Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Humbled in The Volcano's Shadow

Feb 2nd to 4th

It feels good to leave Taxisco. it's probably only one of a couple of times we have not felt safe in a Guatemala town. It's a feeling that does not go away when a motorcyclist pulls along side me and then forces me to stop so he can warn me off the road we are travelling.
'Why are you going this way?' he enquires. 'There are armed robbers and kidnappers on this road' he explains.

The road in question climbs north along the shoulder of Tecuamburro Volcano to our next destination Cuilapa. If you cycle tour long enough, you will hear this kind of warning many times about 'this road' or 'that town' or sometimes even about entire countries. You have to respect some warnings, whilst others are just mere prejudice or simply fear of the unknown. We cycle on....

The day is again incredibly hot and humid and after 8 miles or so the road aims unerringly towards the steep side of the volcano. It doesn't take us long to realise this is going to be a challenge - this ride would have been a challenge before we spent 4 months at home eating cream desserts and watching TV.....

After 3 hours grinding in our bottom gears we are stopping to cool down and catch our breath every 500 meters or so and we are falling way behind schedule. There is little to no shade on the road and we ride in the full glare of a fierce sun. I am carrying 14 liters of water, Sue has 4 more and we are rapidly getting through it. We are stopped and warned about the road again and I am beginning to wonder....

2 hours later we are still climbing and Sue is pushing her bike as much as riding now. I ride part way, then jog back and help push her bike uphill ahead of my parked bike then ride to catch her up. We do this in relays. A third passer by stops and quite angrily barks at me not to leave my bike unattended. This is getting crazy now....

We're just going too slowly and we finally crest the climb well into the afternoon. If we had expected spectacular views from the summit we are in for a disappointment....

A ghostly figure emerges from a thick soup of smoke. The air is thick with an acrid smell that burns the throat as we try to hold our breath long enough to ride through the worst of it. This is the solution to Guatemala's waste problem. Lorry loads are carted to the top of high passes, where families live to incinerate the mess in great bonfires before pushing the half burnt detritus over the edge where it spills for miles down the volcano's side. Raggedy urchins play in the filth looking for salvage as do carrion birds from upon high....

It's a horrible spectacle, especially when you consider how a view point like this would be turned into a beauty spot elsewhere.
I am torn and it's hard to be too critical when a country gains access to plastic bottles, coca cola cans and the other trappings of modern life before it has organised a solution to deal with the problem. Maybe we in the west are just better at hiding the things by covering them up in land fill sites. It's a hugely sad sight non the less.

By 4 pm we are another sad sight as we collapse exhausted for the umpteenth time by the road side. We are finally spent after fighting heat exhaustion, humidity and crazy gradients for over 8 and a half hours. Normally we would just throw up the tent, cook up some pasta and sleep it off for the next 12 hours, but the repeated warnings have got to me and it just doesn't feel right here. Up here in the mountains, there is just no flat land and it's impossible to get more than a few meters off the road. With just 11 miles to go we know we cannot make it before dark and we finally have to swallow the bitter pill of defeat and stick out the thumb. It's an ignominious entry into Cuilapa on the back of a pick up truck.

The heat exhaustion is the worst of it and we rest the next day and rebuild our strength in local restaurants....

I can see why they turn to alternative food sources when the cattle are in such poor shape....

Learning a lesson we hit the road at dawn and ride for a brief couple of cool hours before the sun builds to full power. We ride for the border 75kms distant over land that ripples in and out of valleys away from the volcano....

We are passed on the road by hundreds of speeding motorbikes; many in groups set up for touring. Curiosity gets the better of us and we stop at a petrol station and meet a gang bound for a Central American bike convention in San Salvador....

The border is beautifully set on a bridge over the Chalchuapa River with Vulcan Suchitan some 30 miles away in the distance....

Once we persuade the all too aggressive money changers to 'go away', the crossing is a formality as Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all belong to a group of nations and share a common entry visa.

It's over the bridge and 'Welcome to El Salvador'....


Unknown said...

Didn't realize you would be heading out of Guatamala so quickly! I'm so glad you are keeping up with your blog. It's truly great to read. Keep on truckin'!

Sween in SAmerica said...

We spent so long in Guatemala we either had to apply for residency or get out!
You know us we have a tight schedule to stick to and places to be...
You will be happy to hear the blog is getting a bit further behind as I´ve not written anything else....
Until the next post...

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