I get up around 5AM to get an early start and ride at least the first few hours with pleasant temperatures. After visiting the small, non-commercial coffee plantation of Jaimes family and having a nice fresh brewed coffee coming from the very same plantation I am back in the road. I also get myself a Guatemalan sim card for my phone. Despite it is my 4th country, it is only my second sim card. As I "started" the trip in Mexico and the sim card from Mexico worked free of extra charge in US and Canada as well [like European roaming agreement], there was no need for an American or Canadian sim card. Saved me a lot of money as rates are much cheaper in Mexico.
Since leaving the highways in Alaska, today is the first day riding the actual Panamerican Highway again. It's not the prettiest to ride... However, Guatemala has extreme climbing ahead and as I still feel a weakness from the food poisoning the PanAm is the "easiest route" for the moment. Just 1500m of daily accumulated elevation gain for the next two to three days, not exactly easy. The day starts climbing up through a deep valley. It´s the hottest and driest season but the steep mountains are still lush green. As the heat increases I take showers under some small water falls beside the road. The evaporation chill from my clothes drying within 20 minutes cools me down well.
The bustling scenery around the PanAm provides many insights on my first day in Guatemala. It is very populated. I guess the geography makes for a limited living space. Hustle and bustle is actually the best description of it. I feel like everything is happening right next to the road... People making themselves pretty, people taking one of the colorful chicken buses/a tuk tuk/a bicycle to work, indigenous women webbing colorful fabrics, roasting coffee, preparing their fruit stalls, the smell of the first fresh Guatemalan coffee in the morning, chicken crossing the road, chicken being grilled for breakfast, chicken being eaten for breakfast, bustling traffic, busy street vendors, colorful dresses, friendly smiles and a "bienvenidos, amigo" all over the place, it's hot, it's humid... Probably could fill a book with what's going on here just in the morning hours.
I think Mexico has been the perfect transition between the US and Canada being highly developed countries and now Guatemala, a developing country. There is not much that I see today that I haven´t seen occassionally travelling rural Mexico. However, the magnitude here is just tenfold. For the first 30 to 40 kilometers more or less only basic sheds at the road side. People washing their clothes, doing their morning hygiene, getting ready for work... Children that should be at school on a Thursday morning working instead. And with work I don`t mean walking around selling some candy like you would see it a lot in Mexico. I am talking hard manual labour. One image that is just stuck in my mind is seeing two boys, I am guessing around 8 years of age, both having a huge sack of coffee tied on their back. They are pulling a skinny donkey behind them, equally packed to the limits of physical ability. I also see quite a few house from development aid organisations...
For the time being, I want to leave it with pure, raw observations without getting in the nitty gritty of what I really take from it. It is also just my first day here. There is a lot to learn, to see, to process. Maybe just one thing that strikes me, fresh out of my mind. People seem happy! I see a lot of smiles among them and being good and friendly with each other. I actually looked it up in the evening and found out that Guatemalans used to be one of the happiest people in the world [according to Wikipedia, 10 year old study]. While this is just a random study, it somewhat reaffirms my first impression.
I often get the spiel that in the so called developed world the general image of developing countries is the one of people suffering, starving and dieing. While the life here certainly provides a lot hardship and objectively many things to be improved [take the two boys for example], people seem content. While development aid has its good intentions it would be not necessary when there would be a fair exchange. Guatemala is an incredibly wealthy country and is sold out way below value. If you live in a developed country chances are high that you consumed from its wealth [take coffee].