Guatemala: What’s over the next hill?
Having spent so long in Mexico, — just shy of 6 months — it seems strange to now be riding through Guatemala, an entirely different country. It may have been even more surreal had we simply ridden across some arbitrary line in the sand as we did when we crossed from the United States to Mexico. As it was, the river we crossed to arrive in Guatemala made the country change infinitely more defined, even though it was only a five-minute boat ride between the two places.
Our departure from Mexico was made under overcast skies. After a parting breakfast with our new friend Hans, we rode off to meet with the captain of the lancha (longboat) who we had, the prior day, negotiated with to take us across the river. The short ride was uneventful, although it was a bit sketchy getting in and out of the boat with our bikes, given the vessel’s high freeboard. Once on dry land though, it was business as usual.
A parting shot from our motorcyclist friend, Hans.
Waiting for our water taxi to arrive. That’s Guatemala on the far shore.
Our ride to Guatemala. There was an extremely strong current in the river!
Boarding the boat was a bit sketchy but we made it without dropping anything in the water.
Bye bye, Mexico. Hello Guatemala!
Although perhaps with differences too subtle for our untrained ears, the language spoken in Guatemala is still Spanish, and we are appreciative of that fact. I can only imagine how frazzled we’d be if it had changed to something entirely different. What’s not the same is the currency. We were surprised but happy to see a couple of young guys at the dock in La Technica, the port town that we arrived at, ready to exchange our pesos for quetzales, the local currency. Sure, we gave up a few points by changing with them instead of at a bank but the difference was negligible and the convenience worth many times what we gave up in the conversion.
As La Technica is not an actual border crossing, we had to ride approximately 14 km before we could officially clear in to the country. The process for doing so was painless and free, the smiling immigration official wishing us well. Given the issue of my passport not having a Mexican entry stamp, I made sure to check our passports carefully before we rode away. There is still a bit of a question in my mind though as I had read that the 90 days the official had given us allowed us to transit not only Guatemala but Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador too. When I asked the officer if that was the case, he said no, that it was only for Guatemala. Oh well, a problem for another day.
We had been warned about the hills in Guatemala. Our route from the coast started off with a bang.
Before we could clear in to the country, we first had to ride 14km from La Technica to Bethel.
Sometimes the ranches we ride by have spectacular gates. This is currently my favorite.
We had been consistently warned by friends riding ahead of us that Guatemala is ripe with steep hills. Even though there was little actual elevation change, we found some of the rolling hills that the country is (in)famous for. What did not change after crossing the border were the smiling faces that we had grown accustomed to. We stopped on several occasions to speak with locals who seemed genuinely curious why two gringos were riding bikes through their countryside.
After riding 77 km, we spent our first night in Guatemala in Las Cruces. We were both hungry and tired when we arrived there, but after first seeking out accommodations at a basic hotel, we paid a visit to a cell phone store to purchase a local SIM card and data plan. T-Mobile, which had worked so well for us throughout the majority of Mexico, had stopped functioning in the last day or two when we were close to the border. Needing to acquire internet, purchasing a local SIM card seemed like the most expedient solution. Not knowing which company was best though, we simply took a guess and selected Tigo, based solely on the number of signs that we saw around the town. Time will tell if we made the right guess.
We spent three days in the Flores area, one of which was on this tiny island.
I’m uncertain why the water level was so high but half of the road bordering the island was flooded.
Signs that Christmas is approaching can be found in many places.
Flores is apparently a big tourist destination.
Note that the barge is being propelled by a single small outboard!
The reason we needed internet was not so that we could check our social media, or even update this blog. The reason was that an important meeting was set to take place in Martinique concerning the lawsuit on our boat. Yes, for those who had forgotten or somehow felt that our situation had been resolved, it has not. Unable to be there ourselves, our advisor was ready to be present to act on our behalf but we still needed to be available in case questions came up that we had to answer. I’d be lying if I told you that this situation doesn’t frequently weigh heavily on our minds. Managing that debacle when we were in Martinique was bad enough. Doing so from afar, over 1.5 years after having started the process to have the wrongs corrected, can be stressful.
Our second day in Guatemala was spent riding towards Flores. We first visited a Warmshowers host on the outskirts of town and had hoped to stay there for a few days to get our bearings. Unfortunately, there was no Wi-Fi available at that location so after sleeping there only one night, we made the decision to leave the nice folks and move to a hotel early the next morning. It was our intention to remain nearby the computer that day to address any questions that might arrive from Martinique.
Just before riding on from Flores.
Breakfast with a familiar face.
After holding up in that hotel for an entire day, we rode the short distance to the actual town of Flores, located on an island in Lago Petén Itzá. We had received numerous prompts to visit Flores, with everyone telling us how nice it was. Prior to arriving at the island though, we didn’t really see what was so special about the place. After doing so, however, we could see that it was a definite tourist attraction. In fact, the majority of the island seemed to be comprised of only hotels and restaurants! The opportunity to chill out and people watch while there was welcomed.
