The last time we left you, the crew was still in Mexico, anticipating the border crossing into Guatemala. The day of border crossing was a complete mess from start to end. The day started with two flat tires from this German man named Heinrich we met the day prior. Then Tommy finished his last 10 km of Mexico with two flats as well. Going over the border we were already flustered. As the border hustlers tried to rush us and scam us for our last pesos, we pushed them aside, took care of business in the Border office and got our exit stamps. Same story goes for getting stamped into Guatemala, quick and harmless because we knew what needed to happen and were not about to let some scam artists take us.
~Finally made it to Guate!~
~The little Potojos (ducklings) that greeted us upon crossing into Guate~
Once over the border, Tommy’s streak of bad luck with flats continued and he got two more within being 15 km into Guatemala. Tired and frustrated from the days mishaps, Tommy decided to hop on the bus that Hen was taking to Quetzaltenango (aka Xela). Hen was suffering from sickness and exhaustion and was not physically well enough to conquer the mountain passes that lie between the border and Xela. As Hen and Tommy loaded their bikes onto the chicken bus, they boarded the evening bus to Xela, not quite knowing what to expect. The bus driver was extremely friendly to us and so was the other locals we conversated with. We were in the “friendly Valley”. As the bus winded through the mountainous passes of Guatemala, we had the opportunity to gaze at the full moon (our 3rd of the trip) over the jungle mountains. Exhausted from the day, Hen and Tommy checked into the hotel near the bus terminal and slept the day away.
~The not so packed chicken bus that we took to Xela~
The next day Hen and Tommy were waiting around the Central Park of Xela anticipating the arrival of Bradie, but had no idea if he would show up that day or the next. As Tommy was talking to a local, helping him practice English, he saw out of the corner of his eye a white helmet and a fully loaded bicycle ride, instinctively knowing that it was Bradie. Stopping mid conversation, he ran and flung his sombrero toward Bradie and with deadly accuracy nearly knocked him off his bike! Bradie had been reunited with the crew, but we were still awaiting Ike to show up later that day. The rest of the day was spent drinking coffee in the square and recollecting various adventures over the last month. It sounded like Bradie and Diana had quite the adventure, as well as the bike crew. We grabbed a cheap hostel for the night based on the advice of our friend Warren, who we just ran into again after meeting him in Puerto Escondido on New Years.
~Posted up in the square of Xela…Helping Carlos practice English~
~I think Mr. Manana had too much to drink~
After reconvening with Ike the next day, the bike crew plus Diana and Warren all shuffled over to the popular Black Cat Hostel where we would make our home for the next two nights. Xela is a beautiful city located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and sits below the active volcanoe Santa Maria. The scenery of the mountains that engulfed Xela was breathtaking and definitely brought these Colorado boys back to home a little bit. The coast of Mexico was great but we love being in the mountains. Our time spent in Xela was amazing! During the day we would browse the streets visiting the local markets and exchanging conversation with various locals and travelers. The Quetzltrekkers volunteers were hosting a benefit party for the local children, so we attended this wild bash and were drinking for the kids! What a great cause!?! Another highlight of our 3 day binge in Xela was “Fuentes Georginas”, the natural hot springs in the jungle mountains outside of Xela. We got a large group from the hostel together and we took a tour bus to the hot springs. We have all been blessed to visit some of the best hot springs in the world, but as far as scenery goes, Fuentes Georginas may take the cake! It was also the backdrop of the crew’s infamous farewell Mexico postcard.
~The main pool at Fuentes Georginas!~
~Our homemade postcard…Give us your address!~
After 3 days in Xela, Tommy and Ike decided to move onward towards Lago de Atitlan. Bradie and Diana were going to feel out Xela for one more day and then meet up in Lago De Atitlan the day after. Hen wanted to explore the opportunity to do some solo adventuring. Tommy and Ike took off from Xela around noon, choosing to ride two half days to get to San Pedro, a small pueblo around Atitlan. Exiting Xela, Ike and Tommy entered onto the Pan American Highway, the world’s longest contiguous road. Smooth pavement and a wide shoulder greeted us as we started climbing a beautiful pass that overlooked the volcanoes and the large valley we were leaving. The climb was great, passing through farm country allowing us to harvest leafy greens and farva beans. As always a climb welcomes a downhill section that we cruised through and led us to our home for the night. Taking a turn to explore what the sign said was a waterfall park, Ike and Tommy came across a forest playground. This park was equipped with jungle swings, teeter-totters, monkey bars, and tree houses all made from the pine trees harvested on site! It was the coolest park either us had visited and hands down our favorite campsite on tour so far!
