Page 20: - No Return Ticket - Just a Ride Report /w Pics - From the beginning
San Pedro La Laguna is a party town to say the least. It’s not easy to walk around and not get asked to buy ganja. We are staying at a hotel right in the heart of the party area, just up from the Pana boat docks. Buses come in town and unload here and boat taxis come here from Panajachel to dock and unload people. There is always a half dozen or more dudes here just hanging around willing to be your helper and sell you whatever. It’s kind of a wild-west feeling with firecrackers blowing off all the time, day and night. Heidi and I like to setup a couple chairs in the evening above the street and watch it all happen; backpackers, hippies, helpers, dealers, peddlers and moto taxi drivers. It’s better then TV.
A few pics of our walk around San Pedro La Laguna: Did I say San Pedro La Laguna is a party town……
Well of course they grow and process coffee right here in San Pedro La Laguna and it is unbelievably good and inexpensive.
Coffee beans growing all over. Walking around town we would often smell a strong sour order. We finally find out it’s the rotting shells of the coffee beans (a pile of the shells below)
Whole coffee beans drying out in the sun.
Often while riding through Guatemala we would see corn stalks taller then I have ever seen. Here is an example but we have seen much taller.
At the waterfront there are several restaurants with deck seating overlooking the water. Heidi and I pick one that looks like it’s owned and run by locals. Nice view…..
This young girl offers to sell us some handmade bracelets. We didn’t need any but after hearing her price we knew we had to buy, just to help out the young girl if nothing else. 13 cents…..
A great Guatemalan meal for about 6 bucks for two plates.
Boat docks and restaurants on the right.
The next day while out walking we decided on a whim to take a boat taxi over to Panajachel (Pana) for lunch. The ride is $2.60 one way and takes about 20 minutes. We just walk down to the docks and say “Pana?” Someone points us to the next departing boat and we hop in.
The guy in this little canoe is fishing with just a bare line in his hands with a hook on the end and some bait.
Lago de Atitlan: This is a high elevation lake surrounded by volcanoes and I remember reading that the lake is an ancient creator of a gigantic volcano. I think some theorize that the explosion that created this lake could have contributed to the distinction of the dinosaurs. I need to check this out further.......
This is our last morning in San Pedro La Laguna. We get up early and enjoy some of the best espresso coffee with steamed milk while watching the town come to life below.
We are shooting for Antigua today, a village just outside of Guatemala City where there is said to be a large Gringo population of Spanish students and drinkers. Our guide book suggests it would be a shame to miss it, plus it’s a good staging area for preparing to ride through Guatemala City early in the morning.
We are on the road early. People in San Pedro La Laguna warned us about the steep road heading out of town with impossible switch-backs and no guard rails, expressing the fact using animation and big eyes. I would always say “It’s paved isn’t it?” After a confirmation of pavement I would blow it off saying “That is nothing to what we experienced coming from the other direction on dirt”
Heading out of town toward the north end of the lake we pass through a few small villages. One village had a barricade on its main street, I just blow through it. Later the road just dead ends. While backtracking we thought we needed to turn left to get out of town. Luckily I stopped and asked a few guys where the road to Pana is. They pointed us to the right, down the road we were intersected at. There are no road signs here; you just need to feel your way around.
Now we started to climb, and climb and climb. ‘Switch-backs’ is not the word for what we were driving through. I was in first gear torque-ing around the turns and leaning as hard as I could to make the corner. I couldn’t go any slower because I needed to keep my RMP’s up to keep the bike moving and upright and I couldn’t go any faster because the corners were so sharp. If you are not an aggressive rider you would never make it up this road 2-up packed with gear. Heidi was a champ; I never knew she was behind me while I wrestled the bike around the super steep and tight banked turns. When we got to the top though we both confirmed we were glad it was over.
After Lago de Atitlan and back on the main road, CA-1, we continued to climb. Heidi gives me a solid jab, meaning an equipment change is needed. We pull over to add some warmer cloths.
Back on the road I see this view. I had to pull over for a pic.
After the photo we see these two little girls screaming and running for us.
Young models. They asked for a quetzal for the photo. 13 cents, deal.
There is a ton of road construction in Guatemala on the route we chose. We soon come behind a line of stopped traffic at least a mile long. OK, we know what to do, just ride in the oncoming traffic lane around all the parked vehicles. We meet a few on-coming trucks and buses and usually had a spot to pull in between cars until they passed. Once, while in the oncoming lane we had no place to go while a chicken bus was bearing right for us. Get this, the chicken bus moves over and drives in the shoulder to allow us room to stay in his lane, how nice.
OK, we get to the front of the long line of stopped traffic. The construction crew moves the barricade over just enough for us to pass and continue on. After driving about 5 miles or more through the construction zone we come to another long line of stopped traffic traveling the opposite direction. There were a lot of impatient drivers in this line. The vehicles were 5 across taking up both lanes and ditches on both sides. I go way over into the ditch on our side and continue to make slow progress forward. We soon see a huge dump truck coming right for us in the ditch. I had to slip sideways between two trucks while the dump truck hammers past. Later this long bus (photo below) wants to get to the front of the line in a bad way. He was coming right at us and pins us in. Heidi, for the second time almost bails off the bike. I yell back “Stay on, he has nowhere to go” The side of the bus was inches from us at that point. The bus did manage to get almost past the pickup truck in the center of this photo, just enough room for us to squeeze through with at least 2 inches to spare on each side. I didn’t move until I was sure the bus was pinned in from moving forward.
We get moving again far into the ditch on our side when we see this huge pothole. I needed to get really aggressive and ride right at oncoming traffic to get around this hole. At least the traffic was only crawling.
