C – We were on the road by 8.30 this morning, with a firm plan to head to Panajechal on Lake Atitlan. Our route was about 220km, all on major highways – although the state of such major highways here can be questionable!
We stopped for gas on the way out of Coban and enjoyed some fun conversation with the gas station attendants whilst we ate a very healthy breakfast of iced coffee and oatbran cookies.
Soon enough, the ‘major’ highway deteriorated into mostly potholes, then potholed gravelly mud with an occasional stump of bitumen, then just badly maintained dirt with all sorts of bumps, corrugations, holes, rockfalls and landslides. Oh, and trucks and chicken buses and dogs and people moving about erratically!
T – We had some incredible views here. Lines of mountains marching away toward the horizon, with towering mounds of rancid smelling, stomach churning rotting garbage complete with rolled up used baby nappies. So gross. I was dry retching in my helmet while I was taking these photos.
C – This stretch of road had us down to about 20km an hour for most of it and it was such a hoot!! Just our sort of riding!! About 30km later the road suddenly and abruptly returned to relatively good condition bitumen and we were away again… well away at 65km an hour that is.
T – The road was fun! I couldn’t believe it was a major road through these parts. But the numerous trucks and chicken buses certainly proved it to be so. We fell into potholes and clambered over broken speed humps. What a work out for our poor bikes. But they soldiered on!
C – Each village we came to presented us with complete and utter chaos. I can not even begin to explain how much concentration it takes to drive through a busy Guatemalan village on market day. Boy oh boy! Each exit had us sighing with relief that everyone somehow survived before we quickly returned our attention to the road ahead.
T – I have never ridden in conditions like this! I cant even begin to explain the crazyness of it. Imagine a narrow two lane road with traffic going both ways. Now fill one side with parked trucks and cars and we are down to one lane acting as two. Now partially fill that lane with some more parked machinery, chuck in a few hundred pedestrians (because there is no sidewalk), a smattering of 500 or so dogs, 600 tuk tuks, 30 million motorcycles, 57 trucks and 3000 cars all trying to squeeze by each other all at once. Now once you have that in mind throw in a overloaded truck that just reverses out of a side street into the middle of this chaos. Got an idea of it? Its crazy!
C – At one point, Todd became convinced that each chicken bus driver was conspiring against him. For some time, each chicken bus that approached us swerved unexpectedly into our path, for no apparent reason, before returning to their own side of the road just in time.
T – My sphincter got the work out of its life today. My poor bottom clenched up tight every time one of those buses aimed at me. Madness!
C – This morning we climbed another 1000mtrs in elevation and we were glad to be wearing our thermals and rain pants to provide us with some warmth. Even our heated grips had their first work out in some time.
After two more lengthy stretches of off roading down the major highway, we began climbing up and then zooming down the steepest gradients. The switchbacks were so tight that the vehicles going down the hill had to stop and give way to vehicles coming up the hill. Madness!!
T – These hills were incredibly steep. I don’t know how the bitumen stayed stuck to the road it was so steep. Poor Mabel was back down to first gear a lot here. Screaming her little lungs out in the thin air with too much fuel rasping down her little throat. Poor Mabel.
C – Eventually we were spat out on the CA1 ‘PanAmerican Highway’ and we caught our first glimpse of the Lake. Simply stunning with volcanoes towering over the lake. We were only 10km from Pana when we were caught up in a traffic jam. Eventually a policeman sent us the wrong way down a one way street to get out of the jam, but this caused our GPS to have a meltdown. After sending us in circles in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go, we finally got out of centro historico in Solola once I dismissed all the GPS’ recommendations and found the road we wanted.
We soon found our chosen hotel ‘Villa Lupita’ and after a hot shower, went in search of dinner. We were lucky enough to stumble across a small food cart doing a roaring trade in tortas mexicana. For $4AUD we had a massive torta each, filled with chicken, sausage, ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, onion and the compulsory picante salsa! Divine!
The town was pumping so we walked around and eventually found ourself in the tourist part of town. At this point, we turned around and headed back to the hotel to collapse in sheer mental exhaustion from the days concentration.
Guatemala – you are intoxicatingly insane and beautiful! It was sad today to ride through such large sections of deforested land. Huge sections of logging and farming which have resulted in completely bare hillsides. There is also quite a lot of rubbish littering the road sides and the smell of rotting and/or burning household rubbish is just not something you can get used to. The majority of the litter on the roadsides though appear to be plastic drink bottles. Coke and Pepsi products. I don’t know if there are education programs already, but these large companies who make such wealth by supplying terrible products such as these should be socially responsible and contribute to waste eradication and education in nations like this.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we don’t really know what we will do. It might be wise to stay here a night longer. Panajachel seems like a nice town and might be a nice place to spend Christmas Eve.