The next day is a dirt day, an out-and-back.
The previous two days have been pretty uneventful as we went about our riding. Brief stops only and many miles of mountain roads. Only one lunch stop in the three days for example.
Today’s different, no more twisties. We set off early across the plains of Chancol, staying high, riding through rural, thinly populated and frankly hostile feeling landscape. This is a dry, high-altitude place removed. I don’t think you’d ride up here for the first time without being told something about it first. There’s nothing that feels like a spiritual oasis for even a moment. At its most lush it looks like this
It’s going to be one of those great riding days. The set-off is perfect. For some reason the dirt and the grave don’t loosen up and it’s easy to go relatively fast. It’s hot, and fast cools us off.
The sides of the hills are farmed up onto the steeps The chaos is harmonious. They’re not good at crop rotation and can plant 5 or 6 corn crops in a row, effectively killing the soil. This seems in contrast to what I’ve learned about Mayan agricultural skills but forget to ask about it. So they cut higher and higher up the hillsides, I guess until the lower land restores itself. This is one of the driest two months of the year which is why it looks barren.
We pass clusters of homes on our way.
At one point, which I don’t photograph, there are bigger and more modern houses. Julio asks me if I noticed the new Escalade in one driveway and implies the obvious.
And occasional clusters of Kniphofia. I’m surprised to see them here – they don’t come from here, they’re from Africa. He says they often make hedge rows. It’s the only colour on the plains.
After maybe 20 miles we rode into a historic area called Tuicoyg. Here the Mayans cluster the homes together more and as usual cinder blocks make up 90% of the construction.
We sat and watched a small village for about 30 minutes. A few women and children purposefully went from A to B, not giving us much notice.
Photographing the Mayan women up here, and in particular the children, can get you into a world of trouble but this particular lady was friendly and curious about us.
But this is apparently no big deal
An original home. Identical roofline to the metal one a couple back.
As we rode further west the valley fell off into waves of green.
Into a stunning gorge, out of nowhere. The edge of the plain abruptly stopped. the views are dependent on air condition which is highly variable. We’d walked to a hilltop twice in another place to see the volcanoes in the distance but had little luck. This was the best Guatemalan view I’d had yet
Being pressed to get caught up on this journal I’ll dodge reflections. But no ride through Guatemala is complete without coming up here.
We made our way back. A short day, 57 miles, and all perfect easy dirt. I was extremely grateful to Julio for showing me this place.
At the farmhouse there’s another guest. A German fellow, mid 30’s who’s backpacking through Central America.
When we arrived back the farmhouse was locked and no-one was around. About ten minutes later, a guy on a bike rolled up the trail/road and started in on Julio excitedly. When he finished Julio told me this: The German guy had wandered off the road, walked up to a Mayan house, scared the woman and her child, ran up the hillside was nabbed by 40 natives with machetes. They’d being holding him for 3 hours.
Julio has a grasp on all this. He told me that 5 Japanese people found their way up here, made some mistake and had been murdered less than a kilometre away. He also told me that another had been chopped into pieces. And another burned. He decided he could negotiate with them. We were miles away from any help. Somehow his calm led me to believe a positive outcome was something he was confident about and offered to join him. He surprised me by saying *no, best not to put both of us in danger*. I thought oh fuck, this isn’t clear cut after all… He rode off.
I suited up and rode down to a spot, sat on my bike ready to go, in a spot I could see him coming back from and gave him an hour after which I was going to ride to Huehuetenango for help. He was back with 12 minutes to spare. But no German on the back of the bike. Julio told me he’d resolved it by getting some admission signed and the guy wanted to walk home. He shook his head with resignation. An hour later the lucky guy returned. There’s a backstory to how this was very nearly made much worse but that’ll be for Julio to tell.
Next day it was time to part ways and for me to set off for the border so we talked about anything relevant, looked at maps and I listened particularly hard.