2.11.09 Jutiapa, Guatemala
After a finger-smacking, lip-sucking breakfast of spicy beans and a chicken omelette (eggs 'n' chicken - it's a bit wrong, isn't it?) I say "ta-ra, chuck" to San Salvador and zip off to the Guatemala border. A smattering of forced optimism regarding how bad it'll be is richly rewarded. There are no helpers, no need for helpers, the weather's cool and nobody wants a hand-out. The whole out-and-in is completed in 45 minutes. Officials on both sides are chummy and helpful. Guatemalan cops have a reputation for trying it on, but we'll burn that bridge when we get to it.
If I was seven, I would go literally bog-eyed mental at the sight of the dinosaur pool at the hotel in Jutiaca. Because I'm 43 I tone it down a bit, and when I'm informed that the hotel doesn't sell beer I simply raise an eyebrow and puff out my cheeks.
Then I remember there's a hipflask full of Colombian Aguardiente in my luggage - thanks Tom for the flask - which seems to go quite nicely with Pepsi and ice.
4.11.09 Antigua, Guatemala.
Hopped-up on hell-terror and foamy-mouthed with the fatalistic death-worship of Catholicism they may be, but those Guatemalan buses sure are colourful!
The squitters - the runs, the trots, the ol' sepia fire-extinguisher, you know - reappear in Antigua after a months-long respite. It's not a major problem; more of a wry smile, "you again?" moment, and it certainly doesn't stop me blowing the froth off a few Gallos.
Gallo, or "Cock", if you prefer, is Guatemala's best selling brew, and while it doesn't taste fantastic, it does come in absolutely ginormous bottles. Cheers!
I suspect that, after 2 or 3 Gallos, I could listen to "More Than A Feeling" on a loop until the Day Of Judgement (next Thursday week, as if anyone cares).
15.11.09 Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Major Mike "Mad Dog" Anderson - ex RAF Search-and-Rescue, British (as opposed to English) to the bone - wins first prize in the "what's the coolest thing you can have strapped to the back of your bike" contest - a walking stick. It's a big BMW - we'll let that pass - and it also sports a British "Blue Badge", signifying that the holder is disabled and needs to be closer to the Sainsbury's exit than you do. Dodgy knees and really quite short legs notwithstanding, he's ridden the length of the Americas and continues to do so. His theories about why British potatoes hold their heat better than their foreign counterparts may be open to scrutiny, but his commitment to drinking beer and riding motorbikes is not. Major* Anderson - I salute you.
As a pensioner, I imagine he would appreciate Igor the Czech's t-shirt slogan:
Close to inarguable, assuming only those two options.
If not the way his bike is packed:
Where, in fact, is the actual bike?
The Major and I rendezvous in Antigua. It takes us a stupendous amount of Gallo, featuring both diarrhoea and vomiting, to come to the conclusion that it would have been better to call it "Draino". Any other Guatemalan lager causes only the usual problems, but there's something terribly wrong with Gallo. I swear on the holy bread of Jesus: I will never touch Gallo again, unless it's all they've got.
Major Anderson and I tootle off to the Mayan city ("ruins" is the wrong word) of Tikal. It's a 2 day ride from Antigua, and it's way beyond what I'd imagined. There's something very Doctor Who about it, partly because the huge temples look like thousand-year-old stone Daleks, and partly because it's just spooky. Tikal is one of those places where you find yourself walking round a corner and involuntarily saying "no fucking way!" every 20 minutes. Like Woking, but good.
Given that Mexico - North America by any reasonable definition - is the next stop, it might be time to rank Central American countries in order of good-ness. Factors at play include:
-jaw-dropping places to see
-cost of hotels and booze
-ease of border crossings
-friendliness of people
-corruption level of cops.
With all that in mind, and in reverse order, here it is;
In last place, Honduras. Mainly because of the cops.
5th: Costa Rica. Slightly too expensive.
4th: Panama. Good-ish on all factors.
3rd: El Salvador. A combination of easy borders, good cops and friendly folks.
2nd: Nicaragua. Let down by a tedious border, otherwise - good work!
