Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 21 - Panajachel (Lago Atitlán) to Esquipulas, Guatemala

RobT:  We rode out of the lakeside town, hoping to take a less challenging road than on the way in, only to find out after less than a kilometer out of town that the road was blocked by Army engineers who were preparing to blast a landslide area up ahead.  There was one last option to take and it turned out less challenging, but just a scenic.

One of many landslides.

Video footage on the road.  You'll notice at one point the large crack in the road, it's ready to give way, yet no marker and still open to traffic.

RobC:  Along the route to Guatemala City, traffic was stopped at several junctions (but fortunately motorcycles are always allowed to use the inside of the road or anywhere they can pass) for a national 7-day bicycle race. Of course, this sparked my interest and we looked for a way to view the racers and take some pictures. Finally we saw them coming a round a bend and we took some quick pictures. The amazing sensation of watching the peloton go by was complete silence! Motorcycles are noisy machines compared to the humble, noble and beautiful bicycle.

RobT:  We made it into Guatemala City by noon in the midst of mass traffic chaos!  The GPS lost its mind somewhere along the way, so we toured the neighborhoods before a taxi driver asked us where we were going.  RobC hired him immediately to guide us out of town.  Some of the neighborhoods you can't imagine.  Unreal how people can live in dilapidated, corrugated metal shacks, crates for furniture, cinder blocks, garbage everywhere, abandoned vehicles, dirt, no street lights, stones all haphazardly crammed into tiny spaces on chaotic side streets.  No greenery whatsoever!  Made me appreciate what I have back home.  Wow.  Sorry, no pictures ... I couldn't.  Didn't feel right about that.

The road from Guatemala City to the Honduran border town of Esquipulas was mostly two lane, twisty paved mountain roads. I think there were 2 straight stretches of road of about 500 meters each!!  And landslides!  Everywhere.  Picture this, a 4-lane road, they close your two lanes and you merge left into the outside lane of the oncoming traffic only because that's what you see the car ahead of you do and you have no choice, as there are boulders blocking your route ahead.  No signage, the oncoming traffic is suppose to know their outside lane is now for oncoming traffic!!  Unreal.  The other interesting fact is that Guatemalan Police do not seem to care what you do with respect to operating a vehicle.  Passing a police car on a solid yellow line, into a curve at twice the posted 70 kph speed limit .... nothing. At one point they even waved us on!

Soccer on a dusty dirt pitch in the middle of town,

Market in the middle of town.

The town of Esquipulas was surprisingly lively.  It was packed with vendors, scooters and motorcycles everywhere, people and music!  After supper, RobC stayed at the hotel to do some computer work and Skype calls and I decided to stroll the central market.  I was disappointed.  It was more like a flea market.  Most of the vendors were women, some barely teenagers, others remind me of my mother, sitting there, rubbing their eyes, tired from sitting on the curb all day trying to make a Quetzal (Guatemalan currency, 7.5Q = 1USD) off some nail polish or trinkets.  I decided to stroll some of the side streets just to check it out, until it got a little sketchy, then headed back to the central plaza.

RobC:  The city of Esquipulas is quite a ways from mainstream Guatemala, and only 15 minutes from the Honduran border. The locals told us that it is called "La ciudad de Fe" (City of Faith) and the center of this faith is obviously the beautiful baroque cathedral (called basilica here). Many people go into this 250-year old, white, beautifully preserved church to to offer their prayers to God or their favorite saints. Along the path up the church were the maimed and the infirm, looking for alms and the benevolence of the faithful. I have a feeling that this picture has not changed much in 250 years.

The city of Esquipulas, with its basilica in the center.

 The basilica of the Lord of Esquipulas, also called the Church of the Black Christ.

A family having breakfast on the church grounds. People come from all over Central America to make their pilgrimage to this venerated site.

RobT:  We are 5 km from the Honduran border just north of El Salvador.  We were going to try to cross the border at around 5 pm but after talking to locals, figured we should stay the night on the Guatemalan side.  Apparently, the roads on the other side of the border are in very poor repair and the first real city in Honduras is 2 hours away and we'd be riding in the dark.  So, first thing in the morning, Honduras.

RobC:  On a cultural note, we have both been struck by the multitude of strikingly beautiful girls in Guatemala, and their native dress make them very colorful. They can often be seen holding a young child by the hand or carrying a baby. Upon asking, we found out that many of these young girls start having children in their early teens and since they talk freely about that, there seems to be no stigma attached to it.

We spoke with this young mother and her 10-year old daughter, who was proud to be in 5th grade already.

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