January, February, March in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras
albano, Quito (Ecuador), June 2000
My back rim and racks are in a poor shape, and I decide to wait for the spares in Oaxaca. On Monday, January 11, they laeave Switzerland by EMS express service. One week of silence. Then, I come to know, that my parcel is in Mexico City, and that they need a domicile instead of a poste restante address. I give them the address of my trailer park, and they tell me that customs will contact me.
Another week of silence before I make contact myself again on Monday, January 25. I have to write a guarantee letter and an order for the delivery company to carry out the customs formalities. A few hours later, they get the papers per fax, but only on Friday, they contact me again. Now, I have to pay duty, only about half the value of the parcel. Not really happy about that, I pay on Monday. On the occasion of my check-back phone call, I am notified, that now, after the week-end it costs about 12 US-dollars more. I pay that, too, and, finally, on Wednesday, I receive my parcel. I am not astonished that the invoice is neither for the sum I paid on Friday nor for the one from Monday. And a ridiculous little problem more: Some Swiss chocolate and a Power-Bar have appearently been confiscated. But at least my spare parts are here, and by the end of the week, my touring bike is ready again.
Although I stay more than a month in Oaxaca, I am not getting bored. First of all, there are the people in the trailer park, where I pitched my tent: busloads of Germans, caravans of Anglo-Americans, other Europeans passing with their own car and the drunken Mexican climbing on the warm water tank one day. And then, the sights of the city and environs: Mount Alban with ist remains of the Zapotec capital, Santo Domingo, one of several churches, with its gold ornaments, the adjacent regional museum, with a wealth of information on history and culture and, of course, the attractive main square with the cathedral.
I also see some US motion pictures with Spanish subtitles and move under the influence of international and latin rhythms, alone or in company. Finally, I visit some English classes, where people have so many questions about my trip, that I never have time to tell them much about Switzerland. By the beginning of February, I even fall in love, but the admired woman keeps her distance.
No reason to stay with the bike ready, and on Friday, February 12, I leave the city. On the same day, I visit the ruins of Mitla and observe the tourists at work. Lots of hills during the next days, and then, I get down to the isthmus o Tehuántepec, where I fight against the usual strong lateral winds for about 50 kilometers. And water problems: just the huge 20-liter-bottles for sale. Next, I climb up into the state of Chiapas.
On Wednesday, I arrive in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The main road is lined by fast-food chains and huge car parks like in the US, but the centre is more Mexican: lots of small shops and comparatively big square and cathedral. Not far off, there's a remarkable zoo with only native species.
Friday and Saturday, I climb up to San Cristóbal de las Casas. People sell their colorful weavings along the road. They seem to be accustomed to foreigners, for they want your to pay for taking pictures. Positive surprises further up: First, a swiss flag and some encouraging words for me on the road, painted by the Swiss airbrush specialist, I have met in Oaxaca. And second, a cyclist from Vienna coming down the slope, with whom I can exchange experiences.
Just before arriving in San Cristóbal, I stop in front of a Volkswagen garage. The staff has assembled for a party. They call me and share their tacos and fine tequila with me unter the roof, when outside, my first thunderstorm for half a year comes into action. After the strong drinks, I have some difficulties to move and set up my tent right in place next to the crossroads.
For the next night, I draw back into a hostel. I stay in the city for a few days. It's quite a tourist attraction with green squares and lots of historic buildings. The supervisor of the garage invites me for lunch with his family. I discover an emigrated Swiss running a souvenir store and go to see the nearby cave.
Wednesday, February 24: I set off towards the country's border through an abundance of plants. The soldiers at the army checkpoint against the drug traffic I pass, don't want to inform themselves about my luggage, but about the Swiss banker's discretion.
On Friday, I pass a little turnpike and already find myself in Guatemala. In the valley towards Huehuetenango, coffe beans are drying along the road. In the city, there are no teller machines for my credit card. Even at the counters, they don't want to give me Quetzales (the local money). The same problem on Sunday in Quetzaltenango, but with the banks closed. Finally, I can change some dollars at a hotel reception.
When I leave the city late in the next day, I take the wrong road down into a valley with black clouds coming up. When I climb back up the following morning, I stop at a fruit stall for the second time, stay for a good while, and the woman seller teaches me some words of the regional language.
On Wednesday, a breakneck downhill to Panajachel on lake Atitlán, a must-see for Guatemala travellers. So it's no surprise that I find here some people, I have already met in Oaxaca. I install myself on a campground. When I take a boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlán and its surrounding vulcanic cones, I already have a haedake and a sore throat, the typical symptoms of an influenza, and the next days, I am lying in bed with fever. Not enough: Before I leave the place, my tent suffers from its first (and not yet its last) ant invasion on this trip.
I take the old panamerican highway towards the east. On Tuesday, March 9, I pass Antigua Guatemala and am shaken by the cobble-stone streets. On Wednesday, about 50 kilometers further on, I roll down the long slope into the capital with some elite cyclists hanging in my wind-shadow. The square in the centre looks like a copy of the Mexican ones, except for the flag. The traffic is horrible.
After a day of rest, I continue towards the border. Before leaving Guatemala, I may stay for the night with a peasant family. The next evening, in El Salvador, there is no secluded place along the road, just people, buildings, fences; but I don't even have to ask: Once more, I am invited to use my tent in a garden, and my host takes me to a typical restaurant.
Another night in tent close to a lake, a sudorific uphill, and I reach San Salvador, the capital. I make use of a big shopping mall next to the main road. Entering into the centre, I notice piles of rubble and the numerous houses with earthquake damages. I don't see a lot more of the city. The next two days, I am lying flat, again: more fever and diarrhoea.
Moving on on Friday, March 19. After a night in a field, I may use my tnet the next evening on the ground of a family of about ten people. Their lodging, a loam hut with a few hammocks inside, has been heavily deteriorated by hurrican Mitch a few months ago, but it's still providing shadow, and a new hut is under construcion. The hurrican has also destroyed a great part of the last harvest, and the rice and pasta, I have with me, are welcome. I stay another night.
Later on the way, the first flat tyre since Oaxaca, a night on the veranda of a farm house, and then, I cross into Honduras. First impression: I am offerd a lunch on another farm. Then, on the short stretch that brings me directly to the next border, visiting-cards of the storm again and again. Parts of the road, entire bridges have gone. The traffic uses provisional construcions. The climate is hot, and I choose the higher and cooler route towards Nicaragua.
© 11-9-2000 albano & team