I have a recurring feeling of a trip just beginning. All the evidence to the contrary, the worn out tread on the rear tire, my slowly improving Spanish, the constant clicking of the odometer clock (recently surpassing the 50,000 milestone), my beard grown out, the wild coconuts, bananas, and coffee beans that burst jubilantly from the brush all around us, is unconvincing.
There was the initial departure from San Francisco—well, I suppose, prior to that there was the test run in which we packed up and took ourselves and the bike to a cabin in Northern California—then our crossing into Baja California, then our ferrying to mainland Mexico at Mazatlan. At each of these junctures I felt the trip was only just beginning, that everything prior was preparation and something unambiguously real was certainly visible on the dusty horizon.
We have crossed the border into Guatemala and at that threshold also Central America. Somehow that distinction feels significant. We are no longer on the North American continent. Geographers have all agreed. There is a clean line drawn on a map and marked in the hills by painted white pylons, in the streets by a chaos of people and vendors, a guarded open metal gate, and a stack of paper work. Once the paper gauntlet was run, which proceeded smoothly enough, and money exchanged, for an outrageous rate, we found ourselves in the starting blocks again. Looking onward with optimism and wonder and asking ourselves whether now the journey has truly begun.
There is undoubtedly a more stark newness to Guatemala. What is the currency? Quetzals. What is the local beer? Gallo. What do people eat? What is their temperament? Are the police strict? Are the roads well-paved? I have not seen a Guatemalan movie. I do not know their legends. I scarcely know their history. Mexico I felt that I knew through osmosis, accurately or not, like a neighbor who’s parties and arguments you can overhear, if not entirely understand. In Guatemala the children have begun to wave at us as we pass, as if we are a displaced reveler in a strange parade. The people seem to wear their kindness in their eyes. The indigenous people seem to be more a part of the rhythm of the country. Colorful native dresses appear to be the common dress.
We crossed at Mesilla and immediately met a roadblock of protestors demanding road improvements. An hour later we managed to squeeze through in advance of an ambulance. One protestor was not pleased with our creative escape and struck me with an orange. Shortly we understood their complaints as the road rapidly deteriorated into a web of potholes, interrupted by remnants of irregular pavement. Traffic bounced slowly along weaving wildly in search of the shallowest holes. After perhaps ten miles of these conditions fresh pavement appeared and we sailed along until dusk convinced us to stop for the night in a village called Nahuala. In the morning we realized were just nine miles short of our destination of San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan. The road however would have been impossible in the dark as it is a seemingly endless series of hairpin turns, steep but impeccably well paved, down the face of a mountain to the town on the lake’s edge.
The lake itself is a natural marvel. A massive crater lake ringed by dormant volcano peaks. We are content to rest here for a few days. I need some time to recover from a variety of minor ailments. What better place than in the shadow of a volcano?