After another 10 days of cycling, we finally made it through the huge country of Mexico. Now, nearing 9000 KM and in a place not called North America or Mexico, it seems we’ve traveled an astounding distance. The carpet of the world just keeps rolling. Our final week in Mexico brought us out of the parched coastal regions of Oaxaca into the verdant valleys of Chiapas. Mexicans proved their open hearts and ways all the way up to the very last inch of their country. In step with our entire trip, Guatemalans opened the doors to their country and hearts, taking in the crazy gringo family by bike, like the whole country was waiting for us.
04/25/16 (Salina Cruz to Juchitan)
An urban maze of traffic and harsh light cast in a cauldron of heat. After our hideaway at the Madra Hotel, nestled between the market and the central plaza, riding out through the sprawl between the three or 4 large cities sitting within this flat basin is an ugly reflection of human tenacity.
A web of boiling pavement and squat squarish buildings selling things or at one time sold things and now only sell a space for things to eventually be sold. Trash is piled high, the trimmings of life laid bare in brown dry sickly looking grass and shrubs under the intense orb of the sun. A plantation of wind turbines, a symbol of greenish progress, is cast in the background within a hazy muffler filled fog with diapers and Coke bottles framing this hellish desolation maintained by the dim hopes of prosperity through meager commerce.
We rolled for a short while to the outskirts of Salina and stopped at a monstrous building with no windows and glass doors. I’ve been killing watches lately and we were looking to participate in this whirling need to trade pesos for goods by buying a replacement wrist watch. Found one of seemingly decent quality and headed back out, salty sweat dried by the air conditioned building plastered on our spines.
Eventually broke into more open flats less depressing than the first part of the day. Found a little stream running under a bridge and took a shallow river bath, hearing the whoosh and rumble of cars pass every few minutes. Piles of trash nearby sufficiently hidden by the thorny chaotic growth, giving the illusion of washing oneself.
Banged it into Juchitan where we discovered a giant nail protruding from Ance’s back tire. Tried to patch the large hole, but I think due to my sweating hands and air humidity the vulcanization process didn’t hold. Had to swap out for a new tube.
Pulled up and we’re granted permission to camp at a fire station with a host of husky looking red shirt fireman with big smiles. Evening pasta for dinner. Cama by 9:30 PM.
04/26/15 (Juchitan to Niltepec)
Woke at 6:15 AM. Coffee drank, cereal ate and shoved down. Flat expanse continued under the rubber, the Sierra Madre Sur still looming and following us now for what seems to a mini eternity. Stopped into La Venta for a short break. Stopped on the side of the road due to dizzy hungry feeling. Pounded out the last 15 KM to Niltepec like speechless machines staring out at the bristly flat carpet of the world. Wonderfully tired, pretty little town to camp in on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
04/27/15 (Niltepec to Chahuites)
Rain sprinkled in the morning. I’d woken some time around 3:30 AM a bit bewildered by how hot and sweaty I was. Not 20 mins later I was privy to the reason – oncoming rain. It’s a strange feeling, but we’d noticed a couple times before (around Manzanillo, Mexico) that just before any rain starts the heat and humidity jack themselves up to an extraordinary pitch.
It wasn’t much rain, but it was enough to send Ance and I scrambling outside for the rain fly. Ance was far more agile in her movements at such an hour. She was already outside of the tent clipping in one end of the fly, while I was still stupidly fiddling with the zipper of the door repeating bleary-eyed in a tone of a deranged but calm serial killer; “This door will not open. This door will not open.” The whole fiasco was pretty comical.
In the end, it did but sprinkle on and off for about 45 mins. Ance and I sat on a park bench to feel the few stray misty droplets sporadically drizzle forth. As Ance fell asleep in my lap, I watched the sky above. A ghostly tattered rope of clouds wisped by at a steady clip. A smattering of stars and the stately moon peeked through, here and there, rearing their shiny faces through the silky procession of clouds.
Ance retreated to the tent and I stayed on the bench, dozing and dreaming of a cool Juneau rain washing my whole body completely of every last stain of heat. Got moving legitimately around 6 AM. Threw down some instant coffee and a delicious omelet we’d concocted out of onions, jalapenos, and mayonnaise.
