Day 278: Rest day

Quick peek: Hot day, Thoughts, Rest.

I was originally planning to ride up the hills today, but I decided against and though Chiquimula is not the finest town in these parts, I have a comfy room, a fan and access to some reasonable shops for food and markets. So I decided I might as well spend another night of resting here.

One of the cyclist’s I got in touch with gave me numerous contacts of people in Honduras and my route thro the country is getting itself planned around visiting some of the, One of the pleasures of traveling on a bike is about meeting some locals and see life from their point of view and given I have been air dropped some contacts, its inevitable that I would ride around to meet most of them.

Back in Xela, Carl and I talked a lot about the idea of hosting and the nature of warmshowers and how people approach it. I was surprised when he mentioned that there were a few of his guests (very popular in the touring world) who behaved like the world owed them respect and admiration because of what they were doing. I was surprised by that completely. He mentioned one guy (without naming names) who’s profile insists that he does performances for kids on this route and that’s his ‘project’. But refused to do a show for a 100 orphan kids in Guatemala because he expects a minimum audience of 200.

Made me introspect about my trip. Honestly, the world does not owe me anything. I come from a reasonable background, have the privilege of travelling and people are wonderful enough to open their doors and let me share some part of their lives for a short while. There is nothing special in doing what I do. When I see a old lady carrying a bunch of firewood up a hill, I know she does it for survival. All my exertion is simply for pleasure and so it is for every cyclo-tourist out there, No exceptions. I hope I could stay humble all the time and appreciate the small things people do for me in my journey. Someone offering a little bit of water on a hot day is a life saver in my book.

On to food, Guatemala has terrible food options for vegetarians. The only meal I can get here with confidence is a “Desayunos Typico”, in essence eggs, beans, tortilla and fried plantains. A pretty balanced meal in itself, but gets boring even for me after a few meals (B’fast, lunch and dinner). The worst part is that the kitchens mostly turn out only one dish, fried chicken or minced meat of some sort and almost always I’d have to shop around to find a kitchen that would even make me the Typico. Today I managed to find the best non tourist meal in Guate, a small shop made sandwiches and though it was expensive, it was excellent!

Also, I figured out more about the trains in Guate. Turns out it was a colonial development (of course) and in the 20th century, the railways was used for freight by the infamous United Fruit Company (If you read Tintin and the Picaros, the company is parodied as the International Banana Company). United Fruit had been the centre of a lot of terrible stuff in Latin America. Next time you hear of the Banana Republic, think of all the dead people in this part of the world. Anyhow, long story short, it seems like the railways were shutdown and sabotaged and broken during the civil war here. I saw a few bridges around here and it’s been intriguing for me.

I’ve noticed some trees around here that made me think of my Grandmothers place back in India. I spotted ‘Neem’ and ‘kodukapalli’ and some ‘flame of the forest’ around. Pretty interesting to see similar trees in opposite ends of the world.

I walked around town, this place is so small I could walk the entire place in 30 minutes, can’t understand why there are so many cars and bikes here though.

Route: Chiquimula
Distance: 0 km (yay!)
Ascent: 0 m
Descent: 0 m
Expenses: SG$ 26.31
Comment: I don’t think often. Feels overrated.

Day 277: 3 Strikes and I need a rest day

Quick peek: Flat & hot, Mid-afternoon interlude, Evening climb, short day.
(Synopsis, sounded too academic so I decided to call it differently)

The Bomberos offered me a shelter yesterday and I realized I’d be sleeping between two parked fire engines. Well With my hammock, that was more than enough space for me and after a long chat with a bunch of the fellers, I went to sleep pretty late, but slept like a log.

Most of the fellers left their shift early in the morning and by 7 am when I was ready to leave, I couldn’t find anyone to take a picture with. Ah well. I rode into town and found a bakery and tried to eat b’fast. The food options here for me as a vegetarian are pretty rubbish. Today I couldn’t find a place that would cook eggs for me. I had to eat some sugary white bread with instant coffee. The other joints were selling fried chicken at 7 am! Dang the food choices are bad.

After the bit of b’fast I head on the pretty flat road and The lack of nutrition or may be the lousy bread that it was wasn’t giving me enough energy and I stopped for a bit of gatorade. More sugar. duh. I spotted a bypass to the main road to get to the town of Zacapa, which I hoped would be big enough for me to find some fruits or veggies. Krissi, you can be proud… I am actually searching for veggies and fruits :-)

It was a hot day and I kept the ride slow enough and did not exert undue strain and gently made my way into Zacapa. I spotted a hotel and expecting wifi and restaurant, made a beeline for it. Turned out the Restaurant was closed after lunch, but they did have wifi, a soft couch and AC! Ah, awesome. The Kitchen came thro and made me a pineapple smoothie too. I felt good ingesting some fruit into the system. I hung about for an hour or more and eventually had to get moving.

