wealth to the few owners. By contrast in the town there is pavement market where women come to sell produce from their smallholdings....

Raggedy people in bare feet carry bundles on their heads. Others wait patiently behind pitifully small piles of fruit or flowers - all they have to sell....

A little girl chomps on an apple whilst waiting for her mother to buy tomatoes.

The dignity and stoicism of the people is beautifully captured in this incredible portrait taken (with permission) by Anna....

We visit the other half on a tour of 'Finca Santa Margarita'; a coffee plantation based right in the town centre. This is what it's all about....

Beans ripen and turn a deep red in late August/September and can be eaten off the bush, the fruit being sweet and juicy.

Panama hats are de rigueur headgear for coffee sampling. I know it looks a bit cheesy, but Sue is just too busy comparing different beans to care....

This is where the cash is, beans harvested and separated from their fruit ready for roasting....

The quality is world class and there's a thriving and profitable export market. Local campesinos also come here to sell raw product for roasting, but markets are complicated and dominated by middle men and marketeers. There is a strong feeling in the villages that too much of the cash stays near the final stages of the production chain, much of it outside of Guatemala....

We leave coffee politics behind and head out the next day towards our next destination 'Lanquin'. The area between marks an end to the Western Highlands and the moderate climbs are becoming enjoyably social. We have breath to spare for chatter as we ride....

It's work as usual for the locals. The daily commute by bicycle, complete with chain saw....

Gathering fire wood - Mayan style....

There are huge views to the south to distant green mountains covered with mogul fields, grassy hummocks repeating smaller and smaller off into the far distance. A final ridge line angles away east, gradually losing height as it marches off to join up with the 'Sierra de Santa Cruz'. We are heading for that track down the side of the ridge - the line that angles back on itself and falls into the valley below.

We drop a 1000m on a treacherous rocky path. You kind of grab brake when you can and slide the back wheel crashing and bumping over uneven stone. The nicest thing I can say about the ride is that it's 'technical'. The nicest thing I can say about the scenery however, is that it's incredible - that's the path snaking down the hill....

Lanquin is a tiny village with a cave system to explore. An underground river surfaces from the caverns, the water heavy with minerals that turn it a smoky turquoise colour. There's a space to camp right by the cave entrance, but more importantly right on the river bank. We pitch camp and test out the cool blue waters from this natural diving board.....



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