The ride from Malacatán to Quetzaltenango, which is where we’re going to spend a couple of weeks learning Spanish, is legendarily difficult. M looked on www.crazyguyonabike.com (which is a website that collects other bicycle-travelers blogs) for accounts of other people who have done the ride. Her findings were not inspiring. One American family did the ride, and their blog post only had a picture of the mom, sitting on the side of the road, sobbing. Another blog described how a couple couldn’t finish the ride during the day, feared constantly for their lives, and ended up begging to stay in some home, where the mother forced her own daughter out of bed so that the cyclists could have a place to sleep.
Long story short, we decided “to hell with it” and took a chicken bus. “Chicken buses” are the primary means of transportation for most Guatemalans. They’re old American school buses (the big yellow kind) that were decommissioned in the 60’s and 70’s and ended up down here, where they’re painted bright colors and kept running by local ingenuity. That said, they do break down all the time, and they’re awfully crowded, with up to four people forced into each bench seat (made for two American children).
The view from inside a chicken bus. Very surreal for two public school kids like us.
These buses have no “stations” or “stops,” they simply stop along the road whenever someone flags them down. So we flagged one down and put our bikes and gear up on the roof, where these buses all have luggage racks. We then sat, in relative comfort, for two hours, while the bus plowed up, up, up. We went from banana trees to a cold climate, high above the clouds, probably around 2,500 meters above sea level (from around 200 meters above sea level). Eventually we got dropped off at our destination.
Note the soaring clouds, beautiful mountains, and bright yellow school bus. Some of them still have US state plates.
(We had decided not to take the bus all the way to Quetzaltenango, so that we could still have some mountain riding and so that we could get a feel for more Guatemalan towns before settling down for weeks in a city with tourists. This makes it easier to get a feel for prices and to set expectations, so that we don’t get taken advantage of in a tourist town).
We found a nice little room for about $6 (Guatemala is sooo much cheaper than Mexico!) and spent the day walking around, shopping at the market, eating and reading. It’s much colder up here, but there’s plenty of great food and drink which we’ll be sure to document as the days roll on. The town is surrounded by volcanic peaks which pass in and out of view (along with the deep valley off one side of the town) as the clouds roll through the area. We had a very nice day of relaxing.
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