After leaving Jacaltenango I had a stopover back in La Democracia, where I comforted myself in a decent hotel with wifi. Such are a traveller’s needs!
From there I knew I’d have an uphill ride to Huehuetenango (Huehue), the regional capital. It was a spectacular ride and although I gained a lot of elevation, overall the gradient of the road was very friendly (particularly compared to my experience getting to Jacaltenango) and I was able to get a decent rhythm for most of the ride.
I steadily climbed through some outstanding scenery – towering, green slopes to each side with steep canyon-like sides and the river winding its way through below. But a couple of hours into the ride I encountered an arresting site that made me pause for reflection. Police by the roadside, parked ambulances, and a number of people wandering around. I stopped where most people seemed to be, and it was pretty clear that someone bad had happened.
I spent a few minutes there and got the general idea of what had happened. Three days earlier a car/pickup had gone over the side of the road into the ravine below. No doubt it was overcrowded as there were nine people in it. No one survived. On first seeing the commotion by the road I assumed something had happenered earlier that morning, so I was surprised to see so many people gathered three days later. However, it still made me pause for reflection on what I’m doing and at times how isolated I can feel, being out here on my own on a bicycle. This was the first time I’d really felt like I’d come close to witnessing an accident and I reflected on how far away I am from my family and friends. It made me question the whole purpose of my trip.
It was a sombre and poignant scene, made more so by one lady who sang a prayer or lamentation for those who lost their lives. I didn’t know if she was a relative of friend of any of the people.
Naturally I couldn’t linger too long and I had to make my way to Huehue. After a few more minutes with many thoughts going through my head my mind began to ease up as I had to focus on the road ahead and get myself to Huehue. I don’t know the statistics for road accidents in Guatemala, Mexico etc., but it seems obvious to me that people take their lives into their own hands with the overcrowding, not using safety belts and sometimes just the road conditions. Perhaps that’s the philosophy of people here and its an ‘accepted reality’, as harsh as that sounds. I’m thankful I’ve made it this far and hope that this continues through the rest of my ride. It made my debates with friends about wearing my helmet seem incredibly frivolous.
A few hours later I rolled into Huehue, tired and grateful.