Guatemala

Guatemala – Antigua

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).

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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!

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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.

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This is what the ground looks like under my feet.

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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.

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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…

Goodbye Guatemala!

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Coming up after the break, the El Salvador border crossing and the “adventure” there after. Stay tuned!

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Categories: Guatemala | 1 Comment

Guatemala – Tikal to Lanquin

I Skyped home with my family on Christmas and afterwards went out on the dock to relax. A local Guatemalan family was also enjoying the Holiday with a swim. After a few smiles and chit chat, they offered me a cup of Coke and a fresh tamale. It was delicious. In comparison to lives back home, these people have very little. Little education, little possessions, little money. They have so little but they give so much. I can only hope I was able to give something back to them that afternoon.

The day after Christmas, Justin and I left the hotel at 5:30 in the morning to get up to the Tikal ruins for sunrise. We were the first ones at the gate just before 6:00 am. The road was excellent and I witnessed a baby chicken scream across the road narrowly missing Justin’s tire by inches. He probably lost a few feathers. For a second I thought I would be able to taste baby chicken wings. mmmmmm tasty. The entrance fee was steep, 150 Quetzals for foreigners ($20 USD) as opposed to the 25 Quetzals ($3.50 USD) for Guatemalans.

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With hopes of a beautiful sunrise and spectacular light for photography we made our way into the ruins. Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t cooperate. A cloudy sky with poor light was the offer for the morning. Oh well. We spent 6 hours walking the expansive ruins and climbing the temples. Eventually the afternoon brought blue skies.

Justin next to the massive national tree of Guatemala, the Ceiba tree.

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Keep an eye out for those defecating monkeys… I really wanted to see someone get the brown shower (so long as it wasn’t me of course). No luck.

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Hey little spider monkey.

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8 ft. tall mask on the temple face.

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Funky little cousin of the raccoon. This guy digs around for grubs all day.

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Amazing view from the top of Temple IV looking at the tops of the other temples poking out over the top of the jungle.

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This guy dresses up as in traditional ancient clothing and walks around with a tip jar. Tourists give him a few cents to take his picture. I preferred to take a picture of the tourist taking a picture.

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Climbing the stairs up one of the steepest temples, Temple V. These are built to code, right?

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The view from the top of Temple V.

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The architecture of Tikal was very different from any of the other ruins I’ve seen. The structures were very steep and inspiring.

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Maybe I was getting a little dehydrated and overwhelmed with all the tourists but I had this strange urge to flip my shirt and run around shouting GOAL!!!! Jungle Fever!

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What trip would be complete without one of these signs. Here’s to you Jim.

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Back at the lake I decided to be productive (sort of)… My inflatable sleeping pad has come down with a small leak and I have to blow it up at least once in the middle of the night when camping. I brought it to the lake to put it under water and search for bubbles. No luck unfortunately; must be a very small leak. All that exercise made me tired so I floated around for a bit.

El Remate (Big Agnes 2)

6 nights in El Remate… Every day swimming in the beautiful crystal clear lake, sun bathing on the dock while listening to Latin music, napping in the hammock, eating fresh fruit, watching a beautiful sunset, enjoying good company, playing card games, sleeping in an open air palapa with a cool breeze and no mosquitoes. I’ve never thought much of what heaven would be like but if it’s anything like this, I think it’ll be quite all right.

I was “stuck” here waiting for Charles as he got his bike fixed up. Blowing through the MX-BZ and BZ-GT borders in one day, Charles has finally arrived! He’s had quite an adventure and we’ll see if we can get some details and pictures up on the blog soon.

One more night at the Mon Ami hotel and we left early the next morning headed towards the town of Lanquin. An hour in the road was blocked by a large river. Huh, this wasn’t on the map… We took a ghetto ferry across and continued on. and the jungle gave way to beautiful mountains.

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Another hour gone by and the Jungle gave way to beautiful mountains.

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A few more hours gone by and the pavement ended and the dirt roads began. All day there was a continuous light mist and this made the dirt roads turn to mud. With too much tire pressure and myself with bald tires, we road on. Here’s Charles at the start of the dirt road, when it was in “good” condition.

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The wide road (shown above) quickly turned into a “goat path” and became very rocky and muddy. Hour after hour we continued through the most challenging terrain either of us had encountered to date. At one point I went through a few big mud puddles and lost control and gently crashed on the side of the road. Really though, my bike was tired and needed to take a rest.

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Eventually we made it to the town of Lanquin where we went into the river for a relaxing swim and held on for dear life in the monstrous current.

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Let the adventure begin…

Categories: Guatemala | 6 Comments

Mexico/Belize/Guatemala – Laguna Bacalar, Altun Ha, El Remate

Loaded up and ready to leave Tulum, I start the bike, vrooooom! Pull the clutch lever and SNAP! Broken clutch cable. Oh the joy… Fortunately, I had a spare cable and was able to make the swap easily and hit the road about an hour later than planned. Once on the road I thought about how lucky I was to have a spare cable and for it to snap while I parked in a safe location. This could have easily happened on the road in the middle of nowhere with no spare…

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I rode south to Laguna Bacalar, a beautiful freshwater lake near the Belize border, and camped at what might be considered a campground. Although it was more like a grassy patch next to a local’s shack. Nevertheless, the setting was beautiful.

