We’re headed for this, Volcan Tecapa, and a small town that sits just several hundred meters from the top, on a shelf, Alegria.
But first we head across the lowlands, crisscrossed by rivers coming down from the highlands, on our left and we ride south, to the sea, close-by, on our right. Every one is beautiful.
First a quick picture tour of the lowlands
The war ended only 19 years ago, so there’s plenty of this about. A feature of wartime construction is metal doors in brick walls and it looks damn grim. I’ll remember to get a photo. Lots of grim things in El Salvador from that era.
A huge river, Rio Jiboa
A typical town on the way
Then, after maybe 50 miles, there’s a road heading up to volcano and Alegria. There was just about nowhere to stop for photos on the switchbacks, but here’s the thing: it’s maybe the best 20 miles of asphalt I’ve ridden on this tour, if not ever. 1st and 2nd gear for most of it!Better, for it’s distance than Dragon’s Tail in North Carolina, better than Devils Spine, Mexico. Unphotographable because it’s narrow, no shoulders, precipitous drops occasionally, blind corners, steep, everything, but i’ll try. A track of a section – what this doesn’t show is it’s steep
Once you start you can’t stop, and to add to the beauty, one side’s a jungle. But what I’ll remember it most for, other than the crazy view, is the half dozen brilliant chicanes, just flip-flopping into perfectly cambered and perfect -radius bends. Pictures of the view, from another road down to the plains, in the following post.
Track: to El Tunco, El Salvador. Note the overshoot midpoint. The same as on the Las Guacamayas track. It must be the heat.
It is so hot right now, here on the ocean. The same punishing full-humid 105F+ we tried to endure in Las Guacamayas, MX. The thunder of the surf, not welcome for the first time ever, feels like a hammer and I wish it would back off. The mosquitos are brutal. There’s nowhere to hide. It hasn’t been the best day because of that, but we’re headed south and we rode alone, and that’s all good.
We headed for the El Salvador border early, headed for the ocean, which always calls. A few weeks ago ago we were on the Caribbean , now it’s the Pacific. We chose the low border crossing because we didn’t want to go through Guatemala City. Enough of that in the last week, and the northerly start to hold off the heat as long as possible.
But first, Lucinda. Taz built a bracket for a single Rotopax yesterday. I’ve always been concerned about our range and this is a first step. I’ll add a second stack when I can find one. This one was used and hanging around his shop. To appease the Gods of ‘light’ I jettisoned more gear late last night. I ditched the armour. The duffle is down to a token gesture. I have tools, spares, insulation, tech, and a few clothes. Washing will be every night now as there aren’t any duplicates. I wouldn’t think about that factoid if I was you. It really can’t get any lighter than this…
Lots of small towns to navigate first thing. This is typical and always interesting riding video
After the towns we descend
Through more towns
And into the country. The heat haze is building
We stop and chat to a Guatemalteco out for a Sunday ride for a few minutes
Then to the typical border town. The heat is building like crazy. It’s through 100F
And the border. Sure enough, our new Guate plates mean no aduana, but their’s a new vehicle permit thing going on and it costs us an hour
Then further towards the ocean the country side opens up and it’s beautiful
This guy wouldn’t move. He was eying up the brunettes above, trying to decide. I considered his problem. Not easy, they were pretty close.
Through miles of canopies
Open glades. A guy on a bike said these were sugar cane fields.
And miles of fields that were burned-off but had stands of palm. A mystery but pretty
Then the road veered off towards the ocean. I was looking forward to this. The riding was excellent and twistied along the coast through five tunnels. We love tunnels and bridges. Immature, we know
Then the twisties got closer and opened up to the ocean. Magnificent. An ocean with a tunnel
Then 30 miles of this. I’d lost time at a border again, and stopped for photos a fair bit and had to press on to find somewhere to crash, and we I was tired. The heat.
We rode into El Tunco, after the first two prospects said no WiFi. No WiFi ahead is like potentially missing a tax instalment. Worrying
The view of this surf haven. Black sand. And super hot
There was work to do this morning. emails, banking, laundry, all the stuff that hasn’t been done in the last week. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore and went for a ride.
There’s a loop around Volcan de Agua (the huge Volcano that dominates the valley) that’s dirt between the pueblos of Santa Maria de Jesus and Palin. About 1/3 of the rest is a main road.
If you’re in the area here’s the track
A few miles out you ride through Santa Maria de Jesus. A town made entirely out of unpainted cinder blocks. This is a classic example of why you don’t ride at night in Central America. A dangerous town
Then immediately into country around the base of the volcano. Lucinda is running around without her panniers for the next few days. She thinks it looks OK but doesn’t like the feel of her rear wheel in steep descents, she says, adjusted as she is to having more weight back there. Not for the first time we think we need a quick-reference setting for the rear Ohlins preload.
