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first impressions

I ride a long bumpy corrugated gravel road from the border to the town of Las Cruces where I try to quiz the locals about routes that will allow me to avoid the main highways. My map has some secondary roads marked but generally without sufficient information to make finding them unaided feasible.

I like an unpaved entry into a country.

I can appreciate the quiet countryside and admire the rainy season cloud formations.

However, the only thing my enquiries reveal is that Guatemalans, even more than Mexicans, are appalled by the idea that I would consider riding on a unpaved road and regale me with the various real and imagined dangers and difficulties that I might encounter if I were to dare to do so.

I ride out of La Cruces with no useful information, feeling more than a little chagrined. I am momentarily cheered by the sight of a group of monkeys in the trees by the side of the road. They are not howler monkeys this time; these ones have grave wise faces and their grey torsos and bellies that unaccountably remind me of the portly old Eastern European men who sit sunning themselves outside the surf life-savers club at Bronte Beach in Sydney. They chatter animatedly amongst themselves but they are not as belligerently vocal as the howler monkeys.

A sudden rain shower finds me sheltering under an open tin roofed structure close to a rubbish dump with this long suffering mother dog and her three voracious puppies.

A colourful cemetry also attracts my attention.

A little further down the highway I catch sight of a delivery truck pulling up in front of a small shop. I often question the people who drive the delivery trucks of products such as Pepsi and Bimbo breads about potential routes since, as these products are available even in the smallest of villages, I imagine that the guys who drive these truck must know all of the roads to them. Two men get out of the truck and I approach them hopefully with my map. They respond with the exactly same set of doubts that I have already heard too many times today and it is not until I give way to verbal tantrum of surprising fluency, since it was entirely in Spanish, on the evils of cycling on a highways that, amused and astonished, they give me the information that I need.

A few kilometres down the road a turn to the left takes me off the pavement and onto a nicely surfaced gravel road through farm land and patches of jungle, dotted with small villages and the aggressive drivers and lewd comments shouted from passing cars on the highway gradually fade from my mind.

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