Hiking to the peak of Central America

Trip Start Feb 14, 2005
Trip End Jul 2005

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Monday, April 18, 2005

A week spent in Xela. Hmm... where did it go??? Stacey recovering from being sick, and Marty being sick and then recovering. Planning our Peru trip, and the two weeks when Ma and Pa Brown will join us in Guatemala. A few more hours for Stacey spent with Ruby, a language teacher, mostly just talking with a bit of grammar thrown in. Hanging out with Phil and Amanda and hiking to the highest point in Central America.

Xela was a very calm place to spend a week of forced downtime. We actually stayed in a Hostel, with lots of other young people for the week (50$ Cdn for a week with shared bathroom and secure parking and kitchen use.) Come to think of it, we were actually quite old in the Hostel population!! There was a bathroom nearby and it was a week out of the van. Actually I guess thats two weeks. We do love the van, but the change was welcome. Neaby Xela there is lots of geothermal activity, which means towns that have incredible vegetable and flower growing, and thermal springs that we could visit and soak our bones.

Of course one afternoon was spent riding around Xela looking for repuestos usado for Marty´s continuing search for pieces to add a low and high range to the van. It gives us an opportutity to talk to the local people, and visit very different areas of town! And marty is expanding his vocabulary even beyond just the used parts so that he can talk to the mechanics. We passed a bath house on our way. Its been there for 125 years, and its essentially a courtyard surrounded by rooms that each have a sunken tile tub where you can soak. I don´t think many people have bathtubs in Guat! Outside there was a covered shelter where women would go to do laundry. There were about 20 places to work where there were concrete washboards and flowing water. Having myself washed many clothes by hand by this point, the invention of the washing machine appears to have been huge leap in the lives of women. The hours every day that women here spend simply washing clothes is amazing. I wonder what mechanization these women would pick as what would help them most in terms of less time doing day to day work. I can imagine having running water alone was a huge time saver.

Some days I look at what people here do by hand and don´t know what to think. Tilling fields and harvesting crops by hand, washing by hand, walking to grind the corn and making endless tortillas, construction by hand. An incredible example is in Todos where men were excavating rock for new buildings. They would light a fire using their precious wood (starting it with old tires), let the fire burn, add water to crack the rock, then excavate with pick axes and shovels and buckets. The difference of how we live in Canada, and how other people in the world live and survive is mind boggling. Should I want their lives to be easier? What would that mean in terms of resources? How can I say that people here shouldn´t have it easier, and how do we distribute the wealth more equitably?

Phil and Amanda who unwittingly volunteered to help us push the van out of the Todos Santos valley stayed on in Xela at the same hostel we were at. It was good to get to know people, and have folks to explore with. Marty and I love to spend time together, but after two and half months of talking to each other, we were both happy to have some time with others. Phil and Amanda hiked up a Volcano one day, and inspired Marty and I to join them for a hike to the highest peak in Central America at 4200m. We drove the two hours to the start of the overnight hike, and parked our van with some cows and pigs in a farmers yard. Marty maybe wasn´t 100% healthy yet, but he was a trooper!!! We hiked up for 4 hours through fields of corn and potatoes, past a group of young girls hearding a flock of sheep, and up through pine forests. There is alot of deforestation, and I wonder for how much longer there will be any trees at all. We may have been at the highest point around, but there were roads and villages across from us that were very near the same elevation. Toyota trucks were built for these roads (with low range of course!!!). While we are walking up paths Marty´s favorite comment is "The van could get up here, if only it had low range".

We saw the sunset towards the Pacific and watched incredible swaths of clouds roll themselves over the mountain ridges, and thunderheads build off in the distance then change a hundred colors in the twilight. We camped in a pine forest, and ate curried chicken for dinner with a few beers, and some wine/port (unfortunately for Marty, he wasn´t quite up to a drink after all the exertion!). We awoke at 5 am to hike to the real top (huffing and puffing at that elevation), and watched the light rise over the clouds, and illuminate all of Guatemala (at least it seemed that way). There were a few folks up there with us, as a treking company had a group of 18 people up high. The best was seeing the shadow of the mountain we were on appear on the clouds below us. The other best was people taking pictures of Marty the mountain man in his shorts when it was maybe 0C. He forgot to pack clothes, so spent alot of time wrapped in his sleeping bag! Our trip home was a relief as every meter of decent brought more oxygen to our little brains and muscles. On the way back to Xela, as our dear friends were konked out in the back of the van (I can´t believe I´ve never slept back there while driving - actually having watched driving first hand, I do know why!), we drove 30km uphill at a 12-18% grade. There are few roads steeper than 12% in Canada, and Marty was cheered by the fact that although we were crawling, we were not pulled over nursing a steaming engine as were many other vehicles.

And now we are off to Peru, where 4200m will (eventually) be just like sea level. HAAAAH!!! (that was a laugh while gasping for breath). We have left our van with the same travel agent that saved us $700 on our flights by getting us International Teacher Cards. Yipee!
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