Sunday, December 15, 2013

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain on corrugated fiberglass.  It was loud and I was tired so I let myself sleep in because "no fucking way I'm riding in that".  It was a foolish lapse of discipline seeing as how I still had a solid hour of packing ahead of me.  It was a little after 9 when the rain let up but I wasn't riding till 11:30.  By this time I was hungry so I tried to find a quick bite before leaving San Ignacio.  Everything was closed. Fucking Sundays in Belize.  I don't remember having this problem in Mexico.  Do Catholics just not take Sundays off?   Just as I was thinking "There's got to be a place where everyone goes to eat after church" I came upon exactly such a institution called "Hodes Place" with a giant covered back patio and I got my order in minutes before the church crowd packed it.

I always get strange looks from the server when I order multiple entrees.  It makes me a little uncomfortable, surrounded by poverty and eating food for 2 or 3 people.  Dammit, I'm hungry. And fuck me if I don't use it all.  According to my bike computer I burn nearly 5,000 calories/day.  Today I did 6,000.  Whatever.

Regardless, I need to stop being so anti-social.  I've started listening to my audiobooks during meals now too. So much more interesting than most of the people I run into.  But even with the interesting people I struggle to stay engaged.  I'm listen to Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker Guide series.  Finished the first book yesterday and now on the second.  I actually don't like it that much.  There are some great parts, but most of it feels like the humor of a different era. Like something maybe I would have appreciated at the time, but now it feels obvious and unoriginal.  I felt the same way watching the Usual Suspects a few years ago.  Anyway, I have this terrible thing I do where I can't just stop reading a book once I start it, no matter how terrible it is so I didn't switch to something else.  I guess its alright because I needed some thinking time today and with a book I'm not that into I don't feel obligated to skip back for parts when I daze off.

Took me a little under an hour to get to the border, 15km from San Ignacio.   They wouldn't let me take my bike inside while going through immigration which really bothered me.  There was plenty of room for it inside where I could keep an eye on it.  I'm in super-paranoid mode at borders.  No two borders ever work the same way except that they are filled with sketchy looking people who are way too eager to help you navigate the completely unmarked process.  I paid an exit fee and then went to immigration and got stamped out.  As I was riding through the border into Guatemala somebody yelled at me about getting my passport checked again.  They weren't wearing any official clothes and since I had my tout shields up at 100% I immediately ignored them and continued through the open gate and into Guatemala smiling at the guard who had no qualms letting me through.  It later occurred to me that both desks I checked with were on the Belize side and only one had stamped my passport.  Checking my passport tonight confirmed that I do not a Guatemala entry stamp and am apparently in the country illegally.  Not really sure how I'm going to deal with that yet, but I know where to go if I ever become a fugitive.

It was 2:20 by the time I started out in Guatemala.  I knew it would be impossible to make it the rest of the 120km to Flores, or anyplace near the lake, before dark (two hours away) but I was eager to get away from the border and didn't feel like trying to find a ride.  I started riding and told myself if worse came to worse I could finally break out the tent and sleeping bag that had thus far been dead weight on my front rack.

 An hour and a half later I began worrying. Definitely not going to reach any hotels soon. Camping is not going to be fun.  For one thing, its been raining and everything is wet.  The river along which the road has been winding is flooded and everything below the road is a swamp.  Everything above it is a steep hill and generally someone's property.  I am not mentally prepared to ask someone if I can pitch a tent in their yard like I have been reading about on other cyclists blogs.  I pulled up to a road-side bar to practice a little chit-chat and see what I could muster.  Nobody could understand me.  I couldn't understand them.  Goddamned regional dialects.  I ordered a beer and finally was able to communicate that I was looking for a place to stay.  An older guy mentioned something about a school.  Finished my beer in silence as I could not for the life of me think of how to conduct small chat in Spanish and nobody feigned any interest whatever in talking to me anyway.  The school was not a viable camping option.

I came across a small soccer field seemingly in the middle of nowhere that looked promising. But as I slowed to investigate I noticed a tiny hand-painted sign mentioning something about the military. I was thinking it was odd when a whistle drew my attention to two camo-adorned men smiling down from the hillside above me.  A harder look revealed little cabins in the trees and a clothes line covered in camouflage pants and jackets.  Around the bend I was informed by a large sign that this was in fact an army barracks of some kind.  I rode on.

 I came to a long steep 22% grade and eventually decided I'd make better time walking.  It was becoming painfully clear that I needed to either setup camp or flag down a ride the rest of the way into town.  I wasn't prepared to do either. My confidence in my communication/social skills was too low to dare flagging anyone down and I there's was no place that stuck out to me as a viable camping option.  The cognitive dissonance left me with only one option:  continue on into the darkness and hope for the best.

I swear I'm the luckiest person I've ever met.  Not 30 minutes before sunset, with rain drops beginning to fall, 3 Guatemalans in a tiny pick-up pulled and asked me if I wanted I ride into Flores.  I spent the next half hour wedged between my 75kg bike and a ladder developing a mild case of white knuckles.  My bike computer says we were only going 110kph, but with the little pebbles of water making visible welts on my skin I would've believed we were approaching mach speeds.  Buses and trucks were passed, dogs and potholes were swerved around, the road alternated between dirt and pavement, but the velocity never faltered.  It was thrilling to say the least. About halfway we picked up a young couple hitchhiking from Argentina who claimed to have been on the road for over 2 years.  I tried to talk to them but making audible sounds at near-mach speeds requires far too much concentration and we were all pretty focused on hanging on.