Let me paint a picture of the Guatemala we witnessed;
A woman selling juice on a dusty section of road asked us what we are searching for on our travels. Before I came to Central America, I did not know what I was coming here to see. Travellers and media can feed you all they want but you have to feel it out all by yourself. My mind is whirring, this is not like the other cycling trips I’ve undertaken. We are not here to see the token shots of pristine mountains and lakes of blue or to eat soul nourishing, flavoursome food. We are here to see everything; the beauty and the poverty, the sniggers mixed with the unreserved kindness, the obvious suffering in contrast to the tinted windows of new model cars that slide by without daring to stop and look, the subtle changes in the traditional clothing from village to village along with the dialect, the love affair with black beans, the reality of countless dead and stray dogs, the deeper message behind cobblestones and churches as reminders of the presence of the west, the ghost town feeling when riding by paddocks of rubbish which literally represent the livelihood of some, the familiar scene of women clapping their hands and pressing the dough down on the hot plate at the tortilla stands that form the basis of the diet here, hazy mountain ranges, open cut mining for homemade concrete, ten year old children with dirty stubs from the three litre bottles of coke, gold teeth cap trends and the understanding that you don’t leave home without your machete. Now I am aware of so much more, it all just fits easily into the puzzle of my worldview. A puzzle which I sometimes think is nearing completion, but it just keeps on growing and gaps appear, pieces get lost or don’t look right. I forget when I began this puzzle or who told me it would be so important, when it became so difficult and I certainly didn’t realise it would involve my very core being.
Riding through this country from west to east has been challenging. Kate and I rode some very steep gradients, cycled through protests where the mob directed their angry shouts at us and puffed past giggling children leaning over their shovels on the potholed road they are endlessly repairing. We rode through many basic villages and had to initiate the smile or wave but managed to crack almost everyone. We stayed in basic hotels, hostels, with a local woman and even stayed with a warmshowers host and television presenter in Huehuetenango. We argued over red wine that cost more than the weekly salary of the woman we stayed with the night prior; recognising this (life) journey is confronting us in many ways. We found homey comedors and ate plates of eggs and beans with a mountain of tortillas so fresh they burn your skin, arrived in villages to be enveloped by rainbow markets filled with glistening vegetables and local material. The only westerners we laid our eyes on between Coban and Huehuetenango were Peace Corps volunteers. We concealed ourselves under a basic shelter in a tropical storm while hail the size of ping pong balls split in two on the tin above our heads and thunder reminiscent of machete fire sounded out from the grey. I met with old friends in a charming city and let the charm of Guatemala overwhelm me.
Kate was offered a great new job somewhere along the way and that meant heading home to climb and be with friends before it begins. I waved goodbye with a lump in my throat and went hiking to Lake Atitlan through mountain villages and in the company of talkative Brits. It refreshed my mind and I felt ready to ride again, meeting with an American cyclist and pushing our way up to Antigua. This was a journey in itself; being warned of thieves with guns up ahead we hitched a ride over the hotspot and continued on the most beautiful day I’ve had in a long time.
I met with the American representatives of the NGO WINGS that we have been fundraising for on our ride. Over coffee and a stunning volcano view, we connected like old friends and I couldn’t be more impressed with the accountability, transparency and vision of the organisation. They wished me luck on the next leg, which will be Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Today I am crossing between four countries in a little collectivo, which seems like a bit of a joke. Purposefully dehydrated so I don’t have to stop the bus to pee twenty times, sleep deprived from a 3am wake up and starving because my stomach had an off day and now it’s back to normal, I hope my bike is still attached to the roof. A minute ago, the stern looking official at the Honduran border started flicking through my passport. I thought he was looking for a stamp, but he started pointing at the animals and asking their names- ‘uhh, plat-y-pus’. With a big grin and the Big Bang of a stamp on the magical document we continued on the fifteen hour journey from Antigua, Guatemala to Leon, Nicaragua that is feeling more and more like a dream.
Overall, I don’t think I know why I travel a certain place. Just as you have no clue what the future holds, you cannot know just what to expect, or therefore what you are searching for. I am simply an observer of this wild world and it’s wacky and wonderful residents.