~La Rosa Azul parked on the pass, with Vulcan Santa Maria in background~
~Ike on the Jungle Swing~
~Cascade de Domingo, down the trail from camp~
Next day, we biked to the top of the pass and got to see the overlook of Lago de Atitlan , the volcanoes encircling it, and the pueblos that surrounded the lake. Absolutely stunning! One of the most beautiful backdrops we had seen, anxiously we started cruising down the steep roads to get lakeside. Saying this road is steep is an understatement. Easily the wildest road we have ever been on…Steep, sharp curves left and right! We typically pride ourselves on not using brakes on downhill sections, but this road, we boasted of how hard we were gripping the brakes! The road switch backed over 50 times easily! After 2 hours of traversing down this vertical mountainside, we finally made it to San Pedro, the more lively pueblo around the lake. Ike and Tommy found the Yo Mamma’s Casa, a hostel that hooked us up with a great deal for the group that would arrive shortly. Sending Bradie a message on how to find us, Ike and Tommy passed the time by watching the Broncos seal the deal and go to the Superbowl!!!
~Overlooking Lago De Atitlan with San Pedro at the base of the Volcan~
~Lookin’ across the beautiful Lago~
The next day and a half was spent chillin in San Pedro, checkin out the hippie vibe that surrounded the lake and San Pedro. Gypsies, artesians, organic food shops, and juice bars lined the streets. The people of San Pedro were a unique culture, a mix between hippie locals, Mayans, and travelers. The market in San Pedro was large and offered avocados for 1Q, which is equivalent to $.13! We got the opportunity to see this awesome reggae ska band at a joint called “Sublime”. The music was great, the bar was a great place, the vibe really reminded us of home. Hen met up with us, the crew was reunited again, and all was good in the world. Lago de Atitlan is a pretty magical place and it is easy to understand why travelers get sucked into the lake lifestyle for months on end.
~Ike posted up at Yo Mamma’s Casa with new friends~
~Really cool mural on a street in San Pedro~
The next day Hen, Tommy, and Ike decided to take the lancha (water taxi) across the lake to another pueblo called San Marcos. Bradie and Diana decided to stick around San Pedro and chill with Paul, a traveling friend of Diana’s from a year prior, who happened to be in San Pedro again. Loading bikes onto boats has gotten easier of the months…San Marcos is known to attract a more tranquil form of hippies including but not limited to: Yoga babes, spiritual healers, vegans, musicians, and writers. A really cool vibe, especially the overwhelming amount of the Yoga babes! An ex-pat named Rick quickly spotted us as we got off the boat and is stoked on bike tourists. His girlfriend Julie Schumann owns Posada Schumann which is lakeside and right next to the dock. He invited us to camp in the empty grass space on the outside of the Hotel, where we had a private dock, a secure location for our stuff, tucked away from sight! This is also in the list of the top places we have camped! If Rick’s hospitality wasn’t enough, he also bought us dinner from the restaurant! What a great guy and a welcoming entrance into San Marcos.
~Camp in San Marcos~
~…And the view from camp~
Our full day that we spent in San Marcos was very interesting, especially to the more rational minded people. We decided to attend a Cacao Ceremony that was led by a man named Keith but more commonly known as the Cacao Shaman. The ceremony was initiated by everyone drinking a chocolate mixed drink made from Mayan spiritual grade chocolate. The next four hours was spent meditating and having Keith guide us through the ceremony. The cacao is supposed to help one harness the energy within ourselves, guide our thoughts, and potentially produce a spiritual experience for the individual. It was a very interesting experience and we all had different opinions of the experience. But overall we had a positive experience and something worth trying if given the opportunity. After coming back to our luxurious campground, we were offered dinner again by Rick. We gratefully accepted and had a delicious meal with Rick and enjoyed the stories he had to share.
~Bikes on Boats~
Our last day on the lake we went to the more developed town called Panajachel, which offered the exit out of the lake within the Volcanic crater. Panajachel was okay, definitely more touristy than we wanted and nothing worth sticking around for more than one day. So with the crew finally all together and ready to ride bikes the next day. Our time on Lago de Atitlan was great and definately too short. Atitlan is one of those places that you could travel too and just stay indefinitely. But were ramblers and we gotta go!
