Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Arrival in Guatemala

Happy to be almost into a new country
After close to four months in Mexico it was time to experience another country on my trip south. We were up early and passed through the border pretty hassle free without wasting much time. It was about 8.30 in the morning and we were cycling in Guatemala. We were excited and it felt great to be cycling in Central America.
Heading south through Central America
Painting of Guatamala on a wall on the way into Huehuetenango

We had been warned by two Guatemalan motorbikers a few weeks previous that this area of Guatamala near the border isn’t the greatest and that we should cycle as far as Huehuetenango to stay on our first night. 

Unfortunately these beautiful mountains were the scenes of horrendous violence and crimes during Guatemala's recent past.
We passed through some incredible mountainous landscape that day on our way to Hue Hue as it is locally known. We also got a very vocal welcome from most kids we passed who hysterically shout “Gringo, gringo” as you pass them. This is normally good natured but not always.

The first fellow cyclist we met in Guatemala

We didn’t have anywhere organised to stay in HueHue so we decided to head for the local “Bomberos” (fire station) to see how the hospitality of Guatemalan fireservices compared with that of Mexican, where we had been very generously accommodated numerous times. We weren’t disappointed… that night Rowan and I spent the night in probably the most unusual place we had laid our heads on the trip so far.  We slept in an ambulance! One of the firemen explained that they didn’t have any spare beds in the main building but he walked us out to the back yard and told us that we could stay in the ambulance if we wanted. Both struggling to keep straight faces we agreed that this should be fine. Before we unpacked we confirmed that the ambulance wasn’t being used as it would be difficult to get a good night’s sleep if the ambulance was being driven around for the night with sirens blaring. We were assured that it was being repaired and not currently in service. Cue two the two lads behaving like five year olds released in a toy shop for the night!

It's an emergency..

Cycling out of the large town of Hue Hue in rush hour traffic the next morning I managed to inhale more exhaust fumes than any human should ever inhale in their lives. The main culprit of these noxious fumes is the “chicken bus” which appear to essentially be US school buses that are way past their best days, sold down here and pimped up. They are as equally colorful as they are polluting, competing not just for passengers but in the slogans painted on the side of the bus usually proclaiming their devotion to God, Jesus, Mary of Jehovah.

The buses are more often painted different colours than the usual yellow, more like the bus in the back ground on the right.
It was only day two on the road in Guatemala but we were already experiencing what we had been advised about and that is the mountainous terrain of lots of Guatemala. It makes for beautiful scenery but challenging cycling!

That evening we arrived in Quetzaltenango (which almost everybody refers by it’s indigenous name of Xela) where we made our way to Brian Fletcher’s place. We met Brian through couch surfing and he had kindly agreed to accommodate us for our first two nights in Xela. Last year Brian had hiked the entire 2,200 mile distance of the Appalacian trail in the US from Georgia to Main over five months so despite being a different sport this man also knew what it is like to arrive into a place absolutely ravenous after a tough days exertions. Brian and his girlfriend Myriam cooked us a delicious dinner with large portions that really hit the spot, mmm.  Thanks Brian! After a few days on the bike and a huge satisfying dinner no matter how well intentioned, it is pretty much time for bed at that stage. Rowan and I also had an early start the following day for our first of two days out visiting Trocaire communities in western Guatemala. 

Two women walking along a side street as we arrive into Xela. Many of the women seem to carry things on their heads.

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