After the road construction we had the whole road practically all to ourselves. The scenery was mountainous and the villages have a warm hometown feel. We see this little restaurant and decide to stop for a bite.
This place reminds us of Northern Wisconsin, cute. We have a super breakfast and the waiter was over the top polite and gracious.
We pull into Antigua and ask someone where the Central Park is (?Parque Centro?) I sit down at a park bench and start looking at the guide book for with parking. Heidi goes over to look for a street sign so we have a bearing point for the map in the guide book. Boot shine, OK....
I walk to the first hotel where the guide book says it has parking. Of course there is no parking at that hotel. I go to the second hotel I have marked in the guide book, it says it has a courtyard and I’m hoping we can maybe park our bike there. Of course this hotel has parking. I pay for two nights and while I was walking out I see a guy in a motorcycle adventure suit. Pete is on a V-Strom and is from Colorado. He is on his way to South America and is a very interesting guy. Heidi and I enjoyed several long talks with him.
While walking around town we see Ruth and Rueben, a couple from a small island off of England. We first met them in Xela at our Spanish school. Ruth and Rueben did the volcano hike with us in Xela and mentioned that the volcano hike here is not to be missed. Say no more, we are on it.
We are up and waiting in front of our hotel at 6:00 AM for our volcano shuttle bus. The ride is close to an hour and a half before we reach the base village of the volcano. There we meet up with our guide and several kids on horseback willing to taxi anyone up the steep trail to the top of the volcano.
There were about 8 of us in this group, all adventure travelers from different countries. Going up we see three different volcanoes that loom over Guatemala City.
We walk over the crater and on to a lava field that is only 2 months old. We can see and feel the heat rise. This is weird......
This is an active volcano! Smoke and lava is spewing out constantly. The sun was right in front of the volcano so it was difficult to get any good shots, but here are a few that give a little idea of what it was like to be here.
I focus on the side. There are streams of red lava flowing all over.
Heidi gets a better shot.
There are huge boulders of lava being spit out all over and careening down the side of the cone, glowing red and smoking the whole way down. The one in the photo is about the size of a Volkswagen beetle.
Everyone is oooohing and aaawing.
Back from the hike we hear there is a parade starting at 4:00PM from the church. Everyone is waiting...
Here we go.
The parade is for the virgin Guadelupe.
All the little kids were dressed up.
We had fun in Antigua. We enjoy the last night at a 2 for 1 happy hour at a gringo watering hole, just a block away from our hotel, the Monoloco.
The next morning we wanted to get going and on the road super early. We are riding straight through Guatemala City, entering on one highway and exiting on another, not an easy task in a city of over 4 million. Well, the hotel parking area is a narrow alley and two cars were in front of us. We did a measurement and calculated the panniers would squeeze by with about an inch on each side to spare. As I attempted it we found out that the handle bars are the widest part of the bike, no way through. We sat around drinking coffee until 8:00 AM. We asked the hotel people about moving the cars, we get an OK. Fifteen minutes later Heidi asks again. She is told it will be 20 minutes. I decide to speed things up a little by warming up the Harley in the narrow boxed in alley attached to the hotel. This got things hopping.
I studied the Guatemala City maps intensely. The large maps of the area showed the highways going into and out of the city but had no markings of city streets. The city maps showed street and boulevard names but no highways coming in or out. I just had to guess which city street connected to what highway and go for it.
OK, Heidi has the task of remembering the three city streets we think we need to turn onto so I can concentrate more on the riding. We make it onto the first city boulevard without much problem, I just needed to cross over 4 lanes of heavy traffic and take a clover leaf ramp. Next we are looking for ‘Calle 5a’ (Street 5a). No problem, the streets are numbered and we can see them counting down. We hit ‘Calle 5a’ and take a right. I thought the map showed this to be a boulevard but it was just a one way street. Soon the street ends, we had to circle around to find 5a again. Later, the street dead ends again at some military base. Time to get out the map. I see right away what the problem is; there are two ‘Calle 5a’ streets. The 5a we want is the second one about a mile past the first. Why didn’t I think of that. Anyway, a man in uniform comes over to us and offers help. He looks at our map and confirms that we need to get on the other calle 5a. That’s great because we were not sure if the road we were trying to get to would have led us to the highway out of town we wanted. The traffic was heavy and slow with a lot of construction but we made it out of town and onto the highway. We are smiling big.
About 15 miles out of Guatemala City we hit a cross roads with several restaurants. We pull over to a popular looking one. The food was great and inexpensive. The rest rooms are an outhouse with a low cement bowl the shape of a toilet seat. I gave Heidi a heads up to bring her own TP. This is the kitchen.
Across the street is the Pink Lady Bar. There were a few ladies outside trying to drum up some business.
Soon we started going down in elevation and the temperatures started to rise. Heidi is one happy girl, she likes it hot. The villages we rode through started looking noticeably more prosperous. Big Nissan dealerships, new motorcycle shops, fancy hotels and resorts with swimming pools. Not sure what that is all about but it has a good feel.
We are making good time, much better then expected. Soon I see a hotel sign that has a swimming pool symbol on it. I pull in and find we are only about 30 miles before the Honduras border,OK...... We sign up for 2 nights and proceed to enjoy our last hours in Guatemala in style. Vida es bueno (Life is good)
We hope you have enjoyed our Guatemala ride report section. At the inception of this ride Heidi planned to meet up with me in Panama City while I did the US and Central America solo. She wasn’t sure about riding through Central America. Then I convinced her to go as far as Vegas with me, then as far as Mexico, then the whole way. I can’t express how glad we both are we did Guatemala together; it far outreached both our expectations.
The ride continues.................
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