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The lake is crystal clear with a white sandy bottom and a few limestone “lilly pads”– absolutely stunning. A swim felt mighty good!

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A view from the tent door:

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I met back up with Justin that night and the next day we headed for the Belize border. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the border after hearing so many Central American border crossing horror stories, but the cross was quite simple and were in and out in about an hour.

First, we went to the migration shack office to cancel our tourist visas and then about 50 meters later to cancel our temporary vehicle import permits. Then as we crossed the bridge we stopped traffic to take a photo. (Oh god, I hope my kickstand doesn’t fall through the grates…)

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After the bridge we were flagged down by a few guys in a shack to have our bikes “fumigated” or sprayed with water for about 2.5 seconds for $3USD. OK????

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Now in Belize the culture is very different, very Caribbean, and not Latin. No more Spanish, we’re back to English. It’s not a standard English though, we’re talkin’ very Caribbean mon! It’s getting late in the day and Justin and I went fast down the Old Northern Highway (single lane dirt road) dodging pot holes until we reach the Mayan Wells Restaurant (and campground). We roll in just as night sets in and set up shop for the night. The owner, Simon, is very friendly and we cooked some dinner under the palapa right next to a train of army ants. These little buggers are straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. We painfully learned the next morning not to step in their path. Turns out their path moved right through our tents and within seconds of standing there Justin’s legs were covered with nasty biting army ants!

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Early the next morning we awoke to the wild sounds of jungle birds. We the visited the ruins of Altun Ha about a mile down the road. Images of these ruins are on the Belize currency and beer labels. The site was beautifully manicured but tragically restored with concrete work over all the steps.

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Justin left afterwards and headed for Guatemala (he spent less than 22 hours in Belize).

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The next afternoon the owner of the restaurant tells me they have crocodiles and jaguars in the area. Cooking dinner in the dark under the palapa later that night had my senses on high alert when I heard a deep purring coming from the jungle… I lived through the night and the next morning took a few pictures of the beautiful flowers around the grounds.

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Oh, and I’m not sure who Bob is or what he stands for but every telephone poll in the town tells me to vote for him.

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I spent another night waiting to hear from Charles. No luck the next morning (Christmas Eve) either. I wanted to see more of Belize but I’m also shocked at the sticker prices in this country. I made the executive decision to move onto Guatemala to meet back up with Justin. I left Mayan Wells on the small one lane road. Tour buses were speeding towards me on way to the ruins without slowing down or moving aside. Each time I had to jump onto the dirt shoulder 4 inches below the level of the road. Riding for a few hours I passed through most of northern and western Belize admiring the architecture and culture that was quite different from what I’d grown accustom to over the past 6 weeks in Mexico.

I feel a bit sad though that I stayed less than 48 hours in Belize. I didn’t try any food or even the beer. Although, I did try to buy a can of beer at a grocery store near the border but they were sold out… Oh well… Next time I’m in Belize I’ll have to explore more and certainly make it to the famous islands and ATM cave.

I crossed the border into Guatemala with ease. So far the tales of heinous Central American border crossings haven’t lived up to the hype. Bienvenidos a Guatemala!

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Instantly life changed across the border. The people are no longer of Caribbean and African decent, they are Mayan and Spanish. English was forgotten immediately and I was back in Latin culture. The road turned to dirt for a few miles and then to spectacular pavement. Green forested rolling hills lay in the background and several herds of cattle and a few random pigs crossed the street every now and again. A short ride later and I’m in El Remate, a beautiful town that sits on the lake’s edge. Justin and I spent the afternoon out on the dock, swimming in the crystal clear water, diving off the dock, drinking liters of beer, and taking photos and GoPro videos.

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Here’s a short video from the afternoon. (If you can’t see the video below in the email, click this link: http://www.vimeo.com/8382683)

Mon Ami Hotel advertised a delicious Christmas dinner. A bit pricey at $9 USD but we figured it would be well worth it to celebrate considering we’d both been cooking our own meals for a few days now. Unfortunately, the cold mashed potatoes, few vegetables, and turkey bones weren’t quite the meal we had envisioned. Oh well, so is part of the journey… At least the homemade hot chocolate was tasty!

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Charles’ Update:

Charles trucked his bike out of Colorado and then continued riding south. In Texas his bike basically ate itself (ya, that’s technical talk) but luckily he noticed the problem moments before his engine would have completely died. Fortunately, he met up with another motorcyclist and got together with a mechanic who got him back on the road with only a day lost. He cruised through Mexico pulling 12 hour days just rolling out the kilometers until he cut across the Yucatan peninsula when his bike broke down again. I don’t have the full story but he was able to find a mechanic in Chetumal who will be able to fix the bike. However, parts need to be shipped in from Cancun and with the Christmas holiday it’ll take a few days before he’s back on the road. A few days rest will do his body good and he’ll be here shortly. Charles, I can’t wait to ride with you finally!!!

Merry Christmas from Guatemala! Enjoy the snow at home!

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Categories: Belize, Guatemala, Mexico | 9 Comments

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