Tag Archive for 'boats'

Welcome to Guatemala!

Two weeks ago, after a short visit to the beachy town of Placencia and a very pretty ride down to Punta Gorda, we loaded our bikes into a water taxi and jetted our way toward Guatemala with eager hearts. We were ready to leave Belize, beautiful though it was, and Guatemala is a special place for Andrew already, because it was his introduction to Latin America six years ago when he studied Spanish in Xela. Aran as well as Andrew entered with an odd sense of familiarity partly because of Andrew’s stories and partly because of a fun set of coincidences: Back in Puerto Escondido, we’d spent a few days in a hostel (Osa Mariposa) run by Dave Paco, a fellow who had taken an extensive tour of Latin America in 2007. While we were there, he had a visitor from Guatemala, whom we didn’t really meet, but exchanged friendly hellos with while we were there. On our way out the door, Dave offered us a copy of a trip journal he’d published. We read it, greedily savoring details of places yet to come on our itinerary. One of those places was the Hotel Finca Tatin, (a magical place on the Rio Dulce reachable only by boat) which we decided would be our first stop in Guatemala. Dave wrote very fondly about his six month stay working for the hotel and becoming friends with the owner, Carlos. When we arrived in the port town of Livingston, who should arrive to whisk us away to the hotel, but the man who had been visiting Dave in the hostel, who introduced himself as Carlos, the very same. “I remember you of course! From Puerto Escondido!” was the first thing he said. He’s a terrific guy with a jungle-treehouse-like spot that is a perfect place to explore the beautiful river and surrounding jungle. We spent a few peaceful days there.

Then, we were off to bike across Guatemala. Well, no it wasn’t it quite that simple. The night we left the hotel, Andrew had some sharp pain in the left side of his face, which when we arrived in the town of Rio Dulce the next morning, a doctor helped us determine was a sinus infection. This discovery included a trip to the hospital in the next town where we got some very cheap x-rays from some very friendly folks. A day of rest and some antibiotics and we were off! We set out down our first seriously unpaved road toward Huehuetenango. While the road was very rough at times (one pass was completely destroyed by a landslide and the “new road” felt a lot like a goat path), we have been loving the gorgeous countryside and the folks we’ve met. So far, Guatemala has felt a bit similar to Chiapas, Mexico, but maybe with a more relaxed feel to it than Mexico, which seems to have a cultural undercurrent of struggling for better. Don’t get us wrong, that is one of the things we loved about Mexico – how hard people worked and the forward-looking-ness of so many people we met, but we’re enjoying the ability to walk through the Guatemalan markets and not have vendors push things on us quite so hard.

We have also loved being a bit farther off the beaten path than usual. Lots of cyclists enter the country from the Mexican border and make the trip through the Western Highlands, which we’ll hit soon enough, but the little towns, dirt roads, rivers, and markets we’ve seen on our trip from east to west have been some of the highlights of our trip so far. Though, it hasn’t been smooth sailing, exactly. In between some of the towns, we’ve needed to hitch some rides and take some days off altogether. A few mornings ago, just after our dirt road turned back to pavement, Andrew developed a bad stomach ache. After he yakked all over the road, Aran flagged down some guys driving an empty giant pick-up truck and asked for a ride to the next town, which was 800 meters up the road. Vertically, that is. First they had to make a stop at a quarry to fill the truck bed with stone dust to deliver to a construction site. They suggested we ride the rest of the way into town, but when Andrew got out and immediately vomited in the parking lot, they insisted we wait in the shade with the bikes, reload them, and ride with them the last few kilometers. Awesome dudes. They dropped us at a hotel, where poor Andrew was able to pass the rest of whatever was in his stomach. Of course, almost immediately upon recovering, we both ate some tasty but obnoxious little red fruit that put us both under again for another day in the next town over.

So here we sit, playing cards, a bit scared to ingest anything, eagerly awaiting the return of our good health. A few days behind, I guess, although we’re happy to report that schedules are rapidly losing all meaning for us. We will go when we go, and stop when we stop, and see many, many amazing things in between. We are thoroughly enjoying our trip even though it rains and we get sick and we miss our friends and family. The new landscapes and languages and cultures offer at least one jewel of a new experience each day.