The archeological site of Tikal was our next day’s destination. When we stopped for lunch in El Remate, approximately 35 km from the park’s center, we debated leaving our bikes there and taking the bus to the ruins the next day as so many others opt to do. Ultimately, we decided that to get the full Tikal experience, we should just ride to the park. Being able to enter the park the following day at 6:00 AM, before the hordes of other tourists had even arrived, made the added expense of accommodations there worthwhile.
- We opted for a hotel room instead of camping as we wanted to have a secure place to leave our bikes. Yes, what you own often owns you!
Approaching Tikal. More jaguar warnings!
Believe me, we’re keeping our eyes open for jaguars and other animals!
At this point, not quite sure what animal this sign represents.
Pavement, shade and little traffic. Nice!
I was initially concerned that Tikal would not live up to the hype. After all, we had already visited a number of archeological sites (Teotihuacan, Cholula, Toniná) and none of them had required such a large effort and expenditure to explore. Any misgivings I might have vanished quickly though. The area is massive and as I noted above, we had the place largely to ourselves at the beginning. In fact, it was at least an hour before we even saw another person! All that said, by early afternoon we had had our fill and so collected our bikes and set off riding, retracing our steps back to El Remate.
Where are the photos from Tikal? We took so many photos while there that I plan to include a number of them in a separate post.
On a funny note, as we rode from the park, we found ourselves amidst a number of cyclists and runners who were participating in a triathlon. We joked that it would have been funny if Rebecca had participated with her Tumbleweed Prospector. Has anyone else ever completed a triathlon with a plus-sized or fat bike?
El Remate. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to enjoy an over-the-water sunset.
Our ride from Flores included a lot of dirt.
From El Remate, we set off riding towards the Rio Dulce. Sailors reading this blog post may be familiar with the Rio Dulce as it’s a common hurricane season hideout for cruisers in the Western Caribbean. We knew that friends of ours, David and Janice Rowland and Steven Elliott, were in the area with their boats and hoped to connect with them. We expected it to take us three days to ride there but we never can tell what our progress will be on any given day.
As it turned out, our first day out of El Remate was significantly harder, and longer than we had expected. We found ourselves largely riding on rough dirt roads, on a series of roller-coaster hills that we thought would never end. As the sun dipped below the horizon and we rode into the town where we had hoped to find a hotel, we came up empty. Google indicated that there were other options another 13 km down the highway so, even though we didn’t want to, we rode on with darkness quickly overtaking us.
With endless rolling hills, the ride out of Flores was significantly more difficult than we had anticipated.
Because nighttime riding is not something that we ever plan to do, neither of our bikes are equipped with lights. As we found ourselves riding on the shoulder of a fairly busy two-lane road, we rigged up our Mantus headlights on our seat packs, illuminated with a red light pointing back towards the overtaking traffic.
It was completely dark when we finally arrived at Machaquila, the town where Google had indicated we might find hotels. The first one we came across was far more money than we were willing to pay, forcing us to ride onwards. Unfortunately, the location of the second was a bit vague, and to make matters worse, it had started to rain. Hard. After riding through back roads without a light to be seen, we were just about to give up hope and turn back when we came across a dreamlike vision: the autohotel that we had been looking for materialized, all lit up with Christmas lights. The hotel was called the Oasis and at that point in time, it truly was just that. Want to know what’s even crazier? This is what the inside of the $17.00 US room looked like…
Our first view of the hotel room. Wow!
Now that’s a bed! The mirrors are a bonus. 😉
I love how the room was decorated for Christmas too!
Sign in the hotel room. Coincidence?
I wish I had taken a photo at night. The walls were covered with flashing Christmas lights.
After having ridden over 100 km that day, the luxury bed at the autohotel was more than welcome. Morning came all too quickly though and we were soon back on the road, once again riding towards the Rio Dulce.
Because we knew that our sailing friends wouldn’t actually be available for two days, we had no intention of killing ourselves with another huge day of riding. Our plan was instead to ride a reasonable distance and then find a place to stop to finish the ride the following day. Throughout the morning we passed no less than 50 hotels along the roads we were traveling on, and that is entirely unusual. We hoped that the trend would continue but as luck would have it, shortly after noon when we started to consider stopping for the day, the endless sequence of places to stay for the night ceased.
One of the few photos we took yesterday. The water was an eerie green color.
Rebecca and I continued to ride on towards Fronteras, always hoping that we’d come across a lone hotel. It wasn’t until we actually found ourselves at our destination that we found one. It’s worth noting that not only did we ride 103 km from El Remate to Machaquila, we followed that up with a 111 km ride to Fronteras. Not only is that two big days in a row but the latter is the single longest ride we have made to date! Are my legs sore today? You bet they are! We, and especially my legs, are definitely looking forward to a couple of days off from riding while we visit with our friends.
Our rough plan. We’re now located where the letter C is, Estadio Fronteras, Rio Dulce.
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