Our love/hate relationship with bridges
Our last four days of traveling from Lanquín to Santa Cruz could very well be described as going for a hike with our bikes, that’s how much walking we did. It also made our relationship with bridges much more clear. There seems to be virtually no end to the incredibly steep Guatemalan hills and our legs and lungs have been getting a significant workout. The only reason we managed to make it as far as we have in that period of time is that some of the roads that involved significant climbs were paved. Fortune was smiling on us as I can only imagine how difficult the trip would have been had we been traveling in the opposite direction.
I know this doesn’t look steep but they only paved roads like this when they are.
Wasn’t that nice of them to stack the logs like this for us?
Going for a hike with our bikes
The trip from Lanquín to Coban took us pretty much the entire day. We had hoped and expected that the road leaving Lanquín from the west would be better than the one we took to arrive at the town and our wishes came true. The lion’s share of the day’s climbing took place on a dirt road but it was one that was plied more often by heavily-loaded buses than by donkeys. Shortly after noon, we joined a paved road heading west and we continued on it right into Coban. Sharing that road with only very light traffic, we were able to enjoy the incredible views of the valleys falling away to our sides.
My treat at the top of the first climb!
Why are we up here instead of down on that road?
Coban to Chicaman was a mixed bag of riding conditions. We started the day with a fast ride through the towns of Santa Cruz Verapaz and San Cristobal Verapaz. As we often do, we set off riding prior to having anything more than a cup of coffee in our stomachs. We passed a number of places to eat along the way but had it in our minds that we’d stop for breakfast in San Cristobal, thinking that it was the largest of the towns. As it turned out, the village looked significantly rougher than where we had been riding and a place to stop only materialized sometime later. In addition to the lack of eating establishments, we also lost our nicely paved road as we continued past the town. It was here that I acquired another puncture to my rear tire, one that was quickly dealt with by applying a plug to the hole.
Christmas decorations are everywhere!
We lost our pavement but gained some nice views.
A very rough road making for a tough descent for both dump trucks and bikes!
Many people may think that riding downhill is easy. When on a paved road, it’s most often true, but when the road is so rough that you need to post out of the saddle the entire way and so steep that you don’t dare take your fingers off the brake levers, it is anything but easy. That is the descent that we then found ourselves on.
We traveled down, down and down some more until we crossed a truss bridge over a large river. Coming to a bridge is always a double-edged sword for us. On the one hand, a bridge stops us from having to wade through water. On the other hand, they always signify that we’re about to begin climbing again because it’s the rivers that cut the deep valleys through the mountains, and this was a big river! I’m not sure what we did to deserve the good fortune but the insanely rough road that we had just finished descending upon changed to pavement just as we started to climb. This is significant because the climb was so long and steep that we would never have made it to our destination before nightfall had it been gravel or dirt.
We have a love-hate relationship with bridges.
At one point along the ride, just before arriving at the bridge, a motorcyclist stopped to chat with us. He told us that he was also going to Chicaman and inquired if we were going there for the feria. Even though I had heard that word before – a feria is a fair or a carnival – I didn’t know what he was talking about. We would ultimately find out.
Riding into Chicaman with darkness just around the corner, we were surprised to see hundreds and hundreds of people out and about in the village center. Obviously, something special was going on. It was the Feria! How did this affect us? Most of the hotels were full, and if they weren’t full, we found that they had jacked the prices up to beyond what we were willing to pay.
We struck up a conversation with a couple of men outside one of the hotels and they pointed to a spot down the road that they assured us would be clean and better priced. Unfortunately, when I inquired at that hotel office, I found that even they were full, or at least, that’s what they initially told me. When I started asking if they knew of a place where we could camp (it would be too cold to camp they said), they shared that they did have some accommodations available but that the rooms had shared bathrooms. So??? Of course, we’d take one of those rooms. The bonus was that the room cost us less than $10.00 US! The funny thing is, the power was off to most of the town when we first arrived, so no one had any lights. We spent the first couple of hours there in the dark, using our Mantus headlamps for light until the electricity was restored.
I had to look up what Lider is (was).
These tri-moto taxis are a good indication that a town of some size is close by.
The Lider signs are everywhere in this area.
