Week 47. Biking in Guatemala.
What can be more emotional than total strangers who touch your shoulder and wish you strength for your further journey?
Leaving Patzun on a Sunday means that the street where our hotel is located is converted to a colourful market. We walk slowly with our bikes and chat left and right with some people.
An older lady lays her hand on my shoulder and wishes me strength. Others bless us on our further journey. Patzun has really stolen my heart. So friendly, so different from cities where more tourists travel.
Oh yes: shower is with electrical shower head heater: the more you turn it open the colder it gets!
Hole in the road.
Biking to Patzicia has some steep hills but also some nice flat pieces. Agriculture is main source of living for the people here. Road repair is a joke as holes get filled with stones and sand.
After Patzicia we follow the Pan American again, wider road and a shoulder! In a very good condition. Not all the roads are bad in Guatemala. At one point Antigua is indicated and we take this road instead of the one first planned. Way more hillier and dusty but we arrive early at our AirB&B address.
A whole apartment with nice kitchen for the next 3 nights! Some good cooking ahead of us!
Great, huge pasta’s with wine as we don’t need to bike the next day. The assortment and pricing in the supermarket shows that we are in a wealthier and more touristy area. Seems that quite some locals from San Salvador together with expats prefer to live here in the more quiet and less polluted Antigua. Antigua is one of the few cities in Guatemala where you still see the Spanish remains which attract tourists. It survived several earthquakes. As there is quite a busy road in front of our ground floor apartment we can’t sleep in. But it is really nice to take the time of a leisure breakfast with yoghurt and fruit, read what we have to see and exchange ideas with Heidi and Henk via whatsapp as they have been here a few years ago.
Frank makes a planning and I let go, we wander through the streets and see all the highlights.
Spend quite some time at the main square, watching busloads of tourist herded along and ambushed by souvenir sellers. First time we have seen so many older people together, must be from a cruise ship. Locals trying to create an extra income with selling very basic souvenirs. Amazing on how much they can carry on their head!
In the beautifully restored old convent we visit a very confronting photo exhibition on war photography. Understandable that kids younger than 12 are are not allowed in.
When travelling in a developing country and you see the below 3 in the same block you really know you are in a tourist city.
We meet Jesus in the bike shop, he has been travelling in South and Central America by public transport but wants to change to biking.
Fun to exchange ideas and wishing him all the best on this new leg of his trip! Check out @speedy_jesus. Jesus does shows an amazing photo of the active volcano you can see when hiking Acatenango but this would cost 2 days (and a lot of energy).
In the late afternoon I suddenly have terrible left low back pain and we call it a day. We do first check if we still could see running lava when hiking Pacaya but it seems you can only roast marshmallows. Adding 69$ per person for a short day’s hike makes a decision to skip this volcano and admire it biking around it, easy.
Next day is the day Frank works almost the whole day on filling in tax papers. As we stopped working last year in April and we left the country we need to complete a lot of paper work. No on-line registration possible.Boring but something that needs to be done. I enjoy strolling through the local market shopping for dinner.
Last hours of daylight we discover a different part of the city. Some of the ruins we want to see cost 8x more for tourists than for locals!
I planned a great dinner with a big steak but it is not edible, it is so chewy that the cow was probably a volunteer.
Next day we are happy to leave a beautiful, relaxed city but 3 nights is more than enough. First 10 km are an easy climb of 5% on a road with a nice shoulder. We really feel we have rested and cruise down on the other side of the mountain. Villa Nueva is very busy and we have to do some ghost riding to reach the right part of the city. Everywhere you see guards with big guns (as in Antigua).
Even in trucks they take their own protection with them. Later we hear that especially Villa Nueva is known for the crime scene.
Via Via Canales we bike out of the city. 800 meters up in 8 km. Horrendous. Especially because there are several stretches with +17%, this means 10-30 pedal strokes and rest. I have again an attack of nausea and dizziness; why does this happen each time after a day of rest? Does anybody know the answer and how to prevent this?
