Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flores

August 18th to 25th

Another truck.
I hate getting rides, but there was a consensus in the group that the ride down to Semuc Champey would be one way. I suppose that, given it took 3 hours to cover the 7 miles between Lanquin and Semuc, added to the worse road and huge 12 mile climb from Lanquin up to the main road, it would probably take 2 days.

We travel in style....


Honestly there's plenty of room in there for four bikes, gear and people.
So much room in fact, that we actually picked up 3 more people with gear on route.
It's a bruising, uncomfortable journey as we bounce and roll up the uneven rocky surface, but I suppose it beats riding.

The road after 'Fray Bartolome' does not really improve, but at least the gradients are manageable as we ride through hot sticky, lowland jungle....


It's a slippery, bone shaker for 20 miles or so....


Passing by some incredible limestone rock formations. It looks like the ancient remains of a giant game of marbles, discarded playthings slowly being reclaimed by the relentless vegetation....


And finally we hit the paved stuff again as the road angles north, heat hazed and shimmering it stretches to a distant horizon....


Massive 'Ceiba' trees hint at the ancient forest that would have covered this entire plain. Now there are only tiny patches left - remote island habitations for the howler monkeys we hear bellowing and roaring amongst the branches. We are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a mother and her baby right by the roadside....


This is the devastated land that remains today.....


Generations of slash and burn, plus a more recent clearance policy to turn this into grazing land has totally denuded the forest. Now this is cattle country, but it all looks so fragile as bony, listless cows bake in the heat; their ribs cutting a washboard pattern under thin stretched skin. People are forced to walk further and further in search of firewood and the temperature is dramatically higher outside of the shady protection of the trees. Now the woods are gone I wonder how it will all look if there is a year or two of reduced rains. There is nothing to hold the valuable moisture in the soil and all safety margins are gone.....

We stop for lunch in a small village and unbeknown to us, word has got out - we've been spotted. They come in one and twos at first, then threes and fours, then all at once. Before we know it we're surrounded....


Local children, curious about the bikes and the gringos empty the local school as the teachers give chase across the field - they come happy and smiling from all directions, some with bare feet, some in raggedy clothing. Some are just happy to examine the bikes, and the white faces, others are more bold and demand money. All are curious about the language - their English is rudimentary and they are keen to hear and pick up new words. En masse they repeat words they snatch from our conversations. I tell Anna it's looks like becoming a bit of a mob and they repeat, beginning to chant mob mob mob mob MOB MOB MOB MOB....

We ride away laughing, the road entirely blocked to traffic by the crowd.

We manage 125kms (80 miles) for the day before stopping at 'Sayaxche', a dismal dangerous looking town on the banks of the Rio de la Pasion. The naming of the river seems to have inspired an unusually large number of brothels to set up (knocking) shop here. Faces of questionable beauty, smeared primary colour bright, pout and whisper as I pass.
I pass....

We plan a boat trip up-river to the local Mayan ruin of 'Ceibal', famed for it's carvings and remote jungle setting, but the dreaded lurgy strikes at Ali and he goes down with stomach pains. Maybe that month in Holland gave his system time enough to forget it's immunity to Guatemalan bugs.
Sayaxche is not a place to stay and recover so he bravely decides to ride the next day.

We await the river boat for the short crossing.....


It is a bit of wait as well as the boat meanders agonisingly slowly against the feeble river. Looking closer reveals the problem - under two palm leaved 'palapas' are the engines - two tiny outboard motors manned on rotating outriggers. It sounds like a wasp in a bottle as several tons of boat and cargo slowly zig and zag at the mercy of the swirling current.


While we wait, the smell of fried chicken from a nearby food cart is too much for Ali and he loses his breakfast within 3 feet of it, much to the vendors distaste - not good for business I guess.

Anna negotiates a ride with a truck driver on the boat as Ali wobbles on rubber legs and we load their stuff.

Sue and I ride a hot, flat and dull 60 miles through a featureless wilderness of deforestation. We reunite in 'Flores', an island town on Lake Peten Izta. Ali is in a bad way and generously shares his ailments with a not too grateful Anna. Over the course of the next 4 days he and Anna take it in turns to spend time in the bathroom and make howler monkey sounds..... Not pleasant.

Sue and I are forced to relax on our balcony and enjoy the ever changing mood of the lake.
Blazing thunder and lightning with storm force winds....


To mellow sunsets - Lake Liquid Gold....


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