Day of riding up a mostly flat expanse (again) that you could stare out at and lose your eyeballs out beyond the horizon. Still, to the north, the Madre looms unceasingly. Made hard slow time of the first 30 KM, but the sun remained hidden behind a marching trail of cumulus clouds.
A man named Carlos, before getting into Zacatepec and as we were heading out, offered up a place for us to say and a host of other hospitable things. He had a big smile and open ways. Wish we would’ve timed things out a bit differently to spend some time.
Trucked into small town of Pascual Fuelles for a full food stop. Some kids came by to stare, ask questions and eventually play catch with Augustine’s stuffed kitten who alternately serves as a throwing object. Headed out as the heat began to wane slowly. It turned into a pleasantly cool rational time for riding.
Coasted into Chahuites. Quickly apparent that it was a bigger town than we’d anticipated. Our destined campsite was buried many heads deep in a fiesta of dancers and onlookers. We waited until just after 10 PM to put up the tent – which is actually pretty late for us.
04/28/15 (Chahuites to Tonala)
Crossed over into our final state of Mexico – Chiapas. No fireworks, for some reason, were shot upon our arrival.
The bustling of Chahuites is peddling strong in the current of the day by 5:30 AM. Trucks of vegetables and fruits bumble up the cracked pavement to the central market. Hustlers of food and wares shuffle about hanging their goods for sale. Had a breakfast of coffee and pastries.
Fast sprinting day all the way into Tonala. Had a flat just outside of Arriaga. Pulled in there to waste away another hot afternoon. We’d retreated to the central park, where hot playground equipment stood lonely in the sun. Augustine still found a way to poke around with other kids in the lava field.
Finally headed out around 5 PM. The 24 KM in the setting sun on gradual drops and easygoing hills was like bowling with a princess ball on a 5 FT deck. We were flying. Tonala turned out to be a much larger city than we bargained for – a situation we’ve been running into consistently for the past few days. Went to the church to camp with a Catholic Jesus for the night. All the people so curious and friendly.
Ended up staying up much too late making a gourmet stew of vegetarian curry. It was worth it in the end. The cement grounds of the white blue trimmed church, wallow slowly in the night, releasing all the heat from its open faces. Night of sleep rolling in a thin grime of sweat under the bell towers.
04/29/15 (Tonala to South of Alberto Pineda)
Woke late around 7 AM. We’d groggily understood some sort of ceremony had started at 5 AM, three men walking the huge church ground chanting in the somber night of morning. We thought it was possible that Jesus was still sleeping at that hour. May God forgive us.
Set off after giving a collection of toys and some food staples to a large family in the straights, sleeping in the churchyard just beyond where we camped. The woman explained that her mother had passed away and somehow (my Spanish weakened my full understanding) they were now without a home. A boy and two girls still manage to smile and play with Augustine. Two of them were old enough to grasp the full gravity of the poverty they found themselves within.
The precious few hours of the morning are a vision. In the distance off to the north, the seemingly unending brigade of ridge tops are all roped together in a long ancient looming geological history. In the low morning light, they’re all wrapped in a hazy silhouette, looking like the thatched backs of massive sleeping dogs.
Here in Chiapas, for reasons unknown to me (perhaps because we are in a valley running parallel to the ocean) green voluptuous grass has returned, loquacious fronds shivering flirtatiously at the sky in the breeze. It’s still hot as hell come 11 AM. Pulled into a spot with a brimming river, piling up in beautiful cool pools of water under a high bridge. Squandered 4 hours lounging in the water playing with Augustine and watching the light change in the shade of the bridge above.
Lumbering slow but by gentle steady inches all the way to our abode for the evening. Small roadside village. Asked if we could camp in a family’s yard and got an easygoing “Si.” Augustine chased around kids and Ance and I sat watching, attempting to cease the flow of sweat through immobility. It did not succeed.
On the gravel and patchy grass, the earth gives more freely its collected heat back to the universe. Slept soundly, unhindered dreams free of drowning by sweat.
04/30/15 (South of Alberto Pineda to North of Hidalgo Novillera)
The easy going rolling flats continue. Chiapas, for a myriad of reasons, seems to be a Mexican heavenly state. It’s greener, meaning not only that it is physically greener, but there is visibly less trash strewn on the side of the road. It is also the first state we’ve seen in Mexico with official signs indicating 1) a fine for throwing trash and 2) locations for PET plastic recycling. After the Oaxaca pacific coast, it’s pretty refreshing.
This is an interesting conundrum to me. What you are able to gather from clumsy searches on the internet of Chiapas is not necessarily a clean green paradise. Out of all Mexican states, Chiapas remains the poorest in per capita income, some of the lowest investments in infrastructure and a considerably higher rate of adult illiteracy. Chiapas happens also to be the last state of Mexico to be fully integrated into the federal system after a long and storied past of grappling by Mexico and Guatemala over the region.
All this considered the succulent grass made for moderately fresher and wetter air that sails you forth into not quite an epic but more hobbit hole land where you feel homely and coddled by your surroundings.
Rolled through Pijijiapan and onto La Unidad for an extended afternoon siesta on the Rio. An abandoned concrete Corona painted shack nestled into an overgrown corner buttressing a nearby bridge. Lizards scramble nervously and recklessly through dry rustling leaves as you pass. It sounds as if they’re searching for that one piece of official documentation, in a pile of papers, which indicates that you’re trespassing.
Little tiny ambitious fish attempt to eat you whole by flipping on their colorful green and orange sides and opening their mouths wide. At no bigger than your pinky, it doesn’t quite hurt when they nibble, it’s just marginally disconcerting to be at the opposite end of someone else’s appetite. You must retreat to where the current moves along briskly to escape the miniature maniacal hunger.
Ance and I pass the time with a word game we’ve made up for both English and Latvian while Augustine throws rocks and splashes around. She has a tendency to revert to a cavegirl like grunting while playing alone, speaking to rocks and water in intonations only known by the universe of her mind.
Onto little cantina near the road just before Hidalgo. We got invited to camp in the yard and were treated with tamales and huge mangos. To top it off, we bought a cold beer and sipped cold hallucinatory bubbles till dark. Climbed into tent listening to the ruckus of laughter and song billowing from the nearby cantina into the small hours of the morning.
05/01/15 (North of Hidalgo to Huixtla)
Scrambled comically out of the tent twice to put up the rain fly. It actually rained, though just a sprinkling throughout the night. The only problem is that it is still moderately hot in the evening. With the rain fly on, the issue is exacerbated – especially when the rain is only toying at its role of actually falling from the sky. So, you’re left listening to the weak sporadic patterning of floppy rain drops, smothering to death by a hot wet pillow of doom.
Needless to say, rough night of sleep. Augustine, however, didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. Woke a bit late due to the rain shuffle and happily drunk singers. Headed straight into Mapastepec for a quick coffee and pan dulces.
Then we bounded all the way into Villa Comaltitlan some 40 KM away for lunch and extended siesta. Left into rain clouds that ever so gently and sweetly sprinkled a cool layer of water on us. Lighting split right above our heads with thunder that nearly filled my drawers. Made camp at a Pemex gasolinera.
05/02/15 (Huixtla to Metapa)
Cool morning by the Pemex that is so immaculately gardened it looks like a church’s foreground. There is something to be said for a state-owned gas station. Back in 1938 the famous Gen. Lazaro Cardenas nationalized all the privately owned petroleum operations throughout Mexico after an extended battle between largely British and American owned petroleum companies and Mexican unionized workers fighting for better pay and benefits.
After a lengthy kerfuffle. where workers and the Mexican government found that privately owned oil companies were making larger profits in Mexico than almost anywhere else in the world, along with the poor oil barons crying that they’d be put under by raising wages, Cardenas said the hell with them after apparently an insulting meeting with leading oil businessmen and nationalized. Luckily for Cardenes and the future of Pemex, WWII was just around the corner and proved to be a boon for the nascent nationalized petroleum company.
Sprinkled off and on throughout the night, smart enough to just leave the rain fly on throughout the night. Moderately cool and had a full night of sweatless sleep in a while. Headed out into a cool hazy morning and bombed all the way into Tapachula some 44 KM away.
We were on a mission to hit up the big town to find a device that would serve multiple purposes: 1) something I could read books on, as all the paper book reserves have been plundered and purchasing English books has been rendered a distant reality at this point and 2) provided GPS capabilities for navigating larger cities that we come across, which could be extremely helpful.
Tapachula is a messy mix of a border city apparently attempting to reconstruct its image. Half of the main thoroughfares seemed to be under construction. Poked around the commercial area for a few hours before finally settling on a windows phone for our reading and mapping pleasure.
Stole into massive shopping mall and bought, for the first time since the US, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. Sat in the food court and smeared our wares on anything edible in a half food conscious state of bliss. We called it our last fiesta in Mexico.
Getting out of Tapachula, met with a maddening type of hill. One that looks flat but steadily takes you into higher altitudes. Made a sweaty 10 KM in an hour and 20 Mins before turning south at Izapa for an easy 7 KM glide. I should mention that before turning, we met a couple from Guatemala. They waited with cold water bottles for probably 30 mins just to say hello after passing us on the road. Pulled into gas station to see if we could camp – the attendants shook their heads – no.
Jesus overheard our tribulations and came to our rescue. No, not that Jesus. This one was filling up his mini-bus-van with gasoline and spoke with a smile on his face that we could camp at his house. Off we went into the fading light.
Showed up at Jesus and Ana’s house fairly quickly. Put up our tent on a beautifully blue marble tiled patio that reminded me something of a picturesque plantation. Jesus asked us if we liked Mexican food. After nearly 5 months in Mexico you know not to refuse an offering of food – of course we said yes, both for decorum and the fact that Mexican food is in fact rich and delicious.
We were under the assumption we’d have dinner with them. What actually happened is that they ordered food for us from a local restaurant, brought us cool ice water and shared some of his crop of rambutans, leaving us to ourselves while they went to a gathering in town. “We’re going out. You stay here. Don’t leave, okay?” Mexican hospitality at its finest.
05/03/15 (Metapa to west of Coatepeque, Guatemala)
Slow start. Tinkering with our new device last night to get everything set up. I am cheap so I guess I’ll read all the free classic works of philosophy and literature before bringing myself to actually pay for an electronic book.
Headed out of Metapa for a gradual drop all the way into Ciudad Hidalgo at 20 KM away for our crossing into Guatemala. The perfunctory attitude and asinine unclear process to get out of Mexico was maddening.
There were no signs in any language what-so-ever which direct you on where to go. Groups of guards and official looking staff persons lackadaisically pointed in unclear directions on where to go, wordlessly. Had to turn back to get a passport stamp. Went to small office directed to. Yeah, you need a stamp but first you have to pay 320 pesos per person (960 pesos for all of us) to be able to leave the country. But, you can’t do that here, you need to go back to that other building over there.
Went to location hastily pointed out to us to figure out why it was necessary to pay to LEAVE a country. A woman, wordlessly and impatiently, pointed us to a completely empty waiting area to sit for no apparent reason. A man in an adjacent window was serving people. Attempted to ask him from our side of the glass what we were waiting for. He pointed to the other glass booth that was empty with a placard that read “cerrado,” (Closed). When I asked when someone was going to be there, he shrugged his shoulders, “when they get back.” He continued to serve a slow trickle of people coming in.
Almost to the point of losing my mind with this aimless chaotic bureaucracy, I went out to the parking lot to ask the staff standing around why we had to pay to leave the country when we had paid for a 6 month visa to cross through Mexico. I showed the visas and additionally the unofficial looking receipt we had gotten in Tijuana. She shuffled over to the small building we’d already been to and returned indicating that we could proceed.
This time the stamp lady actually gave us a stamp. When we asked why she hadn’t given us the stamp previously, she said that we hadn’t shown the receipt and that our visas were good for only 6 months. I bit my tongue on the fact that you can’t seem to get the official looking visa without paying for it and both the visa and printed out receipt clearly showed our visas were good for another 20 days.
After the face slapping mind-numbing paper shuffling to get out of Mexico, the Guatemalans let us in with a few smiling questions, no fee, and a 60-day visitors visa. Boom. Welcome to Central America.
Rolled into our first Guatemalan city of Ciudad Tecun Uman. Big beautiful city where I ran into the law while Ance and Augustine were out scouting for cold refreshments. Apparently, in Tecun Uman it is not okay to park your bicycles in the plaza. A neatly uniformed slender Guatemalan police officer with a perfectly trimmed thin mustache seriously took stock of me and stood awhile over me, sitting on the pavement, staring at the bicycles wordlessly for a few minutes.
He gestured to the bicycles and made clear that they were in the way and could not be parked by the bench on which they leaned. He pointed to a vacant lot with parking lines where I should move the bikes. When I said in my halting Spanish, as nicely as I could muster, that I like to have “mi bicis cerca,” he pulled out his radio and put in an inquiry into the situation. The bit of Spanish I understood crackling through the radio indicated that the boss did not want the bikes in the plaza. I mentioned through my teeth, no pasa nada, its fine, I can move the bikes.
The officer wordlessly and without a smile followed behind me, watching me lay the first bike within one of the yellow lined parking spaces. After laying it parallel within the lines, he motioned with his hands that it would be better to park the bikes adjacent the lines instead of parallelly.
I sighed quietly, squatting slightly over the bike I’d just laid down, looked at the empty parking lot and the passing motorbikes and cars, glanced at the broad walkways of the plaza blazing harshly under the midday sun, and felt sweat trickle a few centimeters down my spine. I was already pretty edgy from the irritating Mexico exit and now this bored plaza dictator was having qualms about how exactly to park a bicycle in an empty parking lot.
With a frustrated laugh, I picked up the bicycle and parked it adjacently and did the same with the other. The plaza monarch wordlessly and without emotion seemed passably satisfied with himself and walked away in a slow gait. I wanted to rip the sun from the sky and smash it on his neatly placed navy blue ball cap and throw his little ass on the nearby gushing fountain to give him a good rectal douching to clear up whatever it was he had crammed up there.
I smiled and waved at him as he crossed to the other side of the plaza. He did not return the pleasantries.
Set off to Pajapita. Now we’re basically heading back up the slow grinding slope we’d come down in the morning on the Mexican side. Stopped in the square where we attracted a fair number of smiling inquisitive people wondering what these strange gringos with bicycles and a daughter in tow were up too.
We had the intention of getting into Coatepeque. However, the monotonously slow slope along with the fact that some sort of Guatemalan TV station crew of two on a motorcycle stopped to film and question us on our cycling trip left us a bit short of time and will to make it all the way.
Pounded out some kilometers before rain and darkness began to fall alarmingly quickly. Slightly desperate for a place to stay because of the oncoming darkness, we began asking where we might be able to camp. Gas station turned us down, hotel too expensive and an owner not into the idea of us camping on the grounds.
Finally, at a bus stop in La Union, the rain growing furious under a rumbling sky, three people stared at us blankly while we asked where we might be able to camp nearby – us nearly to the point of wondering why we left Mexico – a woman came to the rescue and brought us to stay at her house behind the cantina she ran.
We witnessed our first real tropical rain, which happened to be the first “winter rain” of the year. Thunder rumbled and lightning blew open the night in white flashes of angry glorious releases of power. I breathed in the cool night air under the eave and let my feet dangle in the streams of water flowing from the sky, to roof, to ground.
Augustine got some sweet friends in the daughters of our cantina savior. They instantly took a liking to one another and in no time were playing and soon fell to watching a movie together. Being at a cantina, I got cornered into a bizarre exchange with a very flamboyant and very obviously fabulous gay man in a state of inebriation that walked a thin line between extreme elation, flirtatious inquisitiveness and finally theatrical sobbing.
The sobbing came very early in the conversation. Over his hysterical sounding cries through the deafening rain, he told me that his mother had died. Your mother has died? Today? I asked, totally bewildered by this wild stranger’s life being thrust at me. “Yes!” A slurred mix of jumbled untranslatable Spanish flowed from his sobbing lips and heaving chest.
He quickly jumped from this topic to living for a short stint in Houston, Texas. He did not like it. Then in his wobbly state in his stationary chair, with a feeble attachment to his words, truth, and reality he let slip that his mother was sick with cancer.
