Charles and I have noticed that all the portion sizes for meals here in Central America just aren’t up to our fatty American customs. But in Lanquin we stayed a hostel that was a fatty patty’s dream… Buffet dinner for Q45 ($5.50 USD). We stuffed ourselves silly with so much delicious food. mmmmmmmmmm.
The next morning we ditched our panniers and prepared to go down another challenging dirt track for 11 kilometers towards Semuc Champey. But now my bike won’t start… No biggie, Charles give’s me a push down the will and I bump start it. VROOOM! (The battery must have been drained from all the rough riding yesterday because it worked fine after a few miles on the tarmac). Although a whole day could be spent exploring and swimming at Semuc Champey we still had lots of riding to do. We took a quick stroll through, snapped some pictures of the beautiful limestone formations, pools, and underground river before Charles had some gut wrenching bowel issues… He found the toilet just in time! (Sorry Charles, this had to be documented for accuracy’s sake).
Leaving Semuch Champey towards Coban we strolled through wretched dirt track (that was a blast to ride!) and spectacular new pavement that winded through some of the most beautiful mountains in Guatemala. Spectacular! As we came around one corner there were lots of rocks in the road. This is a clear sign to be careful. Sure enough around the next bend the whole lane of the road was washed out in a landslide!
225 miles later, at around 4pm, we reached our destination, the beautiful
colonial tourist town of Antigua. It’s New Years Eve and the city is packed. Charles stayed with the bikes while I walked around to every hotel I could see trying to find one that had an open room for the night. 20 hotels later I find El Jardin Lolita. David owns this family style house and he gives us a room with secure parking for the bikes. He even has another open room for Justin who arrived around 6pm.
We’re exhausted after the past 2 day’s ride but it’s New Year’s Eve so we head out on the town with our old friend Torben (who spent 5 weeks in San Cristobal, Mexico waiting for his bike to be repaired. Unfortunately, he’s still burning a quart of oil every 2 days…)
We all get heaps of delicious street food and grab a few liters of beer. All night people were lighting off fireworks. There’s no visual component to these so I guess they are more like dynamite. Every man is trying to “one-up” the previous bang with an even bigger BANG!
Come midnight the streets are packed. We inch our way through the crowd at the rate of about a meter per minute. There seems to be a little confusion during the countdown but eventually the light up signs switches from 2009 to 2010 and the crowd goes crazy!
¡Feliz año! Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s already 2010… In the morning we slowly rise. Justin ditches his bald tire for some fresh rubber. Charles cleans all the mud off his bike and finds a welder to fix his broken rack. I trample the city in search of new tires (without luck). However, while walking around town I run into 2 more guys on KLR’s (#’s 13 and 14? I don’t know, I’ve lost track) riding from the USA to Panama and back. Mark and Jon end up staying at our same hotel. Jon lost one of his panniers in California and fabbed up a sweet new one from a used milk crate. Man rule #73: Find Solutions.
In the afternoon we decide on a tour up the Volcano Pacaya. there are 37 volcano’s in Guatemala buy only 3 of them are active. Pacaya is active. Before we could even step out of the van, dozens of kids come running up to us. Buy schtick! Buy schtick! They cost only Q5 ($0.75) but we’ll do without.
We’re not quite sure what to expect but it turns out to be quite a good trek up the scree slope. The initial views of the valley are outstanding.
With strong winds and rain working in we ascend into the clouds and eventually arrive at the lava. INCREDIBLE! The heat is so strong. Liquid hot magma is flowing under our feet and spewing out from the ground right in front of us. It’s also quite eerie and I wonder if the ground is going to give way or if my shoes are going to melt. I couldn’t get any closer than he photo below because the heat was so strong.
This is what the ground looks like under my feet.
Up on a precarious rock pile there was a woman taking pictures. All of a sudden the rock pile began to crumble and she went tumbling down the rock towards the lava. She fell inches from the Lava! Fortunately, Justin was only a few feet away. Without hesitation he grabbed her sweatshirt and yanked her away – effectively saving her life.
It was a scary reminder that this wasn’t a USA style tour. Never in the States could you walk right up next to the lava. No guardrails, no signs, no paths – just go wherever you want. It’s amazing freedom but people can get hurt, or worse, die. It reminds me of an article I listened to on This American Life about college binge drinking. Say for example, if a student dies one year then everyone at the school realizes that it’s real and could happen to them. But unfortunately, that death has no effect on the next year’s incoming freshmen and they don’t take any caution in their actions. Everyone at the volcano that afternoon was sure to be more cautious. But all is forgotten the next morning when a whole new bunch of tourists make their way up the volcano…
Anyways, we headed down the mountain in the dark. We’re all freezing cold in the wind and rain and can’t understand why our tour guide is taking us on a different, longer, and more difficult path down the slope. Finally we make it to the combi van and head back to the city. But what trip would be complete without one of the girls getting sick and throwing up out the window 3 times! We get back to Antigua and pass out, exhausted.
Early the next morning we set off for the El Salvador border. Working our way out of town we roll the wrong way down a one way street. The police aren’t happy but I tell them we’re going to Argentina and they just tell us not to do it again. Yes, sir. I’ve learned my lesson…
Coming up after the break, the El Salvador border crossing and the “adventure” there after. Stay tuned!