It is a very small, winding road with lots of traffic. We discover at the top of the hill why we have seen several Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne: lush enclaves with big houses, protected by high walls, gates and guards, as this is close to Guate City it is the gated community of the rich. Only at 17:00 we arrive close to where a hotel should be. The first one we even can’t find. Then we meet a nice international school teachers family at the super market but they also don’t know any place to sleep. So we try to find the next hotel. Again in a gated community and we are lucky that the guard with his motor cycle brings us to the gate of the hotel as there is no sign. We are the only ones staying there. Amazing view even from our room! Recommended since there is no noise! We are both totally spent. Only 43 km in 10 hours… But I don’t have any back pain anymore and the dizzy spells are over. Probably best to no longer have a rest day 😉
Next day we follow a bigger road, with a shoulder and only 600 m up-hill in 10km. The good thing about hill riding is that you can go down again! I want to stop at Rio Los Enclavos because of the old bridge, a must see, and that we can split the distance to the border in two. Looks like a decent hotel with a swimming pool. With this heat I would not mind a swim. First visit the bridge and then rest a bit.
Suddenly we are shaken with loud music from the swimming pool. Locals seem to want to break the tranquillity and even if there are only a few people in the pool the music is terribly loud. As there was no music before we try to reduce the noise ourselves, no success. The manager only says we have to be patient for another 1 – 2 hours as they will leave after sun set. Drunken people in the pool, spitting in the water, swimming with their cloths on take away the desire to swim. We escape to the restaurant as the noise level in our room is 92 decibel. Again we wonder why everything in Central America needs to be noisy; cars, shops, restaurants and swimming pools too?
We go for dinner somewhere else as we don’t want to cook next to the pool with this noise. When we return the quietness also has returned. We have a beautiful visitor in the morning.
We can sweat no more.
The ride to the last village before the El Salvador border is uneventful.
It is becoming warmer and more humid, unbelievably green, as we are now no longer at 2.300 meter but at 500m and we wonder if we can sweat more than we do now.
Less steep hills result in an early afternoon arrival in Jalpatagua.
It is a town where everything shuts down at 18:00. No tourists as most of them speed through this town. During the last two days we have already seen a change in clothing, no more own woven cloths, but western oriented, china made.
Last day in Guatemala we stop at the sulphur springs where I take a dip in the clear nice water.
Most of the people who take a dip here can’t swim but use it to cool off and enjoy the healing effects of the sulphur. You can swim into a cave with bats and there are also fish in the water.
Let’s say they don’t see a lot of tourists from outside of Guatemala here.
Into El Salvador
And then within two weeks we reach the border of El Salvador.
Just before the border we change all our money to US $. Yes here everything is paid in $ as it seems already from 2000. Looks like it had the same effect on cost of goods as it had in NL/BE when changing to the Euro. Everything is more expensive than in Guatemala or Mexico!
Border crossing is really quick without any cost! And then it goes straight away again +6% uphill and we sweat as pigs, being 35 degrees C and really humid. Did not think we could sweat more than yesterday but we can! Really nice big houses alternate with shabby places.
We decide to stay in Ahuachapan. Check a few hotels but quite expensive for what they are or located in the middle of festivities which will start tonight.
Mamapan hotel looks good, with a beautiful roof terrace.
Trying the pupusas at a local restaurant. Hand-made tortillas with meat and cheese squeezed in the dough and fried. Interesting. Where in Mexico tortillas were very thin as flattened by squeezing two plates together, in Guatemala you have the sound of hand clapping/flattening the dough between hands resulting in smaller and thicker tortillas. In El Salvador less clapping and ticker tortillas with the filling in the dough.
Even if we are quite far from the music we still shake in our bed and as internet is non existing we decide to leave on Sunday.
Find out if biking in El Salvador is different from Guatemala in next weeks blog.