(February 25 – written by Dave)
Day 2 in Guatemala didn’t start according to plan. The fan in our room stopped working overnight but we only barely noticed – it was just quieter. The real issue became more apparent when the alarm went off and we discovered that we had no power. And for that matter, the hotel had no power. No problem, just fire up the head torches and carry on. The only real issue was that we didn’t get any coffee as the stove was buried and we wanted to get on the road. The coffee issue was actually never rectified – despite being in coffee growing country, getting a coffee to drink proved elusive, as it looked like the whole area had lost power.
We had 15k of rolling hills, generally heading up river, before we reached what was the climb proper. We basically climbed all day up a gorge. There was a river at the bottom but the gorge was so deep that we rarely saw the water and it was often overgrown by jungle. The gorge was very lush.
We are definitely in coffee growing country now. Every slope that would hold plants was terraced with coffee trees. I’m not really sure how they pick the cherries on some trees as it would take a mountain goat to get up the slopes. The low lands near the river were full of coffee plant seedlings. Some of the flatter patches had coffee and banana trees intermixed – crop rotation perhaps. I’m not sure when the coffee beans ripen as we only saw a little bit of coffee on the roadside drying and we didn’t see anyone picking. We saw a couple small time processors that were working but on balance it seemed like we might have come through in a quiet period.
The road was pretty narrow in the gorge but traffic was light. The only vehicles that bothered us were the “chicken buses”. Picture an old school bus from the US, with flashy custom paint and a souped up engine. They plough up and down the gorge without really slowing for anything other than to drop off or pick up a customer. When they roll through towns, they blow their horns to warn folks out of the way. They give us the horn as well.
There are two guys working on the bus, the driver and the loader. The loader hangs out in the door to grab folks off the road and help the bus not have to stop. He also scrambles all over the bus top, getting packages and bags adjusted – often while the bus is moving. Clearly, the bus gets paid to keep moving. Their only saving grace is that they are loud and they’d never sneak up on us. We can take evasive action when needed and today often did. I’ll try tomorrow to get some photos of the more colourful buses – if they slow down enough.
We stopped for breaks a few time but only short ones. The climb was not overly steep but it went on all day. On the less steep pitches, we had a nice tailwind blowing us up the gorge so overall it was not too bad a day. The scenery was nice but my photo taking today was lacking. You’ll just have to know that it was gorgeous.
We reached Huehue (as the locals call it) about 2PM and found our hotel (Hotel Zaculeus) with ease. The rooms are ok, nothing fancy. We may have to sleep in separate beds as the double beds are not very double. After showers we went out and found a bank – we now don’t have to worry about cash the rest of Guatemala. We stumbled across a concert being put on by the municipal marimba band and of course, the ladies were out selling food. The food here was fried plantains and chicharrón tacos. We tried the latter and can report that it was good – along the lines of anything fried is good.
Tomorrow we have another day in the Guatemalan mountains planned, then one more of the same before we reach Lake Atitlan – which is supposed to be very nice and worth the ride through the mountains. Time will tell. We’re tired tonight and won’t be up much longer.