~Awesome mural on the street in Pana…Oh how the turntables have…~
Leaving Panajachel was a lot easier on paper. The road out of “Pana”, was a 6 km of vertical roads. If the grade of the road was not enough, battling traffic up this steep slope was another story. Tommy feeling the affects of some sort of stomach bug wasn’t in the shape to climb this road, so he stopped and got a hitchhike to the top from the local police. The other boys bravely climbed to the top where they would meet Tommy in the town of Solola. Ike and Hen were feeling stoked to ride and Tommy didn’t have the energy to ride much for the day, so just as the group had gotten back together, we separated again. So us two Rangers stuck around Solola for an hour or so, rested in the park, and gathered the energy to push a little further before the Puesta del Sol (Sunset). Leaving Solola was difficult as the road above the town was just as steep as the road below. Once at the top, we searched for camp high and low, but no one was willing to help us out. We asked two churches, the police, and at least 10 plus farmers if we could camp on their land, only to be shut down by everyone. This was a first for us. Defeated and dark, we had to race back to Solola to find a cheap hotel to sleep the day away and start fresh manana.
~One last look at Lago de Atitlan~
So we got to climb the hill out of Solola twice. The second time was easier as Tommy’s stomach was feeling better, perhaps a 48 hour stomach bug. On the top of the climb, Bradie groundscored 8 cans of beans that appeared to have fallen off a truck! We are always in search for the infamous road treasures and this by far was one of the best! Finally, we had reached the Pan American again and got to appreciate the quality road and wide shoulder! The rest of the morning was spent climbing and descending mountainous passes. Up and down all day, fighting with a windy storm system that was passing through. This day proved to be full of suprises. At a roadside snack stand, Tommy was inquiring the price of the honey the man had for sale. He had a few different varieties that Tommy tried. Miel Pura, Miel Blanca, and Miel Negra. After sampling the first two, Tommy was sat down, head tilted back, and the man poured the miel negra into Tommy’s eye. Stinging with pain, the man told him to relax and that his eye would feel fine in 5 minutes. Apparantly this is a good practice for increasing your vision and providing energy. Meanwhile, Bradie is standing in the background, not exactly sure what just happened to Tommy. Later in the day, we met another bike tourist named Yuta, a guy from Tokyo, Japan. Yuta is biking the Pan American from Vancouver to the tip of Argentina by himself! What a chiller! After riding with Yuta for a bit, we split up to find our home for the night. Our camp was at an abandoned house in construction which had nice, flat patch of grass, big enough for two tents.
~ Free Frijoles! Yes please~
~These terraced farmland is absolutely amazing~
Camped just south of a town called Tecpan, we were only 45 km away from Antigua, which is where we would meet up with Ike and Hen and a sought out tourist city in Guatemala. The morning ride was beautiful…After we dropped into a wide open valley, we were staying at the Volcanoes Fuego and Agua for the rest of the day. Even better, Antigua is located at the base of these two giant volcanoes. Part way through our day, we ran back into Yuta who had gotten a flat tire. Once he got back on the road, we cycled with him for the remainder of the day. The ride into the Antigua was quite enjoyable, mostly downhill but also some short, steep uphill sections. It was odd arriving into Antigua because we didn’t even know we were there, until someone said we were. No signs saying “Welcome” or anything. The cobblestone roads made it difficult to ride as well. But we found a cool hostel called Base Camp Hostel. It is a hub for adventurists to congregate, go on awesome expeditions and meet other adventurists. It is a pretty cool place and full of other travelers with great experiences under their belt.
~Our new buddy Yuta~
So this is where we leave you. Hanging out in Antigua for the next day and a half checkin out the the colonial vibe that Antigua holds. Very old architecture, collapsed churches, and tourists line the streets. We hope to be summiting either Vulcan de Fuego or Vulcan de Pacaya in the foreseeable future. Our two weeks in Guatemala have been absolutely amazing. The food is great! The culture is intriguing! Couldn’t have been better!
What ever adventures lie in store are welcomed with open arms and heavy bikes! Can’t wait for whatever is next!
-Ranger Bee Koz and Ranger Tom