In Guatemala (I noticed this with interest in Mexico too) people often said 'Adios!' to us as we passed. Quite often this was expressed in English, as 'Goodbye!' or simply 'Bye!', which I found very endearing and couldn't resist repeating. Since we raced through the country in (for me) ten days, this also makes a fitting title for this post.
The day after I crossed from Belize into Guatemala I met up with Claire (who had crossed from Chiapas a few days earlier) at Yaxhá, a lesser-known Mayan site in the large northeastern region of Petén. If I've understood correctly, Petén represents one-third of Guatemala by area but only three percent by population. In fact our easterly route entirely skirted Guatemala's better-known, more densely populated western regions and thus - perhaps - the worst of its traffic.
Yaxhá was a wonderful place to meet up and chill for a couple of days. No electricity (definitely no Netflix), just a stunning jungle/lakeside setting, Mayan ruins, masses of birds, spooky howler monkeys, individual palapas, open-air lake-water showers, and hardly any other 'trippers' (as my Dad would say). We weren't alone though; about 60 members of national park staff sleep there too!
As well as eight litres of water and masses of food, I loaded eight cans of beer onto my already laden bike for the 12km dirt-road ride up to Yaxhá. I quickly decided it would be a crying shame to waste the coldness of four of them, which certainly made the ride slightly more amusing than it might otherwise have been. (Thankfully I did not repeat this trick on the way back down, when the track was wet and treacherous!)
While Claire learned a new tune on her fiddle I unpacked and repacked all of my bags - again. It's amazing how calming I find this process, and it was jolly nice to have live music!
After Yaxhá we zoomed south through Petén, each night asking for local confirmation of our proposed camping spots: a lake, village football field, abandoned palapa, 24-hour petrol station and two fire stations. At the football field we were already half set up when the village committee (who happened to be meeting) sent out a spokesman to say they'd feel more comfortable if we slept inside the village hall. At the petrol station Claire was amused (and slightly alarmed) that the armed guard who sanctioned our sojourn was entirely cross-eyed. Several times we were offered showers. At the rural fire station one of the two staff placed huge road-cones around our tents having presumably done a quick risk-assessment. At the second we benefitted from cuddles with a tiny kitten. We also spent two nights with a kind 'Warmshowers' host family in Poptún where I went to the barber ($1) and we ran some useful errands. All in all we were extremely well taken care of in Guatemala.
Our ride through Guatemala started fairly flat, became more rolling, and ended up with some serious hills. We voted unanimously to catch a bus and skip the lorry-laden highway from Morales to Rio Hongo - an excellent decision. A few other stretches were either uncomfortably busy or challengingly steep/ unpaved, but many roads were much better than feared.
What with a considerably faster pace than I'm used to and what I'm calling the Claire Diet (of tortillas, beans and bananas for lunch - every day!), I've lost all of my Oaxaca weight in two weeks!
Claire and I talked a lot in advance of travelling together (and continue to talk), about the importance - and challenge - of travel (or indeed any) partners communicating well in order to find consensual pathways through all manner of differences. This takes both intention and skill.
Certainly, travelling together is giving me much pause for thought about my own ways of being. Something I notice is that while until my mid-thirties I barely stopped moving, nowadays I tend to spend a great deal of time being still and quiet or moving very slowly, just listening, seeing, noticing, digesting... The urgency of our Central American schedule is a stimulating experience but probably not something I'd feel comfortable sustaining more permanently. I feel extraordinarily grateful for the privilege of being able to make such choices.
Next up: El Salvador!