Saturday, September 18, 2010

Segment 23: Flores, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala (August 25- September 5, 2010)

From Flores, we first headed southeast towards Poptún (on pavement), but intending to do as much dirt road riding as possible on our way to Antigua:

the depressing reality that the SUPEREVIL American corporation Monsanto has its clutches on Guatemala, too.

amazing views began opening up as we climbed out of Poptún

this guy was trying to race us up the hill

while the cars and trucks were stopped and turning around, the bikes allowed us complete freedom of movement

we stayed like this for what was probably an hour

from San Luis we began a beautiful and bumpy dirt road ride through Quekchí lands, climbing mercilessly at times. Jason is purchasing fresh hot fried banana bread from this Quekchí girl; we gobbled a bunch:

a Guatemalan traffic jam: this angry bull was uncooperative, and we stopped to lend a hand to help goad it into the truck

our camp in a village school.  for this privilege we only had to ask permission from the mayor

these boys are riding three-at-a-time, a wobbly event

now in Fray Bartolomé, pictured here is a Tuktuk, a type of simple motorized tricycle imported from India and used as taxis.  In just a couple of years they have proliferated all over Guatemala.

these guys are lining up for transport to a work project.  Note the almost universal dress of Guatemalan campesino men: baseball cap, button-down or T-shirt, jeans, rubber boots, and machete in hand.

...leaving Fray Bartolomé a clearing storm gave us these beautiful landscapes...

this is how folks move around in rural Guatemala

the hills began getting longer, steeper, as the terrain became a gnarled complex of highlands and deep valleys

... At another school campsite, these boys visited us in late afternoon .  First curious, then playful, they started a great paper airplane show, even giving us paper so we could participate...

...the hills and endless climbing also featured some amazing descents... this was pure bliss...

... arrived in Campur after some grueling riding, we stumbled upon a wonderful indigenous market...
here we are indulging in what may be one of the all-time cyclists' super streetfood finds: bananas frozen and dipped in chocolate sauce, sold for ONE Quetzal, which is about 12 cents.  They are called Chocos, or Chocobananos.  Amazingly, these are found all over Guatemala.

some Quekchí women in traditional dress pass by

we struggled through the terrain around Campur:
here Mike guts out a rough climb

...the view before a fantastic, steep and bumpy 12 km descent into Lanquín...

this site is Semuc Champey, a series of cool pools in terraces set in rough topography, here muddied by the ferocious rains we have been experiencing

just above the pools the majority of the river goes underground and stays under for a stretch of 300 meters.  They say that in the early 90's a Spanish tourist fell in, and 45 days later an arm and a leg (only) came out the other side.  Underground is a fierce array of caves, and stalactites, among other limestone formations...

now, relaxing

the river after it re-emerges

riding with the locals in the back of a huge diesel truck

blue corn tortillas found near Pajal when we were desperately hungry.  Fresh and steaming hot, thick and with unbelievable texture, handmade as are all tortillas in Guatemala, we decided that these were the BEST tortillas that we have ever eaten

...nearing Cobán, this is our first glimpse of coffee plantations in Guatemala...

Cobán is a streetfood dream.  Chocobananos above; breadfruit, potatoes, plantains, and banana bread below:

the market in Cobán

the neighborhood where we stayed at Hotelito El Ecológico in Cobán 

seen on a bike shop in Cobán where Jason changed one Chinese bottom bracket for another

filling our bottles with cold clean mountain water

... here we have entered the Cloud Forest Corridor of Guatemala.  We go to the Biotopo Quetzal in hopes of spotting the national bird of Guatemala, somewhat mythical, and in danger of extinction.  This reserve featured some great walking trails and an array of cloud forest features:


tree ferns

bromeliad epiphytes

more waterfalls

amazing tree roots

... great views over the forest...
...and a view of our road climbing in the distance

... but in the end, the only quetzal we saw was this stuffed one at the visitors center.

Now in Salamá...we had thought that chocobananos were an evolutionary peak, but had to revise this after trying Chocofresas (strawberries frozen and dipped in hot chocolate sauce!):

gnarly climbing out of Salamá.

... preparing for another dirtroad adventure, we removed our road tires in favor of mountain tires, and attracted more boys than imaginable in the town square of Rabinal...

evidence of fundamental religion in Guatemala, evidently a social disease.  "God is Love" scratched into a 5 Quetzal note.

climbing out of Rabinal, we negotiated a VERY recent landslide, so recent that it was still slightly sliding...

... and climbed up muddy misty slopes seemingly forever

that's Mike cooling off

Guatemala past, present and future.  Girl in traditional dress talks on a cell phone while standing in a cornfield

topping out in thick mist, we collected ourselves before what was one of the most enjoyable descents any of us have seen on this trip:
mud holes with wet oozing mud!

Mike ate it in one of the holes, went over handlebars, and only ended up with a few scrapes

mud mud mud and very fun

the descent dropped us into El Chol, Baja Verapaz. There we met a Peace Corps volunteer, drank beer with the locals, and spent the night. We were told no white people had passed through the town in over a year before us.

the incredible riding extended into the next day as well...

a welcome sign, advertising a whole variety of Choco treats

public transport, a tricked out school bus

cooling off in a creek

... and a long descent to this hurling river...

after a grueling climb back out of the valley, we camped near the end of this dirt road stretch, and this was sunrise upon awakening the following morning

welcome street food, 45 km from Antigua: fried potatoes seasoned with cumin, and whole fried plantains

Relief.  Finally, arrived in Antigua after a hair-raising descent of some 12-15 km.  We will be here for some time...

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