My next leg was up and over a small hill to Chiquimula. It was warm but not scorching and I wound my way up the hill slowly until I got to the summit and had a coconut. The ride down was more fun, on sweeping and well graded roads. The traffic was a bit of a bitch though, seemingly half the container trucks out of Puerto Barrios were heading up this highway. Anyhow, I made my way into town by 4 pm or so. The next leg is up over a mountain and I wasn’t keen on heading up that one yet.

I headed to the Bomberos in town, it was right next to the bus station and super noisy, so I skipped it and looked around for a cheap place to stay. Some of the cheaper ones were absolutely skanky and I looped out a bit further to find a better spot. I found a place for 35Q, a bit beyond my budget, but I decided I needed a good night’s sleep, or may be two. Walked about town, it wasn’t pretty, but a passable place with some restaurants that might actually have veggies. They even had a couple of super markets, so might hit them up for some fruits too.

Route: Cabanas to Chiquimula
Distance: 61 km
Ascent: 648 m
Descent: 486 m
Expenses: SG$ 29.04
Comment: Chiquimula feels like a nothing town, but I prefer to take rest days in nothing towns anyway.

Day 276: A proper full day of riding, and I feel good.

Synopsis: Cool morning. Hot afternoon. Lovely downhills. Crazy headwinds.

I was up at 5 this morning as the sunlight came into my hammock, but I knew that the restaurant would open only by 7:30 and I tried to snooze for longer. By 6ish, I decided to get up and walk about for a while. The ladies running the kitchen showed up at 7 as I was making coffee and immediately started the B’fast service. So I had a good bit of food which was subsidised by the guy who checked me in. Awesome! It was good feed too, complete with oats and coffee.

By the time I hit the road it was nearly 8:30 and after a short stint of rolling up and down the hills, the proper downhill started. This was a long sweeping gentle down and it was wonderful to ride. The route was punctuated by occasional road works, but I should say it was never thrown in as a surprise, a gentle squeeze of the brakes and one could pass the rubble without batting an eyelid. Not all downhills need to be epic, rides like this one have a very special feel to them, it is like gliding by the side of the mountain while enjoying every bit of the scenery on offer.

The only trouble was that after the near 40 km stretch it was inevitable that I’d end up at the bottom of the hill. As I hit the 500m mark, the heatwave hit me like a ton of bricks. I was led to the leeward side and seemingly it probably does not rain in these parts. I landed in a desert, all yellow and dry and dusty.

Around noon or so I was getting near the town of El Rancho and I spotted a fancy hotel / restaurant. I thought I might spot wifi and rode in. Turned out the place had a nice swimming pool and I decided to buy a smoothie and make use of the internet and the swimming pool too. Sometimes cyclists can be cheap bastards. Ah well. It was a good soak, as cooling down go.

As I left the hotel, I realised I had misplaced my sunscreen someplace, bummer, need to buy one again and these things aren’t cheap. As I headed out, I saw a bus full of backpackers going from Samuck Champey to Antigua. A couple of the people talked to me and when I mentioned how beautiful the ride that they came thro was, they responded, “Oh Really! I was sleeping”. Made me realise once again why I enjoy cycling these parts instead.

I was on rolling hills the rest of the way and though it was at 300m it was steep in bits. duh. It did not help that the east winds returned in full force and stayed the rest of the way. Dang it was hard work 3% downhills would need me working hard to keep going, The scenery had changed to a desert and I slowly made my way down the small road towards the town of Cabanas. It was hard work, but I eventually got into town. The first thing I spotted was Bomberos! yippie!!

I asked them if they’d let me stay and they were glad to offer me a bit of space and their showers too. I walked into town and tried my luck finding food. The only place that could give me anything close to a veggie was a burger without meat and I took that and gulped down a couple. I spent the evening chatting with the firemen and women and after a evening of mosquito bites, called it a day.

Route: Rio Escondido (Biotopo Del Quetzal) to Cabanas
Distance: 90 km
Ascent: 609 m
Descent: 1837 m
Expenses: $ 13.90
Comment: Bomberos rock. Overtime they welcome me with open arms.

Day 275: Feels like I am back in the game

Synopsis: Mostly downhill. Beautiful route. Perfect weather. Wonderful campsite.
(I am adding this section in the blog for those who don’t have time to read, the synopsis will give a brief idea of the day on the road)

I slept pretty alright, after quite a number of days I must say, and was up at 6 AM. But with no windows to let in the light, I decided to snooze till 7 and headed out for a b’fast. By the time I head out on the road it was almost 8:30. The road I had scanned to go south (there is but one option) was really gently, a few rolling hills and mostly downhill, heh. Should be a good day on the road I reckon’d.

