Monday, April 16, 2007

Racing Chicken buses & other mountain tales...

Enjoyed some beautiful scenary and riding on our last days in Guatemala. We were up in the highlands where the weather was fresh. We left Antigua and headed NW towards the border and to San Cristobal in Mexico. It was too far in one day so we night-stopped in Huehuetenango - a local market town in the mountains - a bustling place, particularly on the Monday morning as we were trying to navigate our way down the narrow one way streets to head back onto the highway - the market just sprawled itself out onto the surrounding streets so we were dodging fruit & veg stalls, hawkers with candy or T-shirts and a few stray turkeys escaping their baskets only to be hustled back by old women in traditional dress. It was a colourful, hectic place and I think we were the only gringos in town!

The roads were spectacular. A lot of roadworks going on, though that was never a problem for us on the bike - we just got waved through. That doesn't mean it's safe though - you're on your own picking your way through the JCB's and diggers, hoping that the guy doesn't miss the truck and drop a ton of dirt on top of you! It was interesting - and more so once we started racing the chicken buses...The drivers obviously missed out on their calling for Grand Prix driving and so work the buses in the highlands of Guatemala instead. Although we were generally faster, we were getting overtaken by these buses on any dangerous bits that we slowed down for - and especially through the roadworks where they have no regard for the vehicle or it's suspension and whizz past us! The only time we could nip past was when they slowed to drop people off or pick up - and even then they didn't come to a halt - for the poor woman with a laden basket it was a running stop as she flung herself off and trotted off down the hill, basket balanced expertly on the top of her head, chicken tucked under one arm!

It's not just roadworks - wandering pigs, chickens, cows and goats; a fair splattering of local kids begging for money or trying to sell us fruit or woven scarves and bracelets, old men pedalling ice-cream carts (in the middle of nowhere?!), and frail old ladies carrying the largest bundle of firewood on their heads when they should be at home knitting in front of the fire with a nice cup of cocoa.

It's crazy stuff, but so 'Guatemala', away from the tourism of the big city; where we were constantly stared at with curious fascination - after all I guess it's not every day they see a heavily laden bright red sportsbike being riden 2-up by a couple of strange looking gringos in the middle of the highlands!! Must be mad....

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