Then, a little further is the pueblos’ garbage dump, which is for hundreds of yards the side of the road
Huge vultures resting in the trees
Back into the woods
But they’re always there
Another hour or so later things deteriorate again for a long way
But I dodged the ceremony, against the wishes of WBD #2. I pulled this off by asking my teacher Merle to go on a bus trip to a nearby Mayan village I hadn’t been to. San Antonio is about a half hour trip and I reckoned by the time we were back the grad ceremony would be over. This worked perfectly and was totally OK with Merle.
We swopped gifts. After some consultation I was told cash is king and gave Merle some Quetzales in a Mayan-made card and envelope. Merle made me a strange card and gave me what I wanted, a back-up Mayan textile wallet.
The card she made me’s crazy since I show up in sweat-stained T-shirts
I’ll miss Merle – sharp as a whip, zany in a good way. A devout Catholic, she raises two boys with her husband in the largely Mayan village of San Andreas.
I took a short video of her yesterday to remember her by. Here she’s scolding me, haha
So off we go and here she’s being zany asking where the San Antonio bus waits. Notice how the lady is thinking, whoa
Here she asks the bus driver when he leaves.
On we go and the bus waits while a fellow stands up front and does an interesting thing (see the video below). The fellow stood in front of us, introduced himself. He was carrying a large pot of candies. He then walked up the isle and gave us each two. Everyone (except me) knew what was coming and despite that graciously accepted them.
He then returned to the front and explained that he was once a robber (ladrone) which is the main thing here outside of not being a robber. He explained at great length that he saw how terrible he had been, but now he saw the terribleness of himself and how industriously he’s working to live a righteous life and we should buy the candies.
1) everyone accepted the candies, before he started in on us
2) the Mayan passengers have all heard this before, maybe everyday
3) they listened politely and intently, no dissenters
4) they all bought the candies when he came around to either collect them, or accept 1 Quetzal.
5) Merle say the Mayans go along with this because it’s not a heist, it’s a philosophy and the immediate picture isn’t the point.
The Mayans keep their ways a secret, but here’s an example of their thoughtfulness. When they graft onto rootstock, they apply the new graft under a new moon at perigee because, obviously, the most important thing is that moisture from the root stock flows with maximum advantage into the new growth, and the greater gravitational attraction of a that moon gives it a very small edge. They know it’s tiny, but tiny still helps.
Arriving at San Antonio, off the tourist map, the bus stop. Anything not very old is cinder block construction. Same as Mexico, but done best by the Hopi of Arizona, who’ve taken cider block to a higher place altogether. As usual, they don’t clip the rebar when they’ve finished the build.
Then a walk into town
Past a washing tank
From the second story of a market there was a loudspeaker instructing school girls how to get organized for the procession, among other things
Down in the church square the girls were lining up, being measured for shoulder height with a pole across their shoulders. The following two photos are intentionally shot from behind. The Mayans don’t like to be photographed and you generally have to ask
The young boys had already started up a street with their anda
Yesterday Claudia and I went to San Felipe to see the display
So ends a busy week.
This morning I downloaded more software for Basecamp. I’ve found that no two maps have all the answers. One GPS map is strong in one area, another in another. It makes route building a little more complicated but as of now I have a series of route options plugged in and we’ll see which way the wind takes me.
The final parts come into Guatemala City Tuesday. Then a couple of days of re-building.
The highlight of Holy Week in Antigua is the Procession. Preceding it are 5 Processions over 5 weeks.
Briefly the Procession is two groups of men carrying andas over a route between churches that winds through the streets of Antigua, over (and destroying) the beautiful flower and dyed sawdust carpets for a few miles.
Tens of thousands of people watch from the sides of the streets, it’s the event of the year, and it’s a good idea to pick a spot a couple of hours in advance. If you’re tall you’re in luck. I’ve a few not-so-tall friends so out of tact I’ve avoided mentioning the most glaring truth about Guatemaltecas other than their good nature when unarmed. The average height is 1.65 meters. This is about .17 meters short of less than, er, a fair deal. This explains why I have to take the pictures of the militia at a bit of a distance and crop the photo hard. If I crouched down for a shot of a guy with a shotgun that might not end well. But a bit of height’s a huge advantage in a crowd so I had a great view and Claudia’s (shortish) studying for an English exam the next day so no problem.
Basically the Procession’s an opportunity for Antiguans, who’ve sinned in the preceding year, to shoulder the load of an anda, as Jesus (if you like) did with the cross. They have to pay some money. For this, they’re totally absolved of their sins. Piece of cake.