It was another climb out of Chicaman the next day. We knocked off approximately 500m of uphill on a twisty paved road before we stopped for breakfast in Uspantan. It was a great breakfast, by the way. I’ve learned to just ask for what I want instead of going by the typical menu items. Three or four eggs, some meat, beans, cheese, tortillas, and coffee provide us with plenty of cycling fuel!
No offense to anyone who lives there but after the steep climb to arrive in Uspantan, I think it should more accurately be called UP-santan. 🙂
Once again, we congratulated ourselves for riding this route in the proper direction because the pavement changed back to dirt for a wicked descent. A descent that would ultimately lead us right to a river crossed by a very rough bridge. Remember what I wrote about bridges?
We asked ourselves, do we need to climb that? Answer: Of course!
During the long ride down we could see the dirt road winding its way up the other side of the mountain. Unlike the bridge we crossed the day prior, there were no roadside shops to restock our water this time around. Knowing just how long it was going to take to climb out of that valley, we took the opportunity to refill our water bottles from the fast flowing river. For the record, this is the first time we have had to do this on our entire trip!
First taking note of the road on the other side.
Brakes getting a good workout.
Can you see the bridge?
So steep that we almost couldn’t push the bikes up the slopes.
The climb that followed that river was ridiculous! It was so steep that we almost had to resort to partner-pushing one bike at a time up the switchbacks. Almost. Some hours later, when we eventually found ourselves in San Andres, the sun had already dropped below the mountains. Exhausted, we made our way to what we believed to be the only hotel in town and the innkeepers laughed and laughed when we told them how far we had traveled that day. Chicaman? You came from Chicaman? Hahahaha! The irony is that we actually thought that we’d be taking it easy that day by only riding to San Andres!
Yes, we were way down there on that bridge!
Can you see the hundred or so switchbacks on the far side of the river?
Sunlight is leaving us.
Since the last few days had been so tough, and because the next day promised to include an even more insane amount of climbing, we were tempted to stay in our $12 US hotel room for an additional night. Tempted, but we left the next day anyway.
Going for a hike with our bikes
I’m going to admit, I was a bit concerned that we wouldn’t make it to Santa Cruz, our planned destination before nightfall, that’s how much climbing we had ahead of us. Once again, luck was upon on us because it wasn’t too long into our trip when the rough dirt road we were working our way up turned into a freshly paved one. While the road was still too steep to ride in many places, requiring us to dismount and push our bikes, it’s a lot easier to walk on pavement than it is on slippery dirt.
A great way to start the day, pushing the bike in slippery mud.
San Andres, where we spent the night, in the distance.
The overcast sky was welcome.
Surprisingly, it was only a little after 3:00 PM when we rolled into Santa Cruz. One last steep climb before the town put the finishing touches on our already destroyed legs. Because we still had some daylight remaining, before we spent any time looking for a place to stay, we stopped at a fried chicken shop to gorge ourselves (fried chicken seems to be much more popular here in Guatemala than it was in Mexico). That chicken may ultimately have been our undoing.
We’ll soon be in those clouds.
We see this all the time: men, women, and kids carrying large bundles of firewood.
It’s an endless series of steep descents and equally steep ascents.
Stopped to have a chat with the construction workers. Some (all?) of the trucks are privately owned.
After winding our way through a very busy market, we found a reasonable hotel to stay at. We watched a movie on our laptop and then fell asleep early. Unfortunately, both Rebecca and I awoke today with upset stomachs, something I have to attribute to something we ate (chicken). Feeling both nauseous and generally unwell, we decided to take an unscheduled rest day rather than trying to make the final push to Lake Atitlan, our next destination.
This looks flat, doesn’t it? It’s not!
Here’s proof of the grade, and this was not the steepest section!
Flat spots to rest were few and far between.
No doubt the rest will do us both good, and the hotel has fast Wi-Fi to entertain us. The only downside is that it is freezing here! We both have multiple layers of clothing on and have been hiding under the blankets for most of the day. I’m almost ready to break out my puffy jacket and mitts. Wouldn’t that be a sight?
Now we’re in the clouds and it’s significantly cooler!
About to lose her in the fog.
Enjoying the fast descent to Santa Cruz. Only one crazy climb remaining between us and a bed!
- Lanquin to Coban 62.4km
- Coban to Chicaman 72.3km
- Chicaman to San Andres 43.5
- San Andres to Santa Cruz 36.8km