We arrived in Guatemala on May 13th, 2016. We crossed over the border by Cuidad Melchior de Mencos. We had no problems with this border crossing and we had a lively group of boys very willing to help us through the process. Before we left Mexico, after a frustrating couple of days searching for border crossing information, I came across this great little book called Central America Border Crossing Guide by rtw Paul, it was well worth the small price for the download and, so far, I have found it to be pretty accurate. The whole crossing took maybe 30-45 minutes maximum, there was no wait at all for us, but the dog is what took us a little longer as they had to photocopy her vaccination papers and health certification. Probably could save us a little time if we carried our own copies with us but so far, the time delay for them to make copies has been minimal. After we completed everything, we gave the kids each a little money for their help and got on the road as the day was heating up early.
Not far on the other side, there was a toll crossing, but again, it was a nominal fee and we didn’t have to show any papers, just pay the fee, and we were on our way. Not far from the crossing was the town Ciudad Melchior de Mencos, where we stopped for a cold drink and some sliced mangos. While there we were surrounded by local children who were curious about us and the dog so we took the time to show them photos of the beaches, the redwoods, and even Paul Bunyon on a tourist brochure that we brought from home. After that, we were off and riding again. Oh, one more exciting thing about this town was there was a ferry crossing to get there and for me, getting onto a ferry that looks like it could sink at any time is always exciting and a little nerve-wracking.
Our first couple nights in Guatemala were spent in Flores, a cute little town on an Island. It was a nice place to land for a couple days and had a decent gym directly on the other side of the bridge in the neighboring town of Santa Elena. The town of Santa Elena was a bustling, little city filled with dirty little markets places and a beautiful mall that was probably built to attract the tourists who came to Flores. Flores itself was an easily walkable island, and I could walk the entire island in about 20 minutes. It had a mixture of both expensive and cheap hotels and hostels for the really budget minded and plenty of cafes, restaurants, and, every evening, the locals would set up food stands along the boardwalk. The nearest attraction to Flores was Tikal National Park so many people stayed in Flores and did day trips there. We decided to skip Tikal.
After leaving Flores we headed back east for a short distance and then headed south towards Guatemala City. We were doing our best to avoid the main highways so we were just trying to head south on secondary roads which always lead us to great adventure. We rode through small working villages, came across roads washed out with little warning, rode past horses hauling all types of loads, people hauling all types of loads, and little roadside stands of people selling fruit in areas you’d least expect it. We always like to stop at those places because we meet the most interesting people and, even with the language barrier, there is always lots of laughter and everybody loves Jackie.
Late in the morning we came to a T in the road. If we took a right, we’d be on the direct route southwest to Coban, the largest and closest city in the area. If we took a left, we’d be on a secondary road which would take us southeast but would eventually loop back around to Coban. Milton, of course, wanted to go left, but I wanted to go right because the secondary roads always, and I mean always, eventually turn into dirt roads down here south of the border. Usually they turn into dirt sooner rather than later in fact. So I won out, or I should say my fear won out, and we took the road to the right. Less that 10 minutes of riding, after having a little discussion regarding what each of us wanted to experience on this trip, I suggested we turn around and go the other way. Not long after that turnaround point we came to a small town where we stopped for a quick lunch before continuing on to, what else but, dirt.
Now, in the beginning, the dirt portions are usually sporadic so it always fools me. I have my moment of “Oh Shit” and then next thing I know the pavement is there again and I breathe easily. For a little while, anyways. This day was no different and we hit some dirt mixed with pavement but the scenery was so breathtakingly beautiful that I didn’t mind so much…..for awhile.
At first the pavement took us along a valley floor, where we got to wave to trucks filled with men, women, and children dressed in traditional Mayan clothing and I was having a great time. Then, we started to climb. Still having a good time as we continued to wave to passing trucks, stopped to take some photos, passed a few small villages, and then, the dirt started.
My “Oh shit” moment had returned and along with the dirt, came the rocks and ruts, the one lane road with steep inclines and switch backs, people walking along carrying machetes, and then the trucks. All of this I had to maneuver through, without stopping because stopping on a steep incline is a huge no-no. Besides if I stop I just have to start again so it’s best to just keep the wheels turning in a forward direction.
Eventually we did find a flat place to stop for some water so we could cool off and I could rest for a few minutes. At this time, I heard “Gringa, gringa” being yelled and some cute little girls ran up to me. At first they were shy and wouldn’t come too close but Jackie won their hearts and they came up to visit. For the moment, this made the ride up the hill totally worth it. This was my first real time back on dirt similar to what I had to ride on when I broke my foot, so the images in my head kept flashing back to that day.