Our conversation being almost entirely in Spanish, I thought I may have misunderstood his mother’s death. Still, I said, “su mamá muerte de cáncer? Disculpe…” This is what I said in my bad Spanish. Now, after having looked it up, I should have asked and said something like “su madre murió de cáncer? Lo siento.” Which means, “Your mother died of cancer? I’m Sorry.”
However, after diving a bit deeper into my stranger’s bizarre meandering drunken conversation, it was clear that his mother was not dead though he definitely said at the beginning of our little talk that she was. When I tried to clear up why he had said his mother was dead, when in fact she was not, he quickly moved to another topic. We ended our exchange with him telling me that he loved me as he stumbled back towards the cantina counter.
When I asked our host, what in the world was up with the fabulous borracho, she said simply, “he talks a lot.” I went straight to sleep after brushing my teeth. The rain made known its presence while the sky grumbled in satisfaction at its own power. The sound of the jukebox barely audible through the deluge.
05/04/15 (La Union to West of Mazatenango, Guatemala)
The morning. Cool and wet with bulbous exploding pillow like clouds broken up across the vast sky. We were treated to sweet creamy coffee in the morning and pan dulces, along with some local palm wrapped cheese. Our host was feeding us like she would her own family.
Augustine awoke and instantly went knocking on the two sister’s door to play. She spent the morning picking up and talking with these ridiculously cute puppies.
Upon heading out at 8:45 AM Onelia got all choked up and teary-eyed, gave us all big hugs and smooches. Beautiful lady with a big heart and wonderfully sweet daughters. The first two hours and 30 mins past Coatepeque and just beyond Las Delicias were a fairly steep slow beating. We crested out and met an easy going plummet where we made about 15 KM in 25 mins.
Pulled in around Santa Elena for a cool off session and some food fuel. Curiosity brought around motor-taxi guys and some youth to poke around with their eyes and words. Set off to San Sebastian with steep rolling hills breaking into a moderately flat stretch. Pulled into market parking lot where we met Carlos. A sturdy tree trunk of a man with limbs that look stronger than oak trees. In steady clear and almost noticeably Canadian English, Carlos said he’d saw us a ways down the road and decided to stop and say hello.
Carlos ended up offering a place for us to camp at a farm just 5 KM outside of San Sebastian. The farm turned out to be an industrial scale operation harvesting the sap from rubber trees for tires and latex for medical equipment. Everyone on the farm complex greeted us with huge smiles and waves as if they’d been expecting us all day.
Got a shower along with a covered place to pitch our tent for the night. The rain began around 4 PM and came down in a torrent for around 45 mins until subsiding into dribbles and finally sporadic droplets. Apparently, we’ve now entered a new stage in our adventure. For six months, there will now be a period in which practically every late afternoon there will be a rain shower.
Made dinner of macaroni and discussed possible routes through Guatemala with Carlos before bidding farewell and good night. Fell into a bottomless pit of sleep around 8:30 PM. The rubber trees leaning elastically into the night.
05/05-07/15 (Rubber Plantation to North of Mazatenango)
Woke at 5 AM (it turns out, we found out later, this was actually 4 AM, but that is nugatory finagling of time zone trickery). Took some time to catch up on some writing while the world was quiet. We hung around slow, came to our breakfast lazily and eventually Carlos was free to take us on a rubber tree tour.
The rubber tree itself is an astounding tree. A native South American plant, it can be tapped consecutively for up to 40 years. The natural latex – akin to sap – is collected in hanging buckets attached to the tree. On the farm Carlos took us on, one worker is assigned to a hectare of land that has approximately 500 trees.
Depending on the price, the chipas, raw rubber material, which smells of a strong stinky mushroom, is collected every other to every 5 days. This involves simply a worker with a blade, slicing open a wound in each of their 500 trees and looping back around the same day to pick up the droppings.
This raw material can be put through a series of different processes depending on the product destined to market. The industrial, dry production process, takes the raw material and cleans it in a giant mixing basin of water. From there, its subsequently chopped into smaller pieces and dried. This material is meant almost entirely for the manufacturing of tires for cars, bicycles and airplanes.
