Guatemala Travel

Guatemala (part 1): Atitlan and Antigua

By on Wednesday May 23rd, 2018

A rainy start in Guatemala
The first raindrops fall when I’m about to checkout at my hotel in Paso Hondo. At first it’s a very gentle rain but it quickly transforms into a steady and decent rain shower which wouldn’t make any pleasure to cycle through. So I decide to have breakfast first. I find a little Comedor which has opened and get myself a seat. The lady who runs this business suggests me to switch to the other table since the rain is pouring through the roof at my first place of choice. There is not much business that morning in her little restaurant and for most of the time I’m her only guest. After I’m finished with my breakfast I wait a little longer until the drumming of rain drops slowly fades out. Just in the moment that I prepare my bike to finally start a guy arrives on his motorcycle. Even though he’s wearing raingear he seems to be completely soaked. He asks me where I’m heading to and when I answer him that I want to cycle to Guatemala he shakes his head. He’s coming from there he says and the rain across the border is way stronger and I should wait a little longer if I don’t want to get as wet as him. So I decide to join him and go back into the restaurant and drink another coffee.

His name is Eric and he speaks very good English. He wants to know everything about my journey. When he asks me about my travels through Mexico he also wants to know whether I had any bad experiences and I tell him about my robbery in Chiapas. This would not happen in Guatemala he explains to me. The people there would take care of me, he explains. If anyone would try to rob or threaten me in his country, there would be for sure someone with a gun to help me out. While he is telling this he demonstratively puts his right hand to his hips to indicate his weapon. I’m perplex and have to reconfirm with him that he actually crossed the border with a gun. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal for him. He is saying that the majority carry weapons as they don’t trust the police. I’m not sure what to think of this. I actually hope, that I don’t need any assistance from Guatemalan gunmen.

After almost another hour in the restaurant I finally decide to leave towards the border. The dark clouds over the mountains in Guatemala have disappeared and also Eric is sure, that the worst part is over now. Unfortunately it’s already pretty late now and my initial plan to cycle till Lago de Atitlan within two days are already obsolete. It’s 12:15pm when I arrive the border. A few minutes later I have a new entry stamp in my passport and can continue my trip in country number four.

Getting to Lago de Atitlan
It takes me three days to reach the Lago de Atitlan. I make stops in Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela). Martin – who is cycling a few days ahead of me – warned me already that the terrain in Guatemala is challenging and I should prepare for a lot of altitude gain and some steep climbs (and also descents). Normally I love this kind of challenging rides in the mountains but it feels difficult to enjoy the beauty of nature since the peaks around me are often covered in clouds and mist. The second thing which is characteristic to the roads in Guatemala are the chicken busses. That are old US school busses which got a refreshing colorful painting. These vehicles might look nice but they are one of the biggest threats for a cyclist. The travel with the highest speed possible and are constantly overtaking the other cars even in blind corners. And when they pass you they only leave you with a minimum of space and cover you in a black, stinky cloud of smoke. In order to not inhale all of their exhaust I had to pull one of my buffs over my nose and mouth.

The last 10km before getting to the lake provide the most challenging terrain of my journey so far. While mostly going downhill with grades of up to 20% there are always little climbs included as well with almost as heavy grades. Since it’s getting already late and dark while I’m still approaching the lake, I deviate from my initial plan to stay in San Pedro and ride to San Marcos instead. It’s only a few km difference, but I’ve reached the point, where I want to reach my destination as quickly as possible. In San Marcos I stay in a hostel which is extremely popular amongst hippies. More than 30 persons are sitting around a campfire performing a drum-session. I stay for two nights at this place to recover a little bit from all the climbing I did the past days.

Hurdles on the way to Antigua
From San Marcos it’s 135km to Antigua. In order to shortcut a little bit, I take a ferry to cross the lake to Panajachel. The shortest route from there are only 80km and even though it involves again a lot of climbing I’m confident to reach Antigua in one day from there. But unfortunately things don’t always work out like planned, or in my case google maps doesn’t always have the latest information on blocked roads due to mud slides. This forces me to take a detour of approximately 10km and a lot of additional elevation to climb. When I finally get back on the actual route in Patzun it’s already pretty late and I’m not sure whether I can still reach Antigua before sunset. But this concern becomes obsolete only a few minutes later. It starts with a few drops, but when I try to put an additional cover over my handlebar bag it starts raining really hard. I don’t dare to open my pannier to reach for my rain jacket and continue cycling to find a shelter. The conditions quickly become so bad that it is absolutely impossible to continue cycling. Luckily I find a shelter in a little kiosk. It’s obvious that I will not make it to Antigua today and after the rain finally stops I continue my ride till Patzicia where I stay in a motel directly at the Panamericana.

The next day it’s a fairly easy ride to Antigua. After 36km and 2 hours I reach the cobblestone streets of Antigua. They are absolutely no fun to ride on – especially with all my gear. After a long coffee break at the Parque Central where I also rejoin with Martin I finally go ride to my hostel.

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