Preface: Yesterday I sat down to write this article for one post. As I sat and the words spewed forward I could not fit it all into one post. As such, I am going to come back to it with a second section. OMG, each days ride is SO amazing…
Well, here I sit 9 months and 5 days into this one year career break motorcycle adventure journey. (Lots of other words could be used as well…) This update is really just about a day in the life of our effort. A day of motorcycle riding and observing. You would think after all this time on the bike I would possibly, just maybe, be tired of riding. But you know what – I am not. In fact, far from it. The truth is that riding a motorcycle brings pure joy and lets you be in each and every moment living it to the fullest. This account is just an example of one day. A good day to be sure as we covered 186 miles in 7 hours. Not our typical pace, but it is important to understand that south of the US border it seems like everything takes twice as long. Serious. And you know what, that is OK. Slowing down gives me a chance to make more observations. To really see what is in front of me, to the side and sometimes even behind in the case of crazy drivers/riders.
Today started out just like so many others. We had been camping (yeah!) for the past 5 nights in the beautiful and almost mystical Lake Atitlan area. A quaint if not a bit tired resort type grounds right on the lake front. Marvelous really. Mostly we appreciated the beautiful Million $ view and the quiet compared with some of the cities we have been staying in lately. There we were lucky enough to meet up with our Maya Rally friend Enrique Vega and thoroughly enjoy our time at the Hotel / campgrounds of Visions Azul. Spending a few hours with Jeff and Monica from Muskoka volunteering and the rally too just shows how small the world really is.
After breaking camp (or packing after hotel stay sometimes) and packing the bikes (Lucille & Sassy Pants) we were on the road at 10:30am. Not early, but not late either. Indeed, pretty typical for us as we choose not to rush the mornings as we have for nearly 30 years of working. Up the hill and out of the Panajachel area we first passed an amazing waterfall. The very one we had been viewing from camp. A nice stop, especially since Gaila is a complete water freak. After that we meandered our way through several small villages observing the many goings on. And I can tell you that these places can be absolute beehives of activity. Sometimes just people going to and fro, other times you can see that serious errands are underway. Shopping, fixing cars, delivering goods or just heading for the next meal are but a few things that appear during a typical pass of these small and generally pleasant towns.
Observation. How much do we really do it? Especially when driving. Well on the motorcycle observation and situational awareness are paramount to a successful ride and returning safely to your final destination. It just so happens that such a focus on the details provides a great catalog of sites, sounds and smells. Ah, the smells. How wonderful is it to pass the good and bad smells? This often forgotten sense is often front and center on the bike. Frequently you can smell “it” before seeing it. Whatever “it” might be. Today it was the sent of a not so lucky dead dog on the side the road AND the pleasant smell of fresh lake and mountain air. Well, that and the disgusting fumes of diesel trucks and Guatemala Cities air pollution. Starting to get the picture?
Today was just like so many days. There were so many things to see and hear. To appreciate and speculate. Exactly why was that car there? Was the little scooter parked on the side of a steep hill covered with corn because he was working the fields? Or did they break down there? Hard to tell, but I can say that several times today it was astounding to see the field trails that were use by humans, livestock and wildlife all the same to navigate crazy steep hills. These trails appear to be used daily by at least a small collection of locals. Think of that the next time you complain in your brain about walking from your car to the mall entrance.
Our elevation changes today were dramatic – as they have often been. Rising up from the lake only to begin an even steeper climb up to the Pan-American Highway. Normally, I am trying very hard to avoid highways. Indeed at times this road resembles anything but a highway. Twists, turns, uphills and downhills with steep turns defined most of our ride today. Well, that and the crazy traffic. Both in the city and road construction. Given there are really only two seasons here: the dry season which we are in and wet where it can rain buckets. With the dry comes road construction and we had plenty of it to dodge today. At times well orchestrated and clearly marked, but most of the time not. For example, there had been a significant and very much road-blocking land slide as we approached one of countless sharp turns today. Without any notice we were channeled into the fast lane of oncoming traffic. Picture a two lane freeway in the Colorado or Washington mountain passes, then look for the white painted rocks on the pavement that indicate you are to cross the median and enter what is normally the fast (lefthand) lane of oncoming traffic. Logic tells you that dividing cones or some other marking might be useful – at least that is what came to my mind. Talk about FULL ALERT! I couldn’t look for high-speed trucks or the typical local school bus painted & chromed turned runaway local shuttle staring me in the eyes with it intimidating and solid grill. Add the Batman or Joker paint jobs you often see and you can imagine the scenario of this aggressive local transportation commanding the road. Well, long story short Gaila and I were lucky enough to dodge set obstacles successfully and return to the proper side of the road just in time to drop into a larger town and the traffic that would soon become Guatemala City.
Some of the other highlights and lowlights of todays observation are the WAY OVERLOADED trucks. Some with fresh picked and packed farm vegetables. Some with hardware that could cause serious damage or worst should their loose-goose tie jobs come undone. See this video if you want a taste: OK, I lied – will be posted soon. Other times it was people over packed and over loaded. A Toyota full of families and their children. Sometimes going home I think, but quite often headed out to harvest the fields. Yesterday it was large fresh onions I saw being meticulously gathered, cleaned, sorted and wrapped for market. Today as many days here south of the border we saw so many direct from farm to table scenarios. Come travel in Mexico or Guatemala and you will KNOW where your food comes from. Including the chickens. Pollo as it is called here is seen running across the street at breakfast and by afternoon he is plucked for immediate consumption. Speaking of trucks, today was the first time in a long while were we were barraged by 18 wheelers. Guess that is what happens when you take the main paved road to make progress. Tomorrow we will be crossing over to Honduras. Pretty exciting stuff.
Speaking of trucks and traffic, we really got hosed today going through Guatemala City. I was thinking that passing through before 2 would put us on the good side of rush hour. Indeed, for the most part it did. Sadly, hard to predict a wreck with what appeared to be body parts on the one narrow bridge heading out the way we needed to go. Even with the GPS and decent files (www.bicimapas.com) we couldn’t find away around the chaos. It just proved to be 40 minutes of stop and go – mostly stop. One thing to observe in this type of traffic – though you will see it everywhere – is the ridiculous lane splitting that takes place south of the border. Really, I want to be the 125cc Chinese brand motorcycle sales dude. Yes Honda’s, Suzuki’s and other brands are seen, but the plethora of no-names is astounding. What really makes this anthill of bikes so interesting is the approach they take to driving them. Laws you ask? What laws? At least I can’t see how any are applied. And before you make a judgement thinking these are all crazy 20-something men, think again. Old Mayan farmers where traditional textiles of every color imaginable; business guys trying to find a shortcut to or from work; and young girls talking on their cell phones at the same time. Perhaps most interesting are the folks riding 2 to 4 up. Yes, you read it right – 4 up. When I first saw that in San Luis Patosi Mexico I thought it and oddity. After observing for two more countries I am certain it is just the cheapest and fastest way for 1 or the whole family to get about. Today like most days watching Mom or Grandma sit side-saddle in a skirt or dress is quite the through back.
End of part one… Too much to tell in one post!