Toms Thoughts #2
This is Toms thoughts on the past month-and-a-bit. After a few unexpected events including hungry ATM’s and inconveniently parked cars we ended up taking different amounts of time to ride through Central America. So we will be making two updates to the blog starting with this entry – look out for Brendan’s in the near future!
The Guatemalan people are some darn friendly folk. Riding through small villages my ears would prick up and i would turn to see local kids and families yelling “beinvenidos a Guatemala!” It was our first new country in over 3 months and by-gosh it felt good.
We had heard that the climb up to the highest point in Guatemala was pretty extreme so when we reached the town which name literally translates to “the foot of the mountain” we stuck out our thumbs and quickly became a tourist attraction. Within minutes we had local families standing on the side of the road wondering who the hell we were and what were these obscure transportation devices by our side. We just smiled and waved and then they all smiled and waved back.
We managed to hitch a ride to the top of the mountain with a local guy who was on his way home from inspecting a few of his civil engineering projects he was supervising. But he needed to make one more visit to his new Hydro-power project that was under construction – we had no qualms with this and we were able to see first hand how a sustainable energy project was being incorporated into some of the poorer areas of the country. there was also a monkey in a cage next to where we parked which was pretty rad too.
On the ride up the mountain we explained to our new friend we had left our professional lives to go on an adventure and his eyes lit up. He told us he was also leaving his job as a very well paid Project manager for one of the largest civil engineering companies in the world and was now preparing to become a priest.
We arrived to the city of Xela where we would be staying with our warmshowers host and where I would wait for my bank cards to be sent as a dirty ATM took my card and didn’t give it back.
Immediately we were thrown deep into the local scene. We got word that in a tiny village nearby an annual tradition was on and we had arrived just in time. Every year the youth from the town are able to beat the shit out of the other youth from the surrounding towns. I couldn’t believe the turn out – people crammed onto rooftops and on-top of trucks to watch this spectacle take place. there was plenty pride, blood and damaged brain cells.
My cards took about a week to arrive so it was decided that Brendan would push on and we would meet up somewhere down the road.
Leaving Xela I pushed even higher up the mountain until i was literally riding through the clouds. It was almost like i was in an airoplane. A really slow one. Without the wings and the complimentary blanket.
As i got close to the peak the visibility was getting pretty sketchy. Cars, buses and trucks would come streaming through the cloud and suddenly emerge 20m in front and behind me so i thought it was probably a good idea to pull off at a small shop and see if i could flag down one of those automobiles that were whizzing by.
The two girls who worked at the shop started helping me flag a ride but the visibility was so poor by now that all the passers-by just passed-on-by. Then, after 30 minutes and 3 cups of hot coffee i saw one of the girls dressed in traditional clothing speaking on her iphone 5, when she had finished her conversation she explained to me that her friend was on his way to pick me up and take me to my destination! yeew beauty!
I arrived at the famous Lake Atitlan late that afternoon and headed for the town of San Marcos. I checked into a very chilled hostel where some of the guest told me there was an “ecstatic dance” on that evening. For those of you who have not experienced an “ecstatic dance” before it’s basically a gathering of yoga pants letting loose and dancing like possessed shamans late into the night. I decided to give this one a miss and opted to check out town. My fear of missing out on the ecstatic dance quickly faded as it turned out there was a festival on! I soaked up the festival vibe and and explored the meandering alley ways and the interesting people who frequent them. The below photo is the local space cookie salesman. “heeey maaan, do you want some spacth cookiesth?”
I bid the colourful town of San Marco adieu and caught the water taxi to the town of San Pedro on the surrounding shore of the lake. My first day in San Pedro was Australia Day so my inner patriot came out and I went to play some two up and share a coupla middies at a local bar. I got talking to a Scottish dude by the name of Ian who was also on his bike but heading north. He had been in San Pedro for the past month because of the magnetic effect the lake has on you and he had also met a lass from New York who he had fell head over heals for.
Ian told me that him and some friends were planning a two day Kayak micro-adventure around the circumference of the lake and wanted to know if i was in. Lock it in Eddie. So a few days later four of us – Ian, Alice, Lauren and I – embarked on our adventure. Being out on the water and using different muscles was a hoot. Late in the afternoon we found our own private beach to camp on for the night and devoured s’mores (a marshmallow, chocolate and biscuit sandwich) and had a pretty epic jungle backdrop that light up with fireflies at night. I had never seen fireflies before and i had no idea what the heck a s’more was so it was a night of firsts for me.
I had one more thing to do before i left the lake and continue south. I had heard about a cult religion that many of the locals take very seriously around here. Maximon is like a folk saint and the story goes that one day when all the men were out in the fields Maximon slept with their wives (all at once). Somewhere along the line i think people got confused because following this Maximon became a god.
Every year Maximon resides in a different families house where people visit and bring gifts. I was told that Maximon likes cigarettes and beer so i brought him cigarettes and beer.
Lake Atitlan is one of those places that attracts people for a reason. The lake has a magical vibe to it and plenty of quirky twists to keep you interested. if you haven’t been put it on your list.
El Salvador, Honduras y Nicaragua
It was time to leave so i began towards El Salvador. On the second day riding the heavens opened and i got my first wet season drenching so around lunch time i pulled into a large processing mill where the security dudes let me have some shelter until the rain passed.