I headed uphill from San Cristobal and got to the town of Santa Cruz. This seemed to be a bigger spot and even had a police station, might have been a good spot for camping, ah well. I rode thro town and kept going as I felt pretty decent in terms of energy.

As I got closer to the next town of Tactic, the scenery changed quite a bit. This route was in a valley between two mountain ranges and kept low and flat most of the way. It seemed like I was back in Oregon or something, the weather was mild and the mountains were stunningly beautiful. There was a lot of farming (mostly vegetables) at the lower slopes, but the higher regions seemed to be untouched forests. Beautiful views for the day and given I was on rolling hills most of the time, it was a real enjoyable time.

Tactic seemed to be some sort of Diary center and everyone was advertising for cheese and milk products. The cheeses here are mostly soft and won’t keep very well in the sun and I couldn’t buy any. If I had found aged cheddar, I’d have picked up in a heartbeat. Once out of tactic, I found a fancy looking place and since they had good coffee and wifi, I stopped there for a bit to send some notes to warmshowers hosts in Honduras.

After the longish stop, I got back on the beautiful road and enjoyed my ride till I got near the town of Purulha. I was having a feeling that this place seemed too surreal unless it was a protected land and lo and behold, I find out that I was near a eco preserve and I was going to have another 30 or so k’s of pristine forests. I stopped for lunch and spied a map which pointed out to the region as “Biotopo del Quetzal”. See Quetzal is this absolutely gorgeous bird found in these parts (I saw one in the Tepic Zoo) and also the national Bird of Guatemala. The waiter even mentioned that I should be able to spot some on my way. I know from experience that its really hard and so much luck to spot one near civilisation. Ah well. Anyhow, this area is protected as a habitat for the pretty bird and was filled with private nature reserves (I wonder what that actually means). Once again there were a lot of vegetable farms near the road in the lowlands, but higher up it seemed to be preserved well.

After lunch, I headed on the road and the sun had disappeared and the cool weather was fantastic to ride on (I guess I will get down to heat and humidity soon enough). I passed thro numerous private reserves and was tempted to stop in some place and camp out in the pretty forest. The last reserve on the route was Rio Escondido and though it was only 3 pm and I had barely done 60 km, I decided to stop for the day and hang about for the evening.

The camp site was expensive, they wanted 50Q, but I bargained a bit and got a nice gazebo to hammock in for 20Q. The fellers were friendly and the place was right next to a pretty river. A bit of skinny dipping to clean up and the rest of the evening was free to hand out and take a walk.

Route: San Cristobal Verapaz to Rio Escondido (Biotopo Del Quetzal)
Distance: 60 km
Ascent: 614 m
Descent: 544 m
Expenses: $ 17.60
Comment: I felt I could easily ride for another couple of hours. It’s good to be back.

Day 274: Rest day at San Cristobal

My original plan coming on this route was to get to the town of Coban, but from what I gather, Coban is more of a base for backpackers to hit up some of the neighbouring tourist spots. So I figured there is not really much for me to do in a hangout town and figured I might as well spend the day in San Cristobal.

After the stop-start day yesterday, I decided to take a rest day. Well Since I started in Xela, my trip has been. 1 day ride, 3 days rest, 2 days ride, 1 day rest. At least there seems to be some progress, eh.

San Cristobal verapaz was a pretty cute town, a little village nestled next to a lake. Seemed like a market place for the people from even smaller villages to head and do some trade. Today being sunday, there was a huge market, but there was nothing special being sold. A typical market with lots of fruits and veggies on offer.

One of the things I have noticed about Guatemala is that the choice of veggie food is close to non existent. Every meal I’ve had were eggs, rice, beans and some banana. There are no flavours either. Mexico was a riot compared to here, surprising to me that the baseline ingredients are pretty much similar. And I’ve heard the food gets worse as I head south. duh.

When I head out looking for b’fast today, I was dreaming of Pongal and spicy coconut chutney, they have everything here to make it, but they seem to prefer fried chicken pretty much everywhere. Bummer. I wonder If I can make some pongal next time I hit up a kitchen, hmmm.

Anyhow, I spent the day walking around town, grabbing food and some ice cream. My appetite seemed to be returning a bit and I spent a couple of hours at an internet cafe staying away from the sun and generally resting up. By evening I felt pretty strong and I hope to be heading out tomorrow. South seems to be the direction with decent roads and South I shall go!

Route: San Cristobal Verapaz
Distance: 0 km (yay!)
Ascent: 0 m
Descent: 0 m
Expenses: $ 19.01
Comments: I’d rather hang out at a small village than a big town.