It may not look like it but 86 men carry two andas, a few hundred yards apart, total 172 men. They switch men every block or so because there are more than 172 sinning men in Antigua. This is interesting to know because then you can do the math given Antigua has a population of 35,000 and let’s guess 40 change-overs. It’s a whopping percentage of sinners. But it’s all relative. Hopefully the sins here are, on average, no greater than forgetting to take out the garbage. But if this was home, West Van, it would be the entire male population out there the percentage might be a bit higher.
So I have my spot in the crowd – it’s a great spot because the street here is narrow.
Here are a few photo’s and some short videos.
Walking early downtown
It gets crazier as various groups and camps position themselves
Views are at a premium. This kid was almost the only gringo I saw all day. The tourists for some reason avoided all this. Maybe because it was fairly intense. Their loss.
So, rather than pics, a few short videos of what happens next. The sounds and movement are much more impressive.
We thought we’d take a drive to Lake Atitlan on a smaller road. We rented a car in Antigua. It’s the first time I’ve driven a car on this tour and the driving part’s not much fun. I can’t wait to get going on my bike again.
An interesting day, as always. The drive starts on the Pan American, taking us through the large town of Chimaltenango
Then it starts to look a bit like, er, Kelowna
Then we take the chosen alternate route to the Lake about 50 miles away. As the town thins out it becomes more typical
A nice view across town
Immediately the surroundings become agricultural. Townsend farmed in South Africa for six years and gives me short lessons in irrigation and labor and a general colouring in of the things that we see
She was impressed with what she saw and said that she’d love to farm here
Then through a pueblo called Patzun. When they finish buildings here they don’t clip the rebar off
Then into the hills. The road was old but mostly paved and cut into the soft rock
Towards the bottom was a narrow gorge. Very pretty driving
At one point the road’s washed out
Townsend watches locals clear rock out of the main channel. I’m a bit mystified as to why they’re doing this
But there’s a nice river/stream crossing. My first thought is to walk it first, bike style, but heck, it’s a rental car
Later, up on the hillside again men are excavating a white sandy material out of tunnels. Not sure what it is but I’ll ask around
They’re taking some risks judging from the occasional slides across the road
Some of the holes went back twenty feet or more and had chambers along the way
A nice road shot
We followed this cool truck for a little while. The guy lying on top looked injured or something until his friend sat on him and we realized he was probably just big time hung over. I was impressed that a truck this big was on this road that was difficult and sometimes dangerous in a silly car. Townsend thought the road was crazy
Further along more farming. Very beautiful
Then as we approached the lake the hills started clouding over
So the view of the volcanoes around the lake wasn’t the best
In the province of Oaxaca, Monte Alban is a pre-Columbian city ruin dating to 500 BC. 30,000 people lived here, high on a mountain top
I’ve got a ton of great photos, and the story of Monte Alban is a good one, but blogs are boring so I’ll go (almost) straight to the punch line.
The city is extensive. Buildings rise off the high plain like tombs. Words are tough to come up with for this. It’s impressive.
There’s one depression in the landscape. You see it coming
Then you’re on top of it. It’s not large. Small compared to everything else
This is a game court. The game they played was apparently like handball. And here’s the thing: The game is played only once every 52 years. On this day, everything in the city is ‘renewed’. The fires are all put out, food is destroyed, everything starts from scratch, once in a lifetime.
The arena only sits a few hundred people, so only the elite get to watch the final match.The tension after a 52 year wait must be toxic. You can imagine the fury the finalists must play with. And then, in an act of renewal that’s close to perfection, they kill the winner.
We lost a day in Tucson getting new tires. The dealers along the route have put us on the lift immediately when we’ve arrived unannounced. I gather this is standard procedure everywhere when long distance riders come through. Being treated this way is a privilege we appreciate.
Today we have to get some miles under our belt and it’s going to be a long lonely ride north of the Mexican border, with the only break being Organ Pipe National Monument, taking #86, then #85 to Gila Bend.
As we’ve mentioned before, our life surrounds gas stops. And today we’re in for a treat. The village of Why’s gas station is an epicurean paradise. All kinds of food nicely displayed, it felt like Whole Foods
Then down through Organ Pipe. It’s hard to describe how removed this is. The Tohono O’odham Nation we’ve crossed through is vast and has an uncompromising, dangerous feel to it
Down to the border town/crossing at Lukeville, maybe couple of dozen buildings all up. This may be the furthest corner from anything in the US. If not, it sure feels that way
Then we head north towards Gila and pass through the town of Ajo. The prettiest church on our route since Marja, TX
Then across 100 miles of badlands
Eventually into the town of Gila Flats, where our road crosses the major truck route I8. It’s the last stop west the whole way to Yuma. Hold onto your seats, here is the Space Age capital of southern US, partnered up with Best Western at a truck stop
We had to stay. Here’s the lobby
The rooms had planetary details outside on the posts