The two other processes on Carlos’ rubber farm consisted of one rather complex and the other entirely by manual labor. The former, more sophisticated process, is the manufacturing of latex for largely medical equipment like gloves, tubes, etc. Chemicals are added to keep the natural rubber sap from congealing and to destroy any naturally occurring bacteria. The final product from the process looks something like rich whole milk.
The latter, by hand process, is the production of large sheets of rubber destined largely to South American markets to be used in mining operations within tubing to prevent corrosion. This takes the raw rubber sap through a process wherein slabs that are approximately 4 X 2 foot and about 3 inches thick are made. These sheets are wrung through something akin to an old clothes wringer that flattens the slab. This makes a sheet about a quarter inch thick, 3 feet wide and perhaps 5 feet long. These slabs are hung to dry outside for a day and then lightly smoked for 48 hours. Carlos indicated that this manual process produces a far superior quality of rubber and, therefore, a better price.
The whole tour of the processing and through the rubber tree groves themselves was pretty fascinating. It never occurred to Ance and I how those rubber tires we’ve ridden on from Canada probably came from trees very similar to the ones Carlos tended to. As we were riding through the bumpy dirt track through the rubber grove Carlos commented, “I love working here. It’s also a sustainable crop. We produce oxygen with our trees. You can harvest all year. It gives the people steady work.” Carlos also pointed out to us that after a tree, no longer producing, is cut down, it is burned and produces a gas which is used in the manufacturing of the farm’s rubber.
All around, it seems like a pretty amazing operation with a fairly sustainable cyclical nature to it. After Ance and I got our minds blown on the rubber tour, we set off to Mazatenango to meet up with Carlos’ wife and family just 15 KM down the road. Carlos offered up his home for us while we brought in Augustine’s trailer and our bicycles for repair and maintenance.
Met up with Carlos’ great family, Ana escorted us to the bicycle shop and we set off to their house just north of Mazatenango in a plush motor vehicle that seemed to move by its own vocation.
Since yesterday afternoon, it’s been a hard life. Cold Guatemalan beer and meandering discussion of politics in Guatemala, triathlons and beautiful places in the world last night, followed by a late night of sorting the 1000 photos we took over the past 10 days. Today, I’ve been thumping away at the keyboard trying to decipher what I like to call my doctors’ hand for these long winded updates of mine.
Ance and Augustine headed off with Carlos to take a gander at a cocoa farm while I hunched over the laptop. The cocoa farm is actually one small plantation venture on what is primarily another rubber tree plantation. There are also African Palm trees that are harvested for their oil along with an orange tree grove. Apparently, the cocoa harvesting and production is the most interesting and complicated.
Cocoa pods are harvested carefully from the plant. Each pod has around 25-30 beans. These beans are then put through a series of stages including 2 days of fermentation without movement in a covered building within wooden boxes. Following immobile fermentation, the boxes of beans are moved in steps to lower rungs of stacked wooden boxes. After the box shuffle, there are approximately 5-7 days of drying in the sun, depending on the intensity of the sun. In the end, the cocoa beans should be around 7% humidity and make a dry crackling sound.It seems that our crossover into Guatemala is one giant agriculturalist field trip.
Last night, Carlos took us to talk with a group of youth ranging from 5 years old to perhaps 20. Ance did an amazing job, as usual, in whipping out all of her Spanish for a 15 min talk on our cycling trip from Canada. After Ance’s talk, a lot of kids and teenagers had various questions, but the funniest one came at the end. After everyone was shuffling around and departing, a little boy came up to Ance and asked in Spanish, “So, are you traveling by car or bicycle?” Followed up by, “do you have a dog as well?”
We’ve finally made it through Mexico and it feels great. That doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy Mexico. It is a vast jaw-dropping country whose beautiful deserts, beaches, mountains and cities are only matched by the people that take you in warmly and force feed you hospitality until you’re packed full of love, tacos, and hot peppers. And take into consideration, though we cycled nearly 4000 KM in Mexico, we only got a narrow glimpse of the country. The world is grand indeed. However, with the distant dreams of Patagonian mountains dancing in our dreams, actually making it to somewhere not called Mexico or North America, sounds like progress. It feels great.
As always, we wish everyone the best and send our warmest greetings to family and friends around the world.
Latvian Alaskan Family