Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama

I'm coming to the end of my time in Central America. I had rather carelessly thought of it as a bridge to South America, which in hindsight was a silly notion. I suppose being brought up in a time when all these countries were lumped together under the banner of Banana Republics, Contras and other various Dictator led terror, I had little understanding of just how gorgeous, friendly and interesting these lands of Mayan Temples and volcanoes have turned out to be. It did not start to well being ripped off at the Guatemalan border, but since then I have really enjoyed it and alas missed out on a huge amount of it from lack of time.

Semuc Champey
I had been promised great delights at Semuc Champey, and although I was there on a cloudy day,  the lime stone pools formed at the base of steep ravines were delightful to see. The authorities had laid on some good local trails, one of which had to had you climbing up  an incredibly steep route  to the viewing platform hundreds of yards above the gently cascading water

  The original plan had been to head further north to Tikal, the most renowned Mayan  remains in Guatemala, but time paranoia and a wrong turning ended up taking me to the Honduras border to the equally well-known and regarded remains of Copan Ruinas.
 The roads were stunning and what you see here was typical of day-long rides
 Copan Ruinas  had one marveling at the ingenuity of historic civilisations. In fact it was built towards the end of the Mayan empire (About 1200 years ago), in a desperate attempt to appease the gods who they believed were punishing them for 10 years of drought. Alas it did not work and the civilisation crumbled with the failing harvests. It is now understood that over the hundreds of years that the Mayans thrived, the whole area, from southern Mexico to Honduras had been heavily deforested for building and crop growing. A poignant example of how deforestation stops the rain from falling, and the consequences there of.

Copan Ruinas
Copan Ruinas
 The next day was a mighty long 12 hour drive, 320 miles, and I almost crossed Honduras in it. A beautiful country, not rich by the look of things but very scenic and worthy of more than my one day. That said I did see 2 accidents soon after they happened. The first was up in central hills where a man lay beside the road, covered in blood with police and medics around him. I did not see his face as I was waved past, but feared the worst for the poor chap. The next one had 2 cars very smashed up with a lot of teary people about the place. The ambulances had just overtaken me. I have dreaded having to use my first aid kit and let alone my very slight first aid knowledge, but these were the closest I have come so far.

It is not really surprising as there is a tendency to overtake on the brow of a hill and on corners.  More than once being a slim bike has been a blessing.

On to Nicaragua and...
This is a surreptitious photograph of the policeman who hauled me over for a perfectly normal road manoeuvre. I did feel somewhat victimised  because every other vehicle was all over the shop. The ensuing conversation had me denying any Spanish, which is almost true, his insistence that I surrender my license, and his final acceptance of $20…. cash.

 I spent a couple of nights in Leon, which I had been excited about, it was written up as a university town and heaped in history. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, but I'm afraid I found it a rather drab place apart from a very good art museum and a massive cathedral, the largest in Central America.
 There was a carnival of sorts going on, and what I initially thought was some insurrection, turned out to be these fellows and launching dozens and dozens of these rockets.
 This man is a former guerrilla  from the days of the Contra. He showed me round the  Museum all about the revolution and did so in a very local dialect. Funnily enough I ended up understanding more as we went along, and here he is pictured on the roof with the cathedral in the background. I am sure he said his mental scars would never heal.

A town I thought just fantastic was Granada. It was beautifully kept, and strictly denied any modern buildings, and just a few more than one storey high. In fact it reminded me of Lang Prabang in Laos, which had been a favourite town on this now has an equal. We had a 1/4ly work meeting there so I upgraded to a starred hotel which made for almost forgotten comforts...air con, room service, breakfast included...the joy.

When I was about 5 miles out, on my way into Granada, I was overtaken by Mark on his Suzuki. We pulled over and chatted...then went for a beer. He semi lives there and was a good friend to me over the next 4 days. 
A view form the Hotel room in Granada

One of the casualties of the bumpier roads was my loss of the kick start pedal...vital when the battery is flat. With Mark's contacts he found a small engineering firm who made a perfect replacement. $30 all told, probably 1/2 the cost of getting one sent out from the UK
One perfectly working kickstart
Batty did another great 2 day marathon across Costa Rica which was almost like a poorer US state, but with much of the trappings. Beautiful all the same, and frustrating to have missed it.

Now In Panama, on the Isle of Boca...doing very little for a day or 2...