One of the truck drivers leaving the mill stopped and called me over to his truck and at first i thought he was offering me a ride. i politely declined but then he started saying something about “a girl” and “on a bike” then i thought that he thought that i was a girl. I politely explained to him that wasn’t a girl and that i was in fact a boy. then he said something about “another cyclist”. my translation skills are bad but we got to point in the conversation where we both agreed that he said “there is another girl cyclist about 20km behind me”. I was curious to know who this other cyclist was so after the rain stopped i continued riding to see if i could find her.
Over the next few days people would stop me on the road to tell me about this other cyclist just in front of me. it was getting ridiculous! Eventually, this mysterious and evasive cyclist that i kept on hearing about turned out to be a girl i met 3 and half months prior in the Baja desert! Sophie had taken a zig-zaggin route up into the Mexican highlands where she had totally pimped her ride. It was awesome to see her again and together we rode some nice roads with big fat smooth shoulders.
It was such a good feeling to get back to the coast after being in the mountains of Guatemala for the past month. Both of us were equally frothing with the prospect of the seeing the coast again, so we rode with grins all the way there. We camped on the beach of the towns of Mizata and El Tunco where I managed to get some surf in. Mizata was an empty point break that was pretty mellow when i arrived which was perfect for some more practice. El Tunco on the other hand was a different story. crowded and I ended up eating shit on more than one occasion. I ended up hanging and surfing with a couple of aussies, one of them used to be the drummer in a band from back home; anyone remember “cow town”?
Those big fat smooth shoulders that i mentioned before eventually got the better of me and threw a huge big fat angry spanner in the works. I was a day out from the honduras border when i was riding on the above mentioned shoulder looking down at my ipod trying to find some Stevie Ray Vaughn (very good riding music) when out of no where a car appears – parked in the big fat smooth shoulder that i am riding on. (who the f*ck parks their car in the middle of know where anyway?!).
I slam on my brakes but it wasn’t enough to soften the impact and i go head on into the inconveniently parked car. My body came off ok but my bike was totalled. A huge crack appeared in the top tube and I knew i was in big trouble! I hitched to the next town and immediately began scouring the local shops for someone who could weld my frame back together and in turn restore my bruised ego somewhat.
After trying to speaking baby Spanish with some local welders I had my bike checked in and ready to get some welding done. I was putting the future of the my entire adventure in this one guys hands so he had better do a sterling job.
The local welder didn’t do a sterling job. instead the weld looked like a miniature sheep had pooped miniature poops where the crack had once been. And so, after two days of riding the crack appeared again.
By this stage my spirits were pretty low. The adventure could be over. finished. kaput. I decided to hitch through Honduras and head straight for the city of Leon, Nicaragua where i could gather my thoughts and think of a plan. One of my thoughts was to contact the guys whom we bought our bikes from in San Fran and see what advice they could give me. At this stage i would listen to anything. Brian from Huckleberry Bicycles is a legend and his number one rule in life is “no huckleberry gets left behind”. This was music to my ears. Brian told me he could ship me a new frame down and it should arrive in a week or two. So that-was-that a new frame was on its way. I packed up a day bag, put my bike in storage at a hostel and left Leon to go exploring Nicaragua while i waited for the frame to be shipped.
This was like a vacation from my vacation as i got into the swing of the backpackers way of travelling. this includes lots of buses, beaches, buses, islands, parties, taxies, motorbikes and some more buses. meeting folk from all over the world and hearing about their country’s affairs and their own travels was a bunch of fun and gave me a different perspective of travelling in this part of the world that the bike doesn’t allow you to experience too often. But to be honest i wouldn’t trade the bike and the experiences and situations that it puts you in for any other way of travelling. the bike gives you a heightened feeling of freedom and liberation. deep. but true.
The whole bike calamity served up some really positive effects. A few weeks prior i had been in touch with a good friend from home who was kicking about in these parts doing some hard labor on an organic farm. Jess was about to finish her volunteer work and had a few days to chill before her next next destination so the timing was perfect. We were able catch up and hang for a few days down at a super chilled beach town called Gigante Bay. I stayed at Gigante bay for a week and as it happened Doyle had made it here also! there were some really good humans staying at this beach and it would be easy to stay here for a much longer amount of time. The owner of the hostel at Gigante Bay is also a warm showers host so i traded some of my landscape architecture skills for some free accommodation. It was a sweet deal as i was able to get involved with the day-to-day running of the place and got to know some of the local guys.
I returned to the city to try and clear my new frame through the jungle that is the Nicaraguan customs department. After two days of running around the city, from the airport to every post office in town, i still could not find where the heck my bike frame was and i began to lose hope and the thought of surrendering the frame to the ether began to look like a reality. I decided to try one more post office. and to my dismay it was there sitting quietly waiting for me behind the counter! Jesus Mary and Joseph! I have a bike again!
So Here i am getting my bike rebuilt! Happy as Larry. Over the moon that the adventure will continue. And although Doyle is quite far ahead now we will both continue pushing on and may re-unite somewhere down south again.
A few weeks ago i received a pretty awful email from my cycling buddy Sophie. she told me she had been robbed at gunpoint about 15km north of the Costa Rican border. she had a few things stolen from her but she is fine. Understandably shaken-up but she is fine. I have heard that police have beefed up security in this area but I will look to hitch this section just to make sure.