1st: Guatemala. Fantastic in almost every respect.
*Mike may or may not be a Major. It just sounds good that way.
18.11.09 Antigua, Guatemala
As my left forearm metamorphoses from golden-haired willow sprig into fat, scarlet, insanely itchy rugby ball, I'm forced to hold back a spring tide of superstition. Superstition, as you know, is belief without evidence. Often reinforced by coincidence, it can sometimes take a Brain Of Steel to hold superstition at bay.
The bee, wasp or hornet that plugs my arm full of noisome agents during the ride back to Antigua is without doubt a barbarian and a maniac, but as I scream wordlessly at 70mph, reptile-brain assuming control of Her Ladyship, I think back one hour to the small, jade-green, harmless bug that was trapped behind my screen.
"Ignore it!" submitted Rationality.
"What if it becomes dislodged, and flies up your nostril?" argued the Fear Centres of my mind. "What if, following a sharp gust, it becomes embedded in your eye-socket, and is forced to nourish itself on the sensitive pink meat of your optic nerve?"
That last one does it for me. I attempt (at well over 60mph) to flick my emerald passenger off the screen. I'm wearing gloves - it doesn't go at all well, and there's smearing and death.
Sorry, sorry, sorry, I think, shuddering at the senseless waste of life while attempting to retain control of my vehicle.
An hour later - a little early for Karma, don'cha think - it's hornet time. 60 hours of horrible pain interspersed with spastic scratching follow. I'm certain it's a coincidence. Completely 98.5% certain.
This is hilarious in Omagh! Although even then you might have to be called Gormley, Conlon or Crowley to get it. Ha ha!
21.11.09 Huehuetenango, Guatemala
"How long you wanna stay? Like, the whole night? With sleeping?" asks the hotel manager in response to my request for a discount rate. What the dickens can he mean? Why would I not want to stay the whole... Oh! I get it. Perhaps, since it's called Hotel Pleasure, I should've guessed. The bedroom is a 1981 version of exactly what you'd expect. Someone's written "I love you Brian" on the headboard in mad-woman writing - all scratchy and black.
It seems very clean, but I'm glad I don't have one of those UV-light love-squirt detectors. Nice big private garage for Her Maj, though. An oil change, performed, importantly, with love, and a few other minor tinkerings have left the old darling running like a new kettle or a copper hat or something. 16,500 Latin American miles (for a clock-total of 51,500) and I want to run my hands over her opalescent curves and kiss her until my lips get all sore and dirty. Apart from the saddle.
Mexico tomorrow! Which is, is it not, effectively North America? AWESOME!
Met some lovely USA folks - two couples on two V-Stroms - in Antigua. I enticed them to a bar where they drank not enough beer but were nice 'n' chatty. After a while, I began to suspect that they might Love Jesus; there was a moment where I had to explain that I don't have a star sign, which didn't seem to raise the appreciative chuckles I'd been gunning for, so perhaps it's best they went home before I'd drunk enough Brahva (looks like Brahma - isn't) to start badgering them about empyrean matters. So many things I must remember not to bring up in bars when I get to the US.
So, one more day in Guatemala, and I've decided it's the best bit of Central America. Some of it is bad-fantasy-painting beautiful. If JRR Tolkien had been on the back this afternoon, he'd have died of burst eyes. Tragically there was nowhere to stop and take a picture of Misty Mountain Wonderland, but it was like being in a 1975 bedroom (without the yeasty smell). The only things stopping me from having a catastrophic psilocybin flashback were the impenetrable and unbreathable clouds of black smoke pumping out of the buses. The worst culprit today had a picture of Fat Stupid Jesus on the back. I'm not saying Jesus was fat and stupid; just that the picture was of a fat, stupid Jesus.
Worst Meal Of 2009:
While I remember, I should mention a brunch I had; Overcooked "Surprise" Liver in a Honduras petrol station (I thought it was going to be "meat"). Even though I was starving, it was inedible. It was, however, so disgusting that I had to keep picking at it to check it wasn't a joke. It was like a shit on a plate. Honestly.
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