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Published: April 28th 2008
Channel 2? Yediot? Read THIS!
12-years-old waiters and cookers in restaurants. 10 years old children, carrying on the back heavy woods. 8 years old shoe-shiners. 5 years old children, who help their parents to feed the chickens and in taking care of theirs smaller brothers. It seems that no age is too early for the Guatemalans to start working.
All the men here - even the little children - wear traditional funny clothes - red pants with blue and white vertical lines, and an elegant shirt with lines. The women also have traditional colorful dressing, though less unified.
Cyclist's heaven The climate:
eternal spring (in the dry season, it hardly rains at all). The roads:
even those which were recently paved, are still quite enough. The mountains:
dramatic and ever-changing. The locals:
always happy to help, but are not too touchy & look at you as if you were an animal in the zoo, as the Albanians do.
The villages: once in a few kms you encounter a shop where you can buy some food & water, so no need to carry anything with you; once in a few dozens of kilometers you get to
a larger village, with internet and hostels. The Spanish
- well, I enjoyed a lot my Balkans travel too, but it's much nicer when you can really speak with the locals. The prices: 5$ at a simple hotel, 3$ for a good full mill.
The black monster
"The way from X to Y is now much easier, due to a newly-paved asphalt road" (a common sentence from Guatemala´s Lonely Planet).
Good - for whom
, you narrow-minded egoist guidebooks´writer? Surely not for cyclists.
Asphalt is the biggest enemy of the mountain bike. The lack of asphalt is my life insurance: even the most crazy drivers cannót be too dangerous, when the drive at 30 kms/h.
Like a distinct animal, I run away from the black asphalt monster, always looking for new living zones, get deeper and deeper into the periphery zones of each country.
Well, before taking from me the way forever, the roads´constructors frequently give me a nice ¨last wish¨: a private road.
The Coban-to-Uspantan road, one of the most gorgeous Guatemalan rides, had some caterpillars which work on expanding the road before paving it. As they moved around huge rocks, they totally blocked the
way for many hours, so that though it is a really quite road, there was a long line of vehicles waiting to pass on both sides of the closed section of the road.
When I arrived there, I met a bus of Israelien tourists. Later on, I explained the workers that as I´m the slowest guy on the road, they must let me pass, as otherwise I won´t arrive to Uspantan before dark.
It was quite funny, the way they ascended theirs huge ¨spoons¨above one after the other, for signing me that they stopped working for letting me pass.
I passed all the caterpillars, only for finding out a few hudreds of meters later, after the next curve in the road, that the way passed just below the place where the caterpillars were working - and there was a "rain" of falling rocks on the road. It was very frightening, and seemed to danger even in my terms.
Well, the workers there were so gently, that when they realized that I was there, looking frighteningly at the falling rocks on the road, they just stopped working again, for letting me pass: at the moment they stopped, the rocks stopped falling
on the road.
Slightly later I arrived to the point where the police blocked the traffic arriving from the counter direction. There was there a long line of vehicles waiting to pass - and many people standing and waiting. Well, I passed through them rapidly, shouting to them in Spanish "Well, now you see that bike is the best!"
I went on, alone on the mountainous way. Only many kilometers later, all the vehicles which I passed before went over me again after the road was re-opened; as usualy, they all were very happy to see me, and ammused to see that I passed all that way by bike.
When I got to the other side of the
Sparta and the consumerism colture
In general, Guatemalans like wearing elegant clothes. Even simple people, e.g. minibuses drivers, let little children to shine their shoes.
Spartan as I´m, I can hardly understand how people who cannot afford their children even basic education and who hardly have hot water in the showers, can make efforts for such unnecessary things such as beautiful sophisticated dressing. Not to talk about the cellular phones: it´s quite amazing - and sad - to sea a 12
years old girl working in a restaurant in school days instead of going to school, for helping her family - but having enough money to use a cell phone. It seems that after first being slaves of the crazy Mayan kings, and later of the Maniac Spanish Conquistadores, the poor Mayans are now becoming slaves of the consumerism colture. Like all of us.
The people (1)
The nice local students, who works for living in a cafeteria in gas statin - we had a long talk, and later that evening I passed there again, and gave her a little chocolate I bought for her. The local road cyclist, who passed me in a mountain road, and later met me again, fixed my mistake on the way, and showed me the right turn. The many many locals who help me fixing the bike or the bags, or show me the right way. The
European tourist, always talking Spanish slowly and with funny accent, which always makes me think: do I also look so funny when speaking Spanish?
The people (2): the Children
They may shout ¨Gringo¨, run after the bike, raise their hands for Hello - and almost never
they stay when I try to talk to them or to give them a hand when I pass them during my ride.
So unfortunately, I´ve only very few pictures of these sweet Maya kids - from both this trip and the previous one, 3 years ago. See them publish here, at this post.
Who will guide the guidebook
From tomorrow and on I plan to ride in areas about the very detailed Guatemala´s Lonely Planet tells nothing. I always claim, that if you recognize by the map an area with high mountains, twisting regional roads and no special dangers, that´s enough for a great bike touring. It´s a kind of luck and PR, why some villages become tourist attractions, why others do not. In the next few days I plan to check out this hypothesis here, in the Cuchumatanes mountains. Ofanan's diet
While in restaurants, I usually randomly pick something from the menu (I best like dishes with plenty of "ch" and "r"), and say "give me that, please". I eat everything, so there's no chance I won't like what I get. This should be a good way to know new kinds of food. But it isn't, as
I never remember the names of the dishes.
Well, and there's another problem. My diet. Yes, sorry to disappoint you, guys, but a sportman should think of his diet, even more than other people. No training burns the fat calories of chips.
I hardly eat yellow fat chease, pizzas, chips and any fried food in general. So I try not to order such kinds of food, and if by mistake I get one, I leave most of it in the plate.
On the other hand, I indeed consume chockolate here and there, and plenty of fruit shake. Why? because these are tasty enough for justifying the over-calory. Chips - not. hospedaje
As the roads here are very slow, there are long bus rides, and Guatemalans need places to stay at night. And such places indeed exist in every sizable village - though these are not luxury hotels, if to use ¨tangue of the fewa¨(LESHON HAMATA). Hospedaje
is a cheapy hostel. You pay very little - only 2.5$ - and get very little: very uncomfortable bed in a digusting stink room. A disgusting shower which frequently has spiders in it. Toilets... well, let´s stop here. And - no soap, no
towel, not even a toilet paper. This is the deal. Take it - or sleep outside, and let the mosquitos eat you alive.
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