Wednesday, 19 December 2007

In tune with the cloud people.....

What a trek this is turning out to be, but really worthwhile! And what a route, a day and a half travelling through different regions of the Mayan people; though they are very different between Chiapas, Mexico, and Guatemala. Anyway, my slightly convoluted route! Departure from San Cristobel was about 9am on Tuesday heading southeast for Comitan de Dominguez, continuing on the same route towards Frontara Comalapa, the border crossing was just before reaching that town. Once in Guatemala I headed for Huehuetenango, travel from there was more easterly, to Sacapulas, Uspantan and turning south just before Coban. I went through Salamas, well almost, then eastish to Zacapa and on down to Esquipulas; where I'm staying tonight. Much of today has been in and out the cloud base, cloud forest I think is the correct term for it. The home of the Quetzl bird, but no, I did't see one. I never see anything!

It's phenomenal how the countryside has changed throughout these two days, agriculturally and purely the views. Chiapas was dominantly maize being grown, there were huge areas under cultivation. Fruit and other veg could be seen, it tended to be small amounts around the home patch of land, alongside their chickens and pigs. The roads also seemed to follow the ridges of hills pretty close, the roadside was enclosed, not allowing for far reaching views. When they did occur, the hills themselves weren't immediate, they seemed to be away from the road. The mass of hills actually seemed devoid of agriculture, areas of cultivation were in the vicinity of the villages.

What an utterly amazing change as soon as the border was crossed. The land seemed to open up immediately, immense hills stretch out from the very side of the road. Of course there was still plenty of maize, it is the staple here, but there was more variety. People appeared to be travelling some way form their village to tend the crops, carrying heavy loads to and fro. As well as a better choice of crops, the number of animals seemed greater in Guatemala, certainly bovines are a lot more numerous; not just as grazing animals either, they are commonly used as beasts of burden! I even turned round to get this picture.

In fact I had to turn round twice, I'd gone the wrong way, one of the only times I didn´t stop and check my route at an unmarked turnoff. I enjoyed it though, the road was full of beautiful long sweepers; I could lay the bike almost flat and pull it round the bend on the throttle, a lovely feeling! On the return it was uphill, even better; I'd ridden it once and knew it was all good condition. Boy, did I ever thrash my baby up that hill! It was great, I couldn´t get enough of it! And that began the rest of a days thrashing the bike to get to the border, All the following roads were fairly good condition, it allowed me to make up a lot of time.

Yesterday in Guatemala was crossing the highlands, up and down extremely steep mountain roads, countless switchbacks and taking it easy. I wanted to allow myself time to acclimatise to the different country, it feels very different, I wanted to be careful! This morning it took three and a half hours to ride sixty miles, the first twenty were fine; and then came the road construction. I had to ride through piles of loose mud they'd bulldozed into a trench to let me through, the first time I was the only one going through, not nice! The second time I was after a couple of cars, that was marginally better. Altogether, thirty miles of off-road riding, from wet mud to deep, loose gravel. Actually contending with the trucks and buses was the worst, once I passed them it was plain sailing. But it involved an hour long wait while they dug out a section of the cliff, it was better than before; sections were falling out themselves. I'd come round a bend to find my side of the road vanished under a slide of shale, hence why it was a good idea to take it rather carefully.

It was strange seeing the huge selection of different designs in traditional clothes, in San Cristobel they are all present in the one city; this isn't normal with Mayan dress. They are pretty much regional by design, which becomes very apparent once travelling through various regions. There was a dominant style of dress in the city, thick hairy skirts with home weaved blouses, these quickly vanished form sight once once getting a few villages away from San Cristobel. It's impossible to describe the each variation, I've tried to show a few examples. Though very welcoming and friendly, it isn't very easy to get a photo of the women here. I managed with one group, but I had to amaze them with my camping equipment first, and assure them I wasn´t American. That was the group outside the shop above, we had a good laugh, considering my loasy Spanish.

They are really wonderful pieces of weaving, seeing their work on the home looms is cool. They do small picturesque bits, for decorative pieces; I also saw very long lengths, which is what you see them using for their skirts. It's common to see either the same weave or slightly different colours for a little pinny, I assume it saves a lot of washing, the women's day is long and varied; which seems to involve everything. They sort the animals, kids and cooking; walk miles into market some days and can be seem carrying enormous piles of wood on their heads. Its not a man's world they work their balls off doing heavy work all day, and I mean physically heavy work. All the folk work hard, whatever the sex, and kids help out from a very young age. Girls no older than ten carrying the two year old in a sling, for a large part of the day, without complaint. What a delight to see they are happy, always smiling, seemingly content!

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