Tuesday, January 4, 2011
1/4/2011 - Oaxaca to Tuxtla Gutierrez, 320 miles, 9 hrs. Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal, 60 miles, 2 hrs. San Cristobal - Xela, Guat, 200 miles, 8h
Wake up later than I want to after a late New Years Eve celebration on the rooftop of the hostel, complete with 2 pinatas, fireworks and tequila and a good view of the fireworks downtown. I plan on pushing as close as I can to San Cristobal in the mountains of Chiapas, and my jumping off point into Guatemala. 400 miles in Mexico during daylight is iffy at best though, and I realize Ill probably have to stop halfway overnight. The road out of town is easy to get to and well paved, fast highway for a good while which is a relief. The route then turns mountainous, but with well paved asphalt and the weather also gets warmer, warmest on the trip so far and I stop to take some photos and remove my jacket liner. The day turns out to be some of the best riding of the trip, alternating between long fast stretches and tight, twisty hairpin turns as the road winds in and out of the mountains and valleys. Cross from the state of Oaxaca into Chiapas and have a late lunch in a valley, complete with tons of windmills providing energy for the area. I get to the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez as the sun goes down, and get a private room at a clean and modern hostel for 12 bucks. Get settled and go out, dinner, coffee and a crepe, blog update and back to the hostel for some sleep. One shitty thing is that my guidebook for Mexico and Central America is missing and after a while, I realize it probably got ripped off when I left it unattended as I was loading my stuff into the hotel. This is a fucking bummer, I really rely on that thing and it makes the travelling much easier. At home I could just Amazon.com another one but down here, a bit harder to obtain. I resolve to sleep on it and make my way to San Cristobal, a short 60 mile ride away in the morning.
In the morning I take a last look for my guidebook and still cant find it. As I head out of town, I need to make a decision as to where I am headed. San Cristobal is a really nice town with a lot to do, but I have spent time there before and if I wanted to I could cross the border into Guatemala today and be in Xela by early evening, my home away from home in Guatemala, and where I had eventually planned on spending a week or so with friends, my host family from last year, doing bike maintenance, etc. Another option which I had previously decided to forgo was to go from San Cristobal to some Mayan ruins way out there in the jungle I wanted to see, and then put my bike on a big canoe and cross the border at a remote town on the river, and ride through the outback south to Xela. Besides being a longer and more extensive undertaking, my main concern is that there are no customs to speak of at the river, and my bike will be in the country illegally. After the fiasco I dealt with in Mexico, I am not sure I want to deal with any more paperwork bullshit. In the meantime, the ride to San Cristobal is pretty breathtaking. Last time I was here, it was dark and I missed the super-steep mountain views, foggy at some points and definitely colder. By the time I get to San Cristobal a couple of hours later, I still haven't made up my mind and I decide to stay for the day/night and figure it out by the next day. I end up getting a room in the hostel where my buddy Mohsen from England is staying. I get situated and head out into town to look for a new guidebook. Another traveller, Jan from Germany knows where all the book stores are and he shows me where they are. The ones they are selling are a rip off though, some as much as 50 bucks. So I say fuck it and end up meeting up with Mohsen and a couple of other folks later on. Send the day walkng around town and sampling the good food/coffee and hitting a couple of spots I had not been to before. This includes the Coffee Museum and Na Bolom, which is kind of a compound/library/research center dedicated to the Mayan ruins and the indigenous people of the area. It was really interesting to me, the kind of stuff I have been reading a lot about lately and it was cool to have seen it. Later on, we check out a movie at a local coffee shop, a documentary on the original Zapatistas, fighters during the Mexican rebellion in the early 1900's
Next morning, I head out and I have made a decision at this point as to where I am headed. My chain/sprockets are shot due mostly to the riding I did in Baja and they really need to be replaced. I head to a local moto shop and if they can fix the problem, Im headed off to the jungle but if not, Ill head to Guatemala today and get the parts replaced in Xela, where Ill be for several days. At the shop, Alex the mechanic says he cant get the parts, but he does clean up and tighten the chain and make some adjustments. So I head to the border but Im kind of worried, because the chain is making some horrible grating noises now, much worse than before the adjustments and its also getting late into the afternoon, and I definitely dont want to be riding in Guatemala after dark. I make it to the border 3 hours later, exit out of Mexico, enter me and my bike into Guatemala. I have heard that this is a very easy, painless border crossing and Im not disappointed. Its now 5:00 and its at least 3 hours to Xela so I head off quickly for some spirited riding through the mountains. I cant resist stopping every now and then for some photos. There is nothing like the steep green mountains of Guatemala, complete with a rushing river paralleling the road to my right. I pass through many small towns and it gets dark and really cold. I contemplate stopping short of Xela for the night but I press on and 3 .5 hours later I am in familiar territory. I find the house of my homestay family, where I was last year when I studied spanish here for a month, and Gerard, the father answers the door. Its good to see him and Esperanza, my "mom" in Guatemala and grandmother Romalda. The place is empty of students, business has been slow here overall, due to the economy and some natural disasters that occurred during the past year and I settle into my old room and immediately feel at peace. Head out for some food. Ive eaten a lot today, Ive been hungry as a horse. I head to the Blue Angel Cafe, where I reconnect with the owners and have a big ass tuna sandwich, soup, bread, and chips for like 4 bucks. Then I head out and have a coffee and cake at a fancy little rooftop cafe. I am still not satisfied and top off the eating frenzy with a street hot dog before heading back to the house for a long and restful sleep. In the next several days I plan to repair the bike and luggage (still damaged from my crashes), do some laundry, hit the gym, and most importantly, see old friends before making my way east through Guatemala and into Honduras and Nicaragua.