|Day 10 - San Cristobal de las Casas to Panajachel, Guatemala
Starting Odometer: 32100
Miles traveled today: 270
Left at 6:00 a.m. and sniffed out the closest coffee. Of course it’s at the OXXO! No problema - we needed good old PEMEX 92 octane anyway before we head into Guatemala and have to settle for whatever's available. Good thing these old boxers can run on turpentine if they have to!
The ride down the mountains was just as enjoyable as when we arrived. Except for one thing – leaving early, especially when hydrated, nourished and rested is the best part of the day. Cool temperatures and less traffic (especially the trucks and buses!) add the enjoyment. Give us a smooth riding surface and we’re in heaven. Is that too much to ask for? Sometimes.
It was basically a lift-gate portal to one, long narrow road lined with shops. Wonderful colors with a canopy of blue and white flags overhead for what seemed like forever. The customs office was actually more organized and friendly than when we entered Mexico. The bike tires got sprayed with pesticide (while we held or breath) and then we paid a small fee for the vehicle permit. The 90-day visa was processed and we again paid a fee before getting our passports stamped and getting a sticker to put on the windshield. All in about a half an hour. The bikes or their contents were never inspected. We slalomed our way through motor scooters, old-style, three-wheeled mail cart taxis and people - mostly in full Mayan dress - and hit the road!
Several things were very different in this new culture. First, the homes were more substantial - wood or concrete block - and there were fences separating the "properties." Weird...fence boards or primitive posts with chicken wire. And, there were more animals - horses, burros, cattle, oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys – all running free, sometimes out of control. Then, there was the corn - lots of corn. Everywhere there was an opening there was corn - steep hillsides included, right up to the treacherous edge over the road. And, all of it very orderly.
Also, gasoline is a free enterprise and not a commodity here. In addition to the half dozen or so “local” gas stations, there’s ESSO, Texaco, Shell and Chevron. Plenty of gasoline but not always high octane. And, if you dare, you can but gas by the gallon from young men on the side of the road in various containers for 1/3 less the price. They wave their funnels from the end of long poles to get your attention as you drive by.
Guatemala is beautiful! The deep - and, I mean deep - sloped canyon walls were completely covered in lush, green vegetation. How trees grew on those steep slopes is beyond me. And, then there are the waterfalls. A surreal site as you wind your way through the forests, in the clouds, with an occasional single line of Mayan women and children - in full dress - walking along the roadside. Most were balancing goods on their heads. An occasional, lone man would be walking along carrying fire wood on his back using a forehead sling.
The young men were mostly engaged in collecting the soft, sandy soil that makes up most of the terrain. It's very soft and is subject to massive erosion. The road is lined with cut-away areas where the hillsides are scraped of the material. In one bend of the road, a dump truck was backed up to the cliff and five or six young men had scaled the cliff above for the sole purpose of scraping the material to land in the truck. They looked like rock climbers - only without the gear.
There must've been a heck of a rain recently because the signs were everywhere. Oddly, there was a beautifully paved, two-lane highway, complete with a median strip, that was only half used because the engineering of the soft cliff cut-aways invited landslides - lots of landslides. So, it basically was used as a two-lane road with even one of those lanes occasionally closed depending on the size of the slide.
We turned off the main road and dropped steeply down through several villages to reach Panajachel, only to find the road closed because of a massive slide that was, at that moment and into the evening, being blasted away with dynamite.
So, we went around adding another hour to the day's trip. This was by far the most interesting ride yet. It’s just what these bikes are built for - dirt, rock, mud, gravel, small washes still with running water to forge - I was having so much fun! But, alas, we had arrived at our destination.
We found the perfect, secure courtyard hotel and unloaded. We’re typically pretty wiped out by this point of the day so we immediately go see what there is to see before we lose daylight and to find dinner. Then, of course, there’s the obligatory day’s toast to celebrate the day and the conversation that we’ve been saving in our heads during the day’s ride alone.
This is a beautiful place. It sits right on the shores of Lago de Atilan within full view of three volcanoes across the lake– San Pedro, the largest, and Toliman and Atilan. The clouds partially obscured the view but, somehow added to their beauty. Ah, the mountains!
Contemplated a layover here but we’re high in the mountains and fear the rain (and the accompanying slides) and don’t want to be trapped. We have a sense that we’re running out of time… As the power lines danced and sparked with a nearby limb or some luckless animal burning clear, the power wnt out and our decision was made…onward!