Guatemala/Honduras: San Andrés Itzapa to Copán Ruinas

Leaving Mayapedal was a relief – we were on the road again, back into our journey. It was also hard, with conversations often falling back to wonderings about how people were doing or how the bici-lavadora proyecto was going. We formed some special friendships while we were there, especially as the “population” was pretty steady for the last few days, and smaller with only 4 other people. Conversations waxed and waned, with a constant theme of Language. Spanish for the english speakers and the vagaries of English for the spanish speakers. A prime example of this, which had all the english speakers unable to connect a coherent thought to another for a few minutes, was from Javier. He’d worked as a telephone sales person in Ireland a few years ago, and had a pretty good grasp of things. He was lamenting the difficulties in knowing how to pronounce english words if you only know how to spell them as there are so many different vowel sounds. This in contrast to spanish, where if you can say it, you know how to spell it without too much more effort. We heard: “You need to have more Bowels”

Unfortunately for him, the Spanish pronounce V as B….

Our plan for the final stretch in Guatemala was to skirt round the southern side of Guatemala City, then take a more-or-less straight line towards the border at El Florido. Happily there was a nice network of small roads to get us there. We didn’t think much more about it. Our route to San Andrés had been pretty hilly, and things didn’t let up from there onwards either.

Volcan Pacaya is the other 'active' one near Antigua/Guatemala. In contrast to Fuego which throws hot ash forth, Pacaya emits lava if it's doing its thing. Unfortunately there wasn't very much happening when we walked up early in the morning, a day or so after leaving Antigua.
Towards the end of our first full day back on the road, after we'd ground our way up the (thankfully well surfaced) hill past San Vincente Pacaya, we were passed by Dan and his nephew on their motorbike. They stopped to find out where we'd come from; and then invited us to camp at their place. Dan had returned home after living in California for 20 years, and now lives just off the track up to Volcan Pacaya - a fantastic location for us
After a nice, mildly rock dirt road descent down to Lago Amititlan, things didn't stay flat long - this is Guatemala after all! Sarah attacking the hairpins back up the hill again. I've developing a grading system for navigational errors: worst is accidentally going down a steep hill then having to retrace your steps back up, followed by incorrectly going up a hill, then going the wrong way on the flat. Time of day, need for food or water and weather conditions also impact on the potential recriminations towards the guilty party...

We didn’t do a particularly good job of taking photos along the way, but picture lots of quiet roads with occasional Guatemalan carrying precarious loads of firewood using straps across their foreheads. Gathering and transporting firewood together with hand-washing clothes probably take up most of their time.

Our bikes taking a break from us in the highlands between San José Pinula and Mataquescuintla. Sarah's new setup with rear rack and panniers hasn't proved too much to get used to, and moving the bike around in tight quarters is a breeze. The well-graded dirt road between these two towns was a fantastic contour-winding tour (once you'd got up there) through green ranchlands and forests.

The climate warmed up as we moved east, so we’re now back on long midday breaks, maximally early starts and lots of cold drinks.

Sarah's bike hanging out in Copán Ruinas while we escape the heat of the day

Despite feeling as if we’d spent a long time in Guatemala, we’d only done just over 2 weeks of riding and under 1000km. A stunning contrast to the USA and México. The trend will probably continue until we make it to Colombia and the mighty Andes.

Another, somewhat more minor observation, made recently is that when you read that a place is a “beautiful colonial town with lots of charm” it will almost certainly have cobbled streets that render it varyingly unfriendly to bicycles. Antigua Guatemala and Copán Ruinas exemplify this. Further evidence on this theory will be presented in due course as we pass through Gracias and other Honduran colonial towns…

In Copán Ruinas, which is actually the town near the Mayan ruins, not the actual ruins themselves, we got our final fix of things Mayan as we will now move out of the main Mayan mesoamerica. The ruins here are famed for their sculptures, particularly the stellae (double human height spires). Sarah also went to a local bird sanctuary while Tom attempted to do some “work”. Colourful birds are definitely a step-up from the intricacies of health expenditure in developing countries!

The archeological site just outside Copán Ruinas is thankfully less busy than Palenque and having got there at opening time we enjoyed pottering round in a peaceful tranquility undisturbed by large tour groups and their guides. We did narrowly miss a school group that arrived as we were leaving, so it could have been different
18th Rabbit (one of the semi-divine rulers) gets plenty of sculptural attention on the stellae. The stellae in Bonampak and Palenque didn't have this degree of relief, maybe with harder rock to work with.
More 18th Rabbit (we think, we lost track after a bit)
Before the archeologists arrived the site was mostly tree-covered mounds with some finished stone sticking out. Some areas haven't changed much
The encroaching jungle gives a great sense of peace, though when people lived here there wasn't much in the way of plant-life and although it's not really known, it is felt that places like this died when they outstretched their environmental resources
Macaw Mountain, just out of Copán Ruinas, cares for rescued and abandoned birds. Sarah went there to escape my efforts to get some "work" done
Sarah getting some personal attention from the lads!

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