I am not quite sure what time we started to climb but when we started it was early afternoon and by late afternoon we realized that there was no way we were going to make it out of the mountains by nightfall so we started looking for a place to set up camp for the night. Eventually we came to a little church on a hill right on the crest of the mountain, and after exploring it, we turned around to find someone to ask if we could camp there for the night. We found a group of young men sitting on a hillside and eventually we got them to understand that we wanted to camp there for the night. The indicated that it would be okay, so we turned around to set up our camp.
Not long after parking and letting the dog off the bike, we had some young boys who came and sat on the hill watching us intently. Soon there we others who came also until we eventually had a crowd of about 15 people standing around, some just watching, some attempting to talk to us. As we pulled out our camping mats and started pumping them up, the boys really became interested so we let the youngest try and after he tired out, we let an older boy try until the mat was completed pumped up.
After the tent was set up, Milton made dinner while I got out the computer to show them pictures and they all gathered around and I shared photos of home and Mexico with them. It was an amazing evening. We had parents there with their young children who wanted photos with me and the bike. One older gentleman even came back to show us some Mayan artifacts that he had since he was young. By this time it was dark and we were operating by flashlight so after admiring the artifacts we said adios and went to bed. Not long after we got all settled into the sleeping bags time, we heard some people walk up to the campsite. Once they realized that we were in our tent but were still awake they said adios, left and we never had any other visitors for the rest of the night.
When we awoke, we broke camp and headed out to try to beat the heat. Not long after, we came to small town where we got breakfast before continuing on until we reached the turn off for Lanquin which was more dirt roads but we decided we’d spend one night there and visit the caves. Did not take any photos of the cave but the hike through the cave was extremely treacherous and, to be honest, I am so surprised I did not injure myself on the rocks slippery with water and bat shit. Our guide climbed it all wearing only crocs (probably in honor of my friend Vanessa). The cave was unlit and we only had our flashlights for light which sometimes I had to carry in my mouth so I could use two hands to scramble up or down rocks. Definitely beautiful but on the return, our guide took us on a “shortcut” which was completely unsafe and never would have flown in the US but, in Guatemala, anything goes.
After a smoke filled night with no air conditioning, we headed back out the same dirt road we came in on, eventually hit pavement which led us into Coban. From there we worked our way south, until we cut east, heading towards Puerto Barrios, in the eastern corner of Guatemala by the Gulf of Honduras. The ride there was filled with lines of trucks and as we got closer to Puerto Barrios, the line backed up until we were doing whatever we could to get around them which meant we sometimes rode in the other lane, sometimes rode on the shoulder, whatever would keep us moving cause when we stopped it was nothing but hot sweltering heat and exhaust to breathe.
We ended, getting separated there for awhile, and then after we found each other, we stopped to eat lunch, and after, since there was nothing there to interest us and we weren’t ready to leave Guatemala, we just turned around and headed west on the same road we came over on. We rode until exhausted, then found a safe place to rent a room for the night, then the next day woke up, hit the gym, and headed in the direction of Guatemala City. The road over the mountain to get to Guatemala City was under construction so traffic was horrible and backed up for miles but again we wove in, out, and around until we worked our way to the front of the line. By the time we got through Guatemala City, after getting lost for a while, we ended up in a mall in Mixta, Guatemala where we stopped to get some coffee and internet service so we could look for a AirBnB. While we were there, the rains and lightening started. It was dark when we finally left the mall, we were tired and exhausted, and the road had lots of twists and turns. In the dark and rain, I was not having much fun and I don’t imagine that Milton was having any better of a time Luckily, as we were coming down the hill towards Antigua, after being told no a couple of times because of Jackie, we found a hotel that let us stay. Just as the guard at the front gate was telling us that dogs weren’t allowed and we were getting ready to turn around, the owner came up, walking his dog, and let us stay. Thank God for dog lovers.
The next morning we woke up, rode the final few miles into Antigua where we ended up staying for 6 weeks. I did four weeks of Spanish school there, Milton did two weeks. Found a great gym to work out at. We made some great friends, saw amazing ruins, spent some time at a little school in one of the neighboring towns. In our last week in Antigua, we knew it was time to move on as we were getting bored. We felt like we were ready for more beach time so the next destination was the coast, after a quick tour around Lake Atitlan, of course.
Random photos from our time in the Antigua area: