Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Belize-Guatemala, temples lakes and jungles - 26th January 2003
… from Lake Atitlan in Guatemala … many say the most beautiful place on earth … at 5000 feet above sea level … surrounded by three volcanoes … the smell of drying coffee beans drying … percolating through this internet café … it smells like a brewery. Guatemala, where everything blooms all the time, is the land of permanent Spring.
Here in San Pedro the crude-looking fishing boats are made from straight pieces of wood, with bows which jut up sharply, though the fish are hardly big enough to concern oneself with. A very modest room is costing me the princely sum of US$1.20 a night. Not many come here by road, or track rather, it is done by boats.
I came a few days ago from Antigua Guatemala (‘Old Guatemala’) which was the capital city of New Spain until it was destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1700s. It was easy to imagine life in the colonial city hundreds of years ago, with the cobbled streets and grand colonial achitecture. Look upwards and your eyes are assaulted by towering volcanoes, three of them around the city. One of them is live, I am looking forward to hiking up there in a couple of weeks. For Antigua pics see http://home.att.net/~john.hogue/Guatemala.htm
The Spanish arrived in the 1500s to conquer the land. Vastly outnumbered by the Mayans, the Spanish conquisador challenged the Mayan King to one on one combat allowing the Maya to thrown the first lance. The Mayan King lost and a bird bathed in the blood of the fallen king. The quetzal bird has had red breast plumage ever since, they say, along with a song like a sad lament. It is the national bird and the name of the currency.
Guatemala uses motorbikes a bit like the Asians do, for everything. But once you are off the main highways here the roads become pretty awful, so most of the motorbikes are TS185s, XL175s, DT175s and suchlike. In Guatemala City I was in a bike shop. This older gentleman asks me where I am from, and then cries “What do you think of a President who is on the run for two murders and stole $200 million from us the people? What about our police force which lost two tons of cocaine from its secure warehouse?”
The Guatemalans have had a hard life. The 33 year civil war which resulted in 200,000 dead and countless others missing ended only six years ago. I recogised some feelings and expressions (in both me and the people) from Cambodia. Law established by the Spanish colonialists discriminated against the indigenous Mayans who have been marginalised ever since. Power in the country is still only in only a few hands and basically the poor are still suffering, and you can feel it.
I visited Tikal, a famous Maya site, the town of Flores built on an island in a lake, and Rio Dulce where I camped on an old ‘hacienda’. If you want to see some pictures of Guatemalan markets go to http://www.vacations-abroad.com/photos-guatemala.html.
In Guatemala I have continued my research into how motorcycles are used in health services provision, speaking to medical workers at local, regional and national level. There is no shortage of motorcyces here, which are paid for by the United Nations, USAID, and UNICEF. But the motorcycles last only three years because there is no management or maintenance system. This is a terrible waste of money.
The problem with me doing this sort of research and lobbying is my Spanish comprehension. I can express myself but can’t understand what the officials are saying in reply to me. This is a very bad sign! I guess I should sit in front of the TV for a few days, difficult with all this nature around though. I went horse riding yesterday.
Tomorrow I ride up to Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela) at elevation 8000 feet where Casa Xelaju (www.casaxelaju.com) is donating a week of one to one Spanish lessons and home stay. Hopefully they will be able to orientate my learning to what I need.
Arriving in Belize from Mexico was a real pleasant experience. I have never heard English spoken in a such a likeable way. I think they call it the Caribbean lilt. It makes doing any of transaction or meeting a real pleasureable experience for us Anglophones. Besides that, motorcycles go free on the toll roads!
A policeman stopped me to check my insurance document. “What’s this?” he asked pointing a number written on the document I had bought at the border. “It’s the engine number, you can check it by looking here,” I replied showing him an area down on the engine casing. “I can’t be bothered to look down there,” came his reply and he waved me on. The people are a really great blend of Maya, Creole, Mestizo (Spanish & Indian mix), Garifuna (black Caribbean Indians, the ones with the dreadlocks), Mennonites (people of German descent who live off the land and have a dress code), East Indians and international wayfarers who never left. They had a history of wars, slavery and struggling to survive.
I got a bit carried away in Belize and bought a wooden carved eagle and sent it home. But it is made of a harder wood than mahogany, the natural resource which first attacted the British.
I think that Belize (formerly British Honduras) has so much going for it as a tourist destination. It is a premier destination for eco tourism, touristy things connected to nature. Aside from the diving, snorkeling and fishing out on the islands and reef, there is horse riding, birdwatching, rafting, lots of Mayan ruins and I did get to canoe through a cave with Mayan relics. It was great. But I think the greatest thing that Belize has going for it is the English language. The world’s biggest tourist market, English speakers, can come here and get to know the Caribbean life and Maya people without having to learn another language. Britain, of course, only seriously laid a claim to Belize after Guatemala claimed it. There is still a disputed area of land between the two.
The only update to my earlier report on motorcycle use in Belizean health deliveries is that the riders say they don’t enough money for gasoline. This is because they want to ride home to their families each night. Overnight expenses while out delivering health services are not yet covered by government.
If for some reason you stop to get email updates it is because one of them was returned, your in box may have been full for example. If you suddenly find these stop coming to you email me and I’ll re-add your details.
Recently I met the my scuba dive instructor who trained me in Egypt and Torsten who accompanied me to the smugglers market at Peshawar in Pakistan. It is a small world indeed.
The Mexican project, written by local health department proposing to integrate ten motorcycles in health deliveries is now online in the Spanish section of www.millennium-ride.com